We all know that the “driving” force behind electric cars is their oft-touted benefits for the environment. Most all of us, from the lemon law attorney for used cars in California to the lone-wolf, freelance designer in New York, realize that EVs are great because they don’t have as many emissions, which is great for nature, and that’s that, right?
Not so, according to Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Researcher John Spengler believes that the rise of electric cars and reduction of air pollution may also help reduce the instances of associated death and illnesses, improving health for us all:
“When you think about urban congestion, and you think about the miles traveled in close proximity to people, let alone the people in the cars themselves on the road, that we get a tremendous exposure over the course of our lives from these nearby sources, roadside emissions, effectively, and so if we make that fleet cleaner, we all benefit from healthier air.”
Is he on the mark? Public interest groups like Fresh Energy believe so, and have some data that may reinforce his claims. Combustion engines are big producers of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and in Minnesota, where the group is based, they account for 25 percent of such emissions. Those GHGs encompass specific pollutants, such as particulate matter, volatile organic compounds, nitrogen oxides, and even carbon dioxide. Once inhaled by humans, they can have severely deleterious effects on the body.
One estimate from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and the Minnesota Department of Health says that within the state, air pollutants like this could be responsible for 4,000 yearly deaths, and those deaths disproportionately affect the underserved, children, elderly, and people of color (even though they contribute less to pollution than wealthier, white communities). Nationally, the toll is even higher:
“According to a recent Massachusetts Institute of Technology study, road transportation emissions cause 53,000 premature deaths per year nationally, making transportation the largest single contributor to premature deaths from air pollution.”
Now, where do EVs come into the equation?
As mentioned earlier, EVs have virtually no tailpipe emissions, so while they’re driving around, they aren’t significantly contributing to air pollution (though they still have to get electricity, which can produce some emissions depending on how it is generated).
When combined with cleaner methods of generating electricity, they stand poised to greatly reduce air pollution, and if individuals were to couple this by implementation of more public transportation/walking, the effects could be magnified to an even greater degree.
All of these effects compound, so over time, emissions may continue to drop at greater rates as more people ditch their gas-powered cars for something cleaner.
And, as the environment improves, so do the effects on our health. By curbing climate change, reinvigorating public spaces, and getting some more green into our daily routines, we can all be a bit happier, which, in turn, can make us all a bit healthier.