These ‘green’ vehicles may cut pollution but still rely on fossil fuels and do not end the inactivity causing our obesity crisis
Ian Walker and Gustav Bösehans
Fri 8 Jan 2016
You could be forgiven for thinking that electric cars are a magic bullet for transforming the streets of the UK. London mayoral candidate Zac Goldsmith has claimed they will soon make buses in the capital redundant, and the city has launched a £100m project to encourage more people to use electric cars. There is, presumably, a clear case for saying London would be transformed for the better by electric vehicles.
Alas, we struggled to find this case written down anywhere. So we sat down with a blank spreadsheet and tried to work it out from first principles. We began by listing the problems that motor vehicles currently bring to cities. Then, we asked what electricity could do to address each of these.
Is electric better?
Perhaps the most obvious reason people get excited about electric vehicles is pollution. Conventional vehicles spew some very noxious stuff into our streets, killing many thousands each year (pdf), including several thousand in London alone. Electric vehicles offer a real advantage in reducing the dangerous nitrogen oxide and particulate matter in urban areas.
But as well as being cleaner, are electric vehicles also greener? That’s a different question – one to which the answer is entirely dependent on how the nation generates its electricity. In 2014, 19.1% of the UK’s electricity (pdf) was generated from renewables compared with 30% for gas and 30% for coal.
This heavy use of fossil fuels means the electric car is not as eco-friendly as it might initially appear. Electric vehicles basically move the fossil-fuel combustion from inside the car to another part of the country (safely outside the purview of any elected mayors). They don’t do much about how we’ll stop our nation emitting greenhouse gases.
The problems of today’s vehicles, however, go far beyond emissions. The hypermobility (pdf) they provide permits suburban sprawl (and thus extra greenhouse gas emissions) as it becomes possible for people to live, work and shop at places distant from one another. And there is another big space problem: a car used for 50 minutes a day is unused 96.5% of the time. Frequently cars are stored on roads and pavements, to the detriment of traffic flow, aesthetics, councils’ finances and the needs of vulnerable road users.
Simply swapping one engine for another does nothing to solve a raft of other problems. The UK has a billion-pound health crisis (pdf) arising from physical inactivity. Shifting shorter journeys – for example, those under two miles – from cars to active travel modes such as walking or cycling is one of the best things (pdf) any developed nation can do to tackle its health problems. Electric vehicles, at best, leave this problem untouched.
Jan 16) Electric cars won’t save our cities | The Guardian
These ‘green’ vehicles may cut pollution but still rely on fossil fuels and do not end the inactivity causing our obesity crisis Ian Walker and Gustav Bösehans Fri 8 Jan 2016 You could be forgiven for thinking that electric cars are a magic bullet for transforming the streets of the UK. London mayoral candidate Zac… [Read More]