Over the last few years, we have seen a major push by the US government toward electric vehicles. Now that oil and gas prices are surging to record highs and Americans are feeling pain at the pump, more renewed efforts to get more people on EVs are starting to emerge.
For a very long time, a switch to EVs has largely been framed as the most environmentally responsible thing to do. After all, the transport industry remains the biggest emitter of carbon gasses in the US.
If more people can adopt electric vehicles and ditch the gas-powered polluting ones, then the US could drastically reduce its carbon footprint. But it’s also emerging that a shift toward EVs may also have important impacts on the overall health of Americans. A report by the American Lung Association suggests that a drop in pollution caused by gas-powered cars could prevent nearly 110,000 premature deaths by 2050.
The report also shows that a switch to EVs could help avert up to 2.78 million asthma attacks. EVs could also help Americans cut sick days due to pollution-related illnesses. The American Lung Association notes that reducing pollution could reduce the number of sick days by nearly 13.4 million by 2050. As for the financial impact, the new report estimates that over $1.2 trillion could be saved in public health costs.
But these benefits have one small caveat. The report assumes that all new passenger cars sold in the US will be all-electric by 2035. It also estimates or assumes that all heavy-duty cars sold in the US by 2040 will be fully electric. There’s also the question of where exactly that energy will be coming from. While pollution from cars is a huge problem, there’s also a lot of pollution that comes from fossil fuels used to power electric stations.
For the American Lung Association, all electricity production will need to come from clean sources if the benefits highlighted in the report will be realized. In essence, the report is calling for a full transition to green energy by 2040, something that may face huge challenges. For example, out of all new cars purchased in the US in 2021, only 3% were fully electric.
This is quite small and if those numbers do not improve drastically, it's hard to see how we will make 100% in EVs by 2035. But the White House has set ambitious targets for decarbonizing US transport systems. The recent gas crunch occasioned by the fighting in Ukraine and bans on Russian energy exports is also fueling a fundamental policy shift towards renewable energy.
Whether this will happen fast enough remains to be seen. Nearly 4 in 10 Americans live in places where there is an unhealthy level of air pollution. Polluted air has been linked to a host of diseases including lung cancer, heart disease, and others. It is also estimated that Americans of color are disproportionately affected by the pollution and the effects that it brings.