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In the San Francisco Chronicle: We need more than electric vehicles

24 Sep 2019 | Posted by | 0 Comments |

A new opinion piece in the San Francisco Chronicle explains why electric vehicles and improved fuel efficiency aren’t enough to reduce emissions—and how our federal transportation program shoots any climate change effort in the foot. 

Today, a new op-ed from Transportation for America Director Beth Osborne makes the case that instead of putting all of our climate eggs in the electric vehicle basket, the better way to reduce transportation emissions is to “rethink a system that causes us to drive more and more in the first place.”

Transportation emissions are rising, despite gains in electric vehicle adoption and improved fuel efficiency. Beth writes:

Transportation is now the single largest source of climate pollution, and the vast majority of those emissions — 82 percent — come from the cars and trucks that people drive to the grocery store or school or that deliver our Amazon orders. All that driving is why transportation pollution keeps increasing, despite hikes in fuel efficiency standards and the adoption of electric vehicles. Between 1990-2016, despite a sizable 35 percent increase in the overall fuel efficiency of our vehicle fleet, national emissions rose by 21 percent. Why? Because those improvements were accompanied by a 50 percent increase in driving.

Cleaner and electric vehicles are essential, but they’ll only ever be a small part of the solution. For one, it takes a long time for the vehicle fleet to turn over. Even if Americans purchased nothing but electric vehicles starting today, gas-powered cars would still be on the road for at least another 15 years. Plus, electric vehicles are only as clean as what powers the grid, which in most cases means electric cars will still be powered by fossil fuels.

The op-ed is specific to California, but this isn’t a California-specific issue: Our federal transportation program guarantees that driving will increase everywhere. But we can change this. The federal government encourages states and local governments to choose road projects over transit projects by paying for most of road projects, and only half (at most) of transit projects. Beth writes:

The expensive, inequitable and polluting transportation system we have today was created by a series of intentional policy decisions that started at the federal level and trickled down. It’s time to build a transportation system that gives people more options for getting around without guaranteeing more traffic, frustration and emissions — whether we have electric cars or not.


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Because remember, even if we manage to replace every car with an electric vehicle, clean congestion is still congestion.

Read the full op-ed  and then share Beth’s message with on Twitter to help us spread the word!