Without action, the long-term impacts of climate change will upend our way of life.
But the chemicals we pump into the air are doing more than just causing global temperatures to rise. Today, air pollution is the largest environmental cause of disease and death in the world.
More than half of Americans live in areas with unhealthy levels of air pollution, and the pollution caused by motor vehicles alone causes more than 20,000 Americans to die prematurely every year, according to a recent study published by the Environmental Protection Agency.
In fact, highway vehicles were responsible for more carbon monoxide and NOx pollution in 2019 than all of the nation’s power plants combined.
These emissions are disproportionately impacting communities of color as well as poorer Americans of all ethnicities, who tend to live closer to highways than more affluent White Americans.
A recent study by the Union of Concerned Scientists found that Asian American, Black, and Latino American residents in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic region of the U.S. breathe an average of 66% more air pollution from cars and trucks than White residents.
The pollution, in turn, has led to higher rates of chronic diseases and premature death in minority communities.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
Technological advancements have made Zero Emitting Vehicles, or ZEVs, a reality.
Manufacturing and charging electric vehicles still produces air pollution, but not as much as continuing to drive gas- and diesel-powered cars and the upstream pollution continues to decline as solar, wind and other clean energy are added to the grid — some estimates suggest that more than 75% of the incremental electricity production between 2020 and 2050 will come from renewable sources.
Today, it’s easier to walk into a dealership and pick up a gas-burning car or truck than it is to purchase a ZEV, but that’s changing.
Year after year, ZEVs are becoming more available and technology has enabled manufacturers to produce vehicles that travel farther and cost less.
By next year, industry experts expect five models on the market for under $30,000. In 2023, there will be more than 100 models of electric passenger vehicle models on in all the market. Electric vehicles are quickly becoming cost competitive with conventional vehicles, especially when considering the significant cost savings from maintenance and fuel savings.
These won’t just be consumer models such as Teslas, but commercial ZEVs to replace the buses and big rigs responsible for half of NOx emissions and nearly 60% of the fine particulate pollution from all vehicles.
Fossil fuels and transportation have been synonymous since the car replaced the carriage, and successfully transitioning away from the combustion engine and toward ZEVs will take significant infrastructure investments.
Florida has already started to take action.
In July, Gov. Ron DeSantis announced the state would use $8.5 million in funds from the Volkswagen emissions settlement to expand the state’s electric vehicle charging grid. The Governor also signed legislation this year starting a charging station study that explores where the state should expand its charging grid.
The private sector is starting to buy in as well. In June, Florida Power & Light asked regulators to approve a pilot program that would see it partner with businesses and governments to run electric vehicle charging stations.
Shifting from gas-powered vehicles to ZEVs has an additional benefit: More jobs.
In 2019, there were more than 240,000 people in America employed in jobs related to hybrid and electric vehicles, and nearly 500,000 working in jobs focused on fuel efficient components. These homegrown industries can expand to help build the 100% clean transportation sector we must achieve.
A focus on ZEVs could help bring back us back to pre-pandemic prosperity. In fact, it could also help us fight against the disease itself — early research shows that air pollution has only contributed to the devastation wrought by COVID-19.