Let’s stop pitting thermal cars against electric cars. Electric cars are undeniably better than their thermal cousins when it comes to their impact on the environment. But is this really the solution to the current ecological crisis?
Rarely has a technological topic generated as much debate as that of electric cars. As we move into that future, it’s important to consider the implications of this and whether leaning so blindly into electric cars is really a good thing. We promise, this article is not a story about Elon Musk or Tesla, or a controversial position where ” oil would actually be good for us “.
And if the electric car was not the advertised revolution?
Electric cars are sometimes heralded as a revolution; saviors from our dependence on petrol and pillars in the fight for a more sustainable world. They have the potential to dramatically improve public health and reduce ecological damage. Even the economy sees a salvation in it: electric vehicles would be the next frontier for start-ups and disproportionately large returns from large corporations.
Promises were made, billions were awarded by traditional manufacturers, and dozens of startups were launched in an attempt to capture additional billions. It seems that the adoption of electric vehicles is inevitable.
If at Frandroid, we support electric cars in their quest to overtake thermal cars, I moderate this enthusiasm for their prospects for society in general. From an environmental point of view, there is nothing functionally different between an electric car and a thermomobile.
The relationship is the same, and it is unequivocally environmentally destructive. Cars, no matter how powerful, are not good for the environment, they force a dependency infrastructure that is also economically bad and dangerous for us.
To build a more sustainable future and a better world for humanity, we need to address the fundamental problems that got us here. Yes, electric cars emit less than thermal cars. But the least emitting energy is the energy we do not consume.
Two billion cars in 2035
As the electric car market grows, so does the overall car market. By 2035, almost two billion cars will be in circulation worldwide. This presents significant challenges. In 2010, 14% of global emissions came from transport. Total emissions have continued to rise in the past decade, with the transport share accelerating proportionally. This is crucial because if we want to limit global warming, it means that we will have to reduce our total emissions.
If we don’t, we are headed for disaster. Even if all cars were electric by 2035 and all production was carbon neutral (which is impossible), we would only reduce global emissions by a maximum of 20%, well below the projected 55%.
We compare electric cars with thermal cars, but that is not what should interest us. Instead, we must compare development models. This distinction is important because development plans must include new emissions from cars, but also new construction, existing buildings, infrastructure and so on.
Simply switching to electric cars does not solve the underlying cause
The challenge we face is clear: we must not only make the transition to cleaner vehicles, but we must also make the transition to more respectful environments in general. Simply switching to electric cars does nothing to address the underlying cause. And you might know what I’ve been talking about all along. I am obviously talking about our private cars.
Cars need roads to drive on. That is clear. But what is less obvious is the extent to which roads (and cars) dictate how our environment was built. In essence, we have created a world built around cars first, where people, the environment, wildlife, atmosphere and pretty much everything else take a back seat. By deciding to build for cars first, we ceded a large part of our environment to them.
You want to tell me… but do we have a choice? It is a perverse system. As our cities expand and grow, we are cut off from essential services such as schools, businesses and doctors. If you live 30 minutes from a city center and there is not necessarily public transport nearby, there is no other choice but to drive everywhere by car. This perpetuates and promotes addiction.
As the current gasoline shortage shows, barriers have been erected to make it nearly impossible to reverse our car addiction. Our world is being held hostage.
Let’s suspend reality for a moment and imagine that electric cars would solve all climate problems on their own. This reasoning assumes that environmental impact is the only problem. As promising as that is, it only tells part of the story.
Building a world around cars poses a danger to us all. 1.35 million people worldwide die in car accidents every year. It is unacceptable, but for some reason it is accepted. We can’t do anything about it, we have the same fatalism that we would have in the face of a natural disaster. Whether electric or thermal, autonomous or not, the car will continue to kill.
And if it doesn’t because of a shock, an indirect collision or reckless driving, they do it more harmfully because of health damage and with equally devastating consequences. Obesity, diabetes, lung disease (due to pollution), heart disease or other ailments are associated with this sedentary lifestyle.
A consequence of the deterioration of our physical health is our mental health. In fact, spontaneous interactions in the car are reduced to almost zero. Every meeting must be planned. In addition, we develop defensive mindsets. Not to mention those who can’t drive or can’t afford the expenses associated with owning a car. Especially since the price of electric cars is far too high. This is a vector of profound injustice.
All of these questions arise from a series of choices that do not put us at the center of our decisions. Not only do EVs not solve these many pressing threats on their own, but they amplify them through the perpetuation of a failing system. Replacing electric cars with thermal cars does not change the underlying development model.
We need to tackle the root causes
Instead of passively believing that electric cars will save us, we need to address the root causes of the evils that are consuming our world. Yes, we must invest in sustainable and clean cars. But we should also facilitate micro-mobility solutions (such as bicycles, scooters and public transport). All these solutions can be green. Most importantly, we must make it safe and possible to go wherever it is necessary. So, above all, we need to stop building car-dependent development models. Finally, all these changes must be based on the use of sustainable technologies and standards.
If the switch to electric cars is a step in the right direction, it is only a step. We can make meaningful changes, but we must be brave enough to do so.
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