Even if we electrified our entire vehicle fleet overnight, pollution from the production and use of cars would still make us (and the planet) sick — and policymakers should start pushing for strong policy to mitigate the impacts of non-tailpipe emissions now, a new study finds.
Analysts from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development compiled research from around the world about all other ways that motor vehicles poison our communities besides their greenhouse gas emissions. (Let it never be forgotten: transportation is still the single largest drivers of climate change.) The influential intergovernmental organization found that there are at least four ways that cars contribute to a range of deadly public health and environmental crises, and all four of them get worse the bulkier cars are, and the faster they travelled.
That’s bad news, of course, for the SUVs and and pick-up trucks that are significantly more deadly to vulnerable road users, and that are fast becoming the near-default purchase for the American car-buyer. But it’s also bad news for electric vehicles, which tend to be heavier on average that gas-powered cars due to the weight of vehicle-grade batteries. When those batteries are tasked with toting monstrosities like the electric Hummer, the non-exhaust-related emissions of EVs may actually exceed those of internal combustion vehicles, which the researchers said could be a disaster for public health if the popularity of mega-cars continues to rise, even as emissions standards get stronger.
“In the absence of targeted policies to reduce non-exhaust emissions, consumer preferences for greater [driving range requiring larger batteries] and larger vehicle size could therefore drive an increase in [fine particle] emissions in future years with the uptake of heavier EVs,” the researchers wrote.
The study offers yet another reminder of why an over-reliance on electric vehicle adoption as a silver bullet climate change strategy is deeply misguided — and why reducing vehicle miles travelled by promoting greener ways to get around must be at the center of our efforts to save the world. Here are all the ways that even the ‘greenest’ cars on the road are still polluting our places, and what we can do about it.
Lung-clogging brake dust
Normally, we here at Streetsblog staff are big fans of drivers hitting the brakes — especially if it stops them from hitting people. But the trouble is, every time they do it, they’re essentially grinding hot, toxic metals into dust, and then scattering them into the lungs of unsuspecting passersby.