Shifting Gears Towards an Electric Future

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Like air pollution, climate change impacts vulnerable populations the most, including our children, seniors and communities already disadvantaged by pollution and poverty. As a paediatrician, I see first-hand the harm caused by our oil addiction. Children living in polluted areas experience higher rates of asthma and slowed lung development. This is a terrible burden we are putting on our children and future generations.  We must dedicate all available resources to get off fossil fuels to protect children today and into the future.

— Afif El-Hasan, MD (Facts About Gasoline…)

 

In 1970, the United States established a federal law designated to protect its citizens and our environment from air pollution which “[endangers] public health and welfare.” (Clean Air Act 2010). Among many preventative measures, limitations on vehicle emissions became more strict, requiring cleaner burning gasoline and ultra-low sulphur gasoline, more measures were put into place to restrict gasoline leaks (U.S. Energy Information Administration). The act successfully reduced the amount of gasoline-caused lead air pollution by 92 percent (Clean Air Act 2010). 

Despite these efforts however, petroleum still has large consequences on the environment and our health. These pollutants have  resulted in a range of effects on human health. Anxiety and depression have been linked to emissions (Facts about Gasoline), while while also having the physical effects of increasing people’s likelihood of developing asthma, heart diseases, lung disease, dementia, and numerous types of cancers (ibid.). Just 8 years ago, in 2013, pollution ranked 4th place as one of the highest death factor risks in the world and in the United States, 9,320 deaths were attributed to air pollution that exceeded the American Thoracic Society’s standards (Sobhani 2016). 

Of the 29 million gallons of oil that enter the ocean from North America, 85 percent comes from land-based runoff, rivers, airplanes, and  boating vessels (Nationalacademics.org 2002). Over 270 million vehicles powered by fossil fuels are registered in the U.S. (govtech.com). In 2020, 44% of petroleum consumed in the United States was finished motor gasoline, which amounted to 337 million gallons per day (eia.gov). The second most used petroleum, at 21% of U.S. consumption and 159 million gallons per day, was diesel fuel which is used by larger vehicles and machinery (Electric Vehicle Benefits). For each gallon of gasoline a car uses, 20 pounds of carbon dioxide are produced (Facts about gasoline). In the end, that results in an annual CO2 emission of more than 1.5 billion metric tons, making up a third of the United States’ greenhouse gas emissions (Sobhani 2016). 

So, even if we cut out every petroleum run vehicle, we would cut not even a third of the United States greenhouse gasses. While this seemingly small change may not seem incentivising to switch to elective vehicles, it is also important to note that our dependence on petroleum makes us extremely vulnerable to the variance in supply and distribution (Electric Vehicle Benefits). 25 countries have placed carbon taxes to incentivise the limitations placed on emissions (Batabyal 2021). In addition, Canada, the United Kingdom, Germany, Norway, China, the European Union, and India are making efforts to cut back on fossil fuels as early, for some, as 2025 (Fossil Fuel-Based Vehicle Bans across the World). 

In the United States, the topic of increasing legislation on air quality is put into a new light when considering that political campaigns receive large sums of money from the auto and oil industries. In 2020, according to Open Secrets, the Centre for Responsive Politics, democrats received $12,208,486 and republicans received $62,767,803 worth of contributions to their campaigns from this industry (OpenSecrets). This would explain why members of congress and the fossil fuel industries have not been allies with the Clean Air Act and have actively tried to delay its influence (Clean Air Act 2010). 

This influence has created many disagreements about motivations behind decisions being made in regards to this act. For example, under the Trump administration’s Environmental Protection Agency, which withdrew a policy that had required plants that emitted high levels of hazardous air pollutants (either at least 10 tons of one hazardous pollutant or 25 tons of mixed hazardous pollutant per year) to “remain subject to stricter control standards” (Biesecker 2018 ) – even once a listed source of hazardous pollutants addresses and ratifies their pollutants, the source will never be taken off the list or have less strict requirements (ibid.).

John Borrasso, the Senate Environment Committee Chairman of Wyoming said, “withdrawal of this policy means manufacturers, oil and gas operations, and other types of industrial facilities will have greater incentive to reduce emissions,” (ibid.). Environmentalists however, strongly disagreed with this and saw the removal of the policy as the most dangerous move taken by the EPA under Trump’s presidency (ibid.) and likely resulting from the industries’s hand in our politics.

