Study Claims EVs Will Not Save the Environment, All Cars Are Bad


study claims evs will not save the environment all cars are bad

A recent study published in the Journal of Transport Geography has alleged that “car harm” cannot be undone by the world pivoting to all-electric vehicles. 

However, the paper doesn’t favor everyone running out to buy the largest diesel pickup they can afford. Instead, it adopts the same anti-driving nonsense we’ve seen from the Vision Zero Network and government regulators that have been caught up in its activism web. The issue, as framed in the study, isn’t that EVs still pose a problem. The complaint is that all vehicles are problematic and the paper recommends sweeping policy changes pertaining to how roads are managed to deal with the matter. 

For those unfamiliar, Vision Zero is an initiative designed to change government policy around driving by reducing speeds and restricting automotive traffic — with an end goal of totally eliminating “traffic fatalities and severe injuries, while increasing safe, healthy, equitable mobility for all.”

Many of the promoted solutions exist to inconvenience motorists in a bid to discourage them from driving entirely. Concepts like ultra-low emission zones (ULEZ) and levering connected vehicle technologies to police driving from an environmental and social standpoint are rooted in the key principles of Vision Zero. The program also believes in enhanced roadway surveillance and incorporating automated driving systems whenever possible. Vision Zero likewise strives to see lower speed limits implemented everywhere and roads designed to cater to pedestrians and bicycles, rather than automobiles. 

If you live somewhere that recently introduced new traffic cameras, driving fines ( e.g. congestion charging), lower speed limits, bicycle rental kiosks, or additional bike lanes, there’s a good chance the person making those decisions was influenced by Vision Zero. The study, lead by University of Edinburgh PhD candidate Patrick Miner, also seems to have been influenced and goes into great detail outlining the specific harms caused by driving. 

It asserts that automobiles have effectively shaped the design of many modern cities, with developed nations paying the highest costs by having to maintain an infrastructure and boasting more drivers per capita. It cites the economic and environmental costs of building roads, traffic accidents, oil exploration, fuel production, material mining, manufacturing, insurance and just about everything else that comes with living in a developed society. 

Bloomberg, which reported on the study, focused primarily on the accident rates and air pollution — noting that the paper accused modern roadworks of prioritizing “speed over safety.”

From Bloomberg:

It took Miner two-and-a-half years to survey roughly 400 papers covering everything from noise pollution, to cumulative deaths (60 million to 80 million), to injuries (2 billion), to oil’s 35 [percent] contribution to historic fossil-fuel and cement emissions. These are conservative estimates, he and his co-authors write.

The motivation for the study came out of a simple need, Miner said. When speaking with peers or policymakers about the violence built into the transportation system, “it’s helpful to have one document that you can point people to,” instead of dozens across many disciplines. “That was the impetus for this paper.”

The outlet then runs down a list of scary sounding statistics that were included in the paper and made to seem utterly massive due to the fact that they are global estimates. It notes that 700 children are killed by automobiles per day, faults specific regions for having traffic accidents that “disproportionately kill Black and Indigenous people,” accuses traffic stops for promoting racial hatred, blames vehicles for facilitating drive-by shootings, and accuses traffic-related air pollution for causing immeasurable public damage from respiratory illnesses. 

Those were the more sensational aspects. There was sounder reasoning behind some of the environmental costs tied to vehicle production, roadway maintenance, and upticks in fatal accidents tied to larger vehicles. Unfortunately, the paper doesn’t offer a real solution after it notes that the world transitioning to EVs won’t address most of the problems it’s fretting about.

Electric vehicles tend to be heavier than their combustion equivalents and this does no favors to struck pedestrians. Meanwhile, EVs will likely increase specific forms of air pollution (e.g. tire dust) while mitigating others. If average vehicle weights continue increasing, so will the roadway maintenance schedules requiring massive construction equipment that belch smoke. EVs also require some rather contentious mining practices and tend to source their energy from power stations that may not be as green as one would hope.

However, the paper offers no automotive-based solutions. The report is even entitled “ Car harm: A Global Review of Automobility’s Harm to People and the Environment.” It’s about as unfriendly to driving as it gets but uses the term “automobility” to avoid delivering its central message plainly. 

Bloomberg stated that the paper intentionally “builds on a framework for thinking about mobility justice put forward years ago by Mimi Sheller, a sociology professor who’s dean of the Global School at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, and her late colleague John Urry.” The ultimate goal here is to “spotlight inequalities” so they can be made central to policymaking decisions. But the clear emphasis is on eliminating people’s ability to drive and force them into public transportation. 

Sheller said she wasn’t involved in the new research. But it’s clear that her work was foundational and she’s likewise a serious acolyte for Vision Zero campaigns. Her hometown of Worcester, Massachusetts, incorporated Vision Zero protocols that had become commonplace in Europe but were rare to see in the United States. Those programs have since been adopted in New York City; Tampa, Florida; Albuquerque, New Mexico; Columbia, Missouri; and Eugene, Oregon. 

Make no mistake. These groups are, by their own admission, trying to restrict the public’s ability to drive while giving governments unprecedented levels of control over motorists’ right to move freely. These trends have already been normalized in Europe, have since migrated to North America and are broadly publicized by the media. 

Your author cannot say that every single idea to come out of Vision Zero is a bad one. Physically separating pedestrians from automobiles certainly seems wise and there are likely urban environments that would benefit from lower speed limits. But the general push appears to be aimed at making driving more expensive, less convenient, and front loaded with government oversight until vehicular connectivity reaches a point where control can be wrestled away from the person behind the wheel. The overarching plan very obviously discourages driving until vehicular automation can take over. However, betting on technologies that haven’t yet manifested seems foolish and these were concepts we used to criticize other nations for embracing just a few years ago. It’s more than a little unsettling to see them hitting the mainstream within North America.

[Image: Dogora Sun/Shutterstock]

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