Electric Cars Won’t Save the Planet
There is a lively debate going on first as a result of some research at North Carolina State and then some rebuttals at web sites like Slate. I was going to join in there but there are already 197 comments there – and anyway I am going to drag this off. It is not about the emissions – or lack of them. As I have said here before, the problem is that they are still cars. Cars are the problem. An electric car is a little bit better than an internal combustion engine car – but then a Smart car is better than an SUV or a Car2Go smart car is better than either. And in actual experience the emissions performance is better than expected.
But cars are still a leading cause of death and ill health. They take up far too much space in cities – moving and parked. We can easily accommodate the next million people who are coming to this region, but not if they insist on driving everywhere. Even the President of the Ford Motor Co recognizes that. It is bad enough what cars do to us – as the result of collisions and the inevitable congestion – but even worse is what it does to the places we live in. The interconnectedness of society is irreparably damaged by infrastructure designed simply to get cars through urban areas as quickly as possible.
We can easily electrify our transportation systems using existing technologies. We could build streetcar systems within towns and interurbans between them – and still live like they did in the 1920s. We could add electric high speed trains to cover longer distances, and reduce not just car travel but jet aircraft too – and that really does make a significant difference to emissions.
But the greatest benefit would be the ability to live without owning a car and getting everything we need within walking distance. We would abandon the ideas that have been so bad for us – like separating out land uses, and building single family home subdivisions which waste so much valuable farm land (which we do not value properly). We could protect much more of the wilderness and watersheds as a result. The reduced need for fossil fuels may be what drives this progress but the benefits in terms of health and quality of life are going to be the unique selling proposition that gets people on board. The sort of places which keep cars under control and make them largely unnecessary are going to be the ones that are most successful. While we now think that being “Green” is good, I think that “livable” may have been a more accurate term for what we want from urban regions.
But as long as there are lots of “thought leaders” being seen in their Leafs or Teslas, we will continue to think that we can continue to live as though it was still the 1960s.