Currently, President Biden’s American Job Plan is working to decrease our dependence on fuels by providing funding that will promote the use of electric vehicles. $173 billion will be invested as a “down payment in the future of transportation” through the installation of electric vehicle charging stations across the United States (Blanco 2021). The estimate is that by 2030 there will be 500,000 chargers installed, which will incentivise Americans to purchase electric cars (ibid.). 

“This federal investment of $174 billion is really intended to activate all of the private human and financial capital that will be needed and is just a fraction of the real cost for this transformation. This is a down payment on the future of transportation”, John Levin, the executive director of Plug In America, a group promoting the use of electric vehicles, told the New York Times (Blanco 2021).

Individual states have also started taking action to switch to a more electric future. California and Massachusetts have begun placing limitations on the selling of gas-based cars (ibid.). California specifically has been a leader in this push, not only governmentally, but technologically. In September 2020, Governor Gavin Newsom gave an executive order that his state will be independent from petroleum-based vehicles by 2035 (Batabayal 2021). 

These goals do not stop at the individual consumer level, but could change bigger industries like agriculture – last year, the world welcomed its first “fully electric, driver optional, smart tractor,” developed in California (Monarch Tractor Electric Tractor 2020).  There is a growing interest in sustainable investments and environmental regulations partly caused by a growing need for support due to labour shortages, and farmers have found a solution in automated and environmentally friendly machinery (Campbell 2020). 

 

 

Works Cited

Batabyal, Amitrajeet A. “Can a Future Ban on Gas-Powered Cars Work? An Economist ExplainsAmitrajeet A. Batabyal.” GovTech, GovTech, 21 Apr. 2021, www.govtech.com/fs/can-a-future-ban-on-gas-powered-cars-work-an-economist-explains.html. 

Biesecker, Michael. “EPA Ends Clean Air Policy Opposed by Fossil Fuel Interests.” AP NEWS, Associated Press, 25 Jan. 2018, apnews.com/article/646836ad590c4230b730fc17cfbcb967. 

Blanco, Sebastian. “Biden’s $2.3 Trillion Infrastructure Plan Leans Heavily on EVs.” Car and Driver, Car and Driver, 30 Apr. 2021, www.caranddriver.com/news/a36017463/biden-23-trillion-infrastructure-plan-electric-cars/. 

Campbell, Linsay. “Going Green: Can Electric Tractors Overtake Diesel?” Modern Farmer, 27 Mar. 2020, modernfarmer.com/2020/03/going-green-can-electric-tractors-override-diesel/. 

“The Clean Air Act.” Union of Concerned Scientists, 18 Nov. 2010, www.ucsusa.org/resources/clean-air-act. 

“Electric Vehicle Benefits.” Energy.gov, www.energy.gov/eere/electricvehicles/electric-vehicle-benefits. 

“Facts About Gasoline – Coltura – Moving beyond Gasoline.” Coltura, www.coltura.org/gasfacts. 

“Fossil Fuel-Based Vehicle Bans across the World.” Reuters, Thomson Reuters, 18 Nov. 2020, www.reuters.com/article/climate-change-britain-factbox/fossil-fuel-based-vehicle-bans-across-the-world-idINKBN27Y19F. 

Monarch Tractor Electric Tractor, Dec. 2020, www.monarchtractor.com/monarch-blogs/#/news/1toEOumnkEksWakieoeC6M. 

Nationalacademies.org, 23 May 2002, www.nationalacademies.org/news/2002/05/oil-in-the-sea-inputs-fates-and-effects. 

“Oil & Gas: Long-Term Contribution Trends.” OpenSecrets.org, Open Secrets, Center For Responsive Politics, www.opensecrets.org/industries/totals.php?ind=E01%2B%2B. 

“Reducing Pollution with Electric Vehicles.” Energy.gov, www.energy.gov/eere/electricvehicles/reducing-pollution-electric-vehicles. 

Sobhani, Sadaf. Review of Air Pollution from Gasoline Powered Vehicles and the Potential Benefits of Ethanol Blending, A Review of Particulate, Nitrogen Oxide, and Volatile Organic Compound Pollution, Energy Future Coalition United Nations Foundation, Oct. 2016. 

“U.S. Energy Information Administration – EIA – Independent Statistics and Analysis.” Gasoline and the Environment – U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), www.eia.gov/energyexplained/gasoline/gasoline-and-the-environment.php

“U.S. Energy Information Administration – EIA – Independent Statistics and Analysis.” Use of Oil – U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), 10 May 2021, www.eia.gov/energyexplained/oil-and-petroleum-products/use-of-oil.php.

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