Remember those clear skies city-dwellers got a glimpse of during lockdown? As the economy starts (thankfully!) cranking again and resumes burning fossil fuels, they definitely won’t stick around for long. But if you’re inspired by the prospect of a less smoggy future, here’s one good place to start: swap out your gas guzzler for an electric vehicle.
Over the past few months, we’ve gotten a crash course in how our daily driving habits impact the planet. With most of us restricted to our homes, air quality improved across large swaths of the U.S. Pollution over New York City dropped dramatically as levels of carbon monoxide, released mainly from vehicle tailpipes, plunged nearly 50 percent. Now that states are reopening and mobility is again on the rise, a big question is how to sustain (or at least recreate) some of those clean air gains. The challenge seems daunting: gas is an alluring $2 a gallon, public transport still gives us the heebie-jeebies, and, in a sign of the times, many city dwellers are buying a car for the first time.
Enter EVs. The growing demand for “safer” transport options, alongside our collective experience of bluer skies, offers the perfect opening to reconsider electric. Europeans definitely think so: in an April survey, 45 percent of UK residents confirmed that the noticeable improvement in air quality during lockdown made them revisit their plans for EV ownership. Importantly, the survey found they’re planning to make the switch within the next 5 years, versus a timeline of 10-15 years in a previous survey.
Blue skies aren’t the only compelling reason to consider an EV right now. Here’s another big one: oil markets are going bonkers, providing an unpleasant reminder that an economy dependent on oil is a vulnerable economy indeed. Negative barrel prices, Saudi-Russian price wars, and a fragile, debt-ridden domestic fracking industry are all things we’d do better to leave behind.
This perfect storm makes EVs an increasingly reliable option. As Ben Prochazka with the Electrification Coalition recently noted, “Whether you’re a consumer, business, state, or a city, right now an electric vehicle and plugging into the grid gives you the greatest certainty of how much that’s going to cost to operate.” While their initial price tag might be higher, EVs are cheaper to operate over their lifetimes than gas-powered cars—saving EV owners a combined $51.6 million last year, by one analysis. Not to mention that charging your car cheaply at home feels a whole lot safer right now than sharing a germy gas station pump.
That said, we can’t lose focus on the other big crisis we’re facing—climate change—which so far hasn’t shown much sign of easing during COVID. A new study confirms that even when charged on an electric grid powered mostly by fossil fuels, electric cars still have a lower carbon footprint than the most efficient new gas-powered vehicles. And as our electric grid gets cleaner with more wind and solar coming online, electricity-powered EVs will account for less and less emissions (more on this concept here). “Taking into account emissions from manufacturing and ongoing energy use, it’s clear that we should encourage the switch to electric cars…without any regrets,” said environmental scientist Florian Knobloch, a lead author of the study.
Still fixated on those clear skies? Now that we’re back to more choice in our daily routines, how about we take proactive steps to achieve the air quality we want, rather than being forced into outcomes we may not be able to control. Of course, getting to clean air will require changes beyond just how we get around (case in point: in many US cities, relentless emissions from heavy transport, refineries, and power plants largely outweighed any lockdown-induced gains from reduced driving). But, for so many good reasons, accelerating the shift to EVs is a huge part of the solution.
EVs benefit many aspects of our lives, giving us the mobility we need while providing an opportunity to clean up our air, stabilize our budgets, and tackle the climate emergency. During lockdowns, it became clear that changing our own personal driving habits can make a big collective difference—so let’s keep the momentum going.
Ready to take a step on your journey to owning an EV? Two things you can do:
- Sign the “Going Electric” pledge to commit to making your next car electric. Then share it with your friends/network.
- Ready to research EV models? For those of you in and around Virginia, head over to driveelectricva.org to learn more and sign up for discounts on the latest electric models. Not in the area? Plugstar.com is a great resource to learn more about available models.
Originally published in the 6/10/20 edition of our Flip the Script newsletter