Cars are bad, especially the ones that run on gas, which are most of them. The average car emits about 4.6 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year (that equals roughly one shitload), and the transportation sector is responsible for 29 per cent of the United States’ greenhouse gas emissions. All those emissions not only contribute to the climate crisis, they also pollute the air and create all sorts of health problems.
Electric vehicles aren’t a silver bullet because they still run on our fossil fuel-powered grid and on batteries made of rare Earth minerals, which are extracted through a carbon-intensive process. But they still produce far fewer greenhouse gas emissions and air pollutants than their petrol or diesel counterparts, and all told are far better for the planet.
That’s why Democratic Representatives Andy Levin of Michigan and Green New Deal queen Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York released the Electric Vehicle Freedom Act this week. The legislation would require the Energy and Transportation departments to create a network of high-speed charging stations along the public roads of the national highway system within five years.
“Cars, above all else, have historically represented America’s problem with dirty oil,” Ocasio-Cortez told reporters at a press conference on Thursday. “Establishing a nationwide network of electric vehicles charging stations helps us reduce emissions, creates good-paying jobs, and will help transition the U.S. economy to a cleaner future.”
Right now, there are approximately 1.18 million EVs on the streets of the U.S., which is about 2 per cent of the country’s motor vehicle market share. But as the industry expands, localities across the country will need far more charging points.
That would enable folks to drive EVs across long distances without worrying about a charging point being available and democratize their distribution. Right now, rich localities in the US have far more chargers than poorer ones. Poorer neighbourhoods of colour across the United States are also far more likely to have polluted air from cars and other sources, which can create all sorts of health problems, so the bill includes provisions to prioritise installing chargers in areas polluted by vehicle emissions.
There’s not a clear funding mechanism laid out for the program, and the bill has no Republican support, so there’s pretty much no chance it’s going to pass any time soon. But like AOC’s Green New Deal Congressional Resolution, for now, planting a stake in the issue could help drum up support for plans in the future. The bill has been backed by environmental organisations like Union of Concerned Scientists, Sierra Club, and Earthjustice. Unions such as the United Steelworkers (USW) and United Automobile Workers (UAW) have signed on, too, perhaps because the bill explicitly states that the new charging stations would be built by union workers.
Again, electric vehicles aren’t a perfect climate solution, or a perfectly just one. Mining for the lithium for the electric batteries that EVs run on often requires evaporating lake beds in places in the Global South that are already experiencing drought, like Bolivia and Chile, which can threaten water and food security. Lithium-ion batteries are also currently difficult to recycle, so work will need to be done to ensure they don’t create tons of polluting waste. But this doesn’t have to be a choice between fossil fuels and justice. Batteries can be recycled, and the supply chain to create them can be more just. Manufacturers and policymakers just need to prioritise research into those fields and build on those findings.
They also need to ensure we transition off of fossil fuels really, really quickly, because the future of life on the planet depends on it. And this bill could get us part of the way there.