Governments around the world are banning diesel and petrol cars in an attempt to curb CO2 emissions and to slow down the effects of climate change. The alternative proposed by many are electric cars. Yet, are they as environmentally-friendly as you have been led to believe?

The first important fact, which few electric car manufacturers like to admit, is that electric cars still pollute the air with particles from wearing tires, road surfaces and brakes. Of course, they are still better than petrol vehicles but they are not fully clean and green, as many in the general public believe.

Less than green sources

Another thing to consider is where the electricity powering your car comes from. For example, in 2017 only 10% of electricity generated in the US was derived from ‘truly’ green sources, such as solar and wind. Natural gas, on the other hand, makes up 32%, followed closely by coal at 27%. The statistics might be better in other regions such as Europe, but the conclusion remains the same – if the electricity powering your new Tesla is coming from your local coal plant, it’s not an environmentally-friendly vehicle. 

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Using an electric car – great for the environment in theory. / © Tesla

However, even if we presume that the electricity source is clean, electric cars are yet to see wider adoption. There currently are only 3.2 million of them on the road – worldwide. Many models have a high price that is beyond the reach of middle or working class people – lowering your carbon footprint is expensive. In the US, there’s also the issue of too few charging stations at great distances from each other.

Furthermore, the materials used to make electric car batteries are finite and not renewable. Recycling of lithium-ion batteries in an environmentally-safe manner is not possible at the moment either. Before all of these factors change the use of electric cars is beneficial, but meaningless in the grand scheme of things.

Sharing is caring.. for the environment

So what can be done differently to make a positive change for both the environment and people? Wider use of electric public transport is a common and reasonable suggestion for green mobility. According to a study performed by ITDP and UC Davis, it is the best scenario for both the environment and for urban living.

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CO2 emmisions in different scenarios. / © UC Davis, ITDP

The study says that: “The 3R scenario would also dramatically reduce the number of passenger vehicles on the road by almost one third, from 764 million currently to approximately 535 million in 2050. This is only one quarter of the business-as-usual and 2R scenarios which both result in 2.1 billion vehicles by 2050. Fewer vehicles, coupled with less vehicle travel, lessens the need for roadways, parking garages, and related infrastructure, opening up cities for more infrastructure that supports pedestrians and bicyclists.”

This means that common use of public transport and ride-sharing will have the greatest overall impact on lowering CO2 emissions. It will help countries meet their Paris agreement targets, which in turn is expected to prevent global temperature from rising so rapidly.

Another benefit of the proposed scenario would be less traffic jams. In this respect electric cars are no different than petrol ones – they all take up space on the road. With the global population rising and urbanization more trendy than ever, that’s a significant factor to consider. I would rather spend 20 min in relatively-crowded public transport, than 2 hours in a traffic jam.

Finally, in the long-term, less cars being on the road might mean different urban design and living. Right now roads are the lifeblood of every major city, especially in the US. However, without so many of them there will be more space for pedestrian areas, parks, etc – improving the general quality of life.

What do you think? Are electric cars the future of green mobility? Are you planning on buying one? Let us know in the comments below.



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