Just Switching to Electric Cars Won’t Be a Cure-All for the Environment

can be reached at meehna@gmail.com
can be reached at meehna@gmail.com
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According to the EPA, transportation contributed almost one third of all greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. in 2017. Breaking that down further, 59 percent were the result of passenger cars and light-duty trucks on the road.

  • In the U.S., the majority of emissions come from passenger cars and light-duty trucks.
  • Electric cars are part of the solution to reach emissions goals, but aren’t enough.
  • One of the simplest solutions to reducing transportation emissions is to drive less, which, surprisingly, isn’t that difficult to do.

Electric cars are supposed to save the environment. However, an article by Andrew Small on Citylab discusses why converting to EVs won’t be enough.  He notes that if Americans drive electric cars the same amount as they drive their conventional fuel vehicles now, it would cancel out any gains from switching from gas to electric.

Carpooling once a month is a simple way to reduce emissions, and the conversation is a lot better than driving alone. (Photo: Getty Images)


Although the state’s Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards have reduced tailpipe emissions by 5 million metric tons and fuel efficiency increased by 35 percent in the last 26 years, emissions rose by 21 percent. That figure comes down something called vehicle miles traveled (VMT), which increased more than 50 percent.

Small spoke to Steve Cliff, deputy executive director of the California Air Resources Board (CARB), who emphasized how significant VMT are to contributing to pollution. “California expects to have 50 million people by 2050, we’re just shy of 40 million today,” Cliff said. “If VMT were to grow at the same rate relative to today, it would be completely unsustainable — not only from a climate and air-quality perspective, but for congestion and fiscal obligations, too.”

Cliff outlined three things that must happen in order for the state to reduce emissions from transportation another 20 percent by 2035: put 5 million electric vehicles on the road; reduce carbon intensity of fuel by 20 percent through a shift to renewables; and reduce driving by 20 percent. CARB estimates each driver in California would have to reduce their average daily VMT by 4.7 miles. Cliff offered what that would it would look like for each person to make the shift: take transit one day a month, bike one day a month or carpool one day a month.


According to climate scientists, the environment will be irreparably harmed by human actions within 12 years. Driving less is one easily achieved step that can help avoid that end.

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can be reached at meehna@gmail.com
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