The Solution to Car Pollution

Many smart people think public transportation is the magic bullet solution for car pollution and global warming. While it’s certainly one of the tools in the toolbelt, it’s not likely to have any additional major impact for decades to come, and by then, it will be too late.

We are in a rapidly worsening climate emergency, and still, too many states and the federal government are fiddling while the world burns. We need to act like we’re faced with a real emergency instead of an inconvenience. Fatigue is a pathetic excuse while you are being hunted by a wild beast that means to slowly eat you alive.

It took us decades to build our illogical urban-suburban-commuter-nightmare. It will take even longer to fix it. So the solution is to forget fixing it and instead break it.

Various schemes to force people from their cars to public transportation that does not work will not have a large enough impact and is simply tinkering around the edges. We can’t force suburban commuters to use a largely unusable public transportation system to take them to their destinations in our cities. These systems fail because they turn a shorter car commute into a much longer public transportation commute. They fail because they cannot transport most suburban people with anything usably close to door-to-door service.

Public transportation suffers badly from the last mile syndrome, which in our country is more like the last five or even ten miles or worse. In the suburbs, getting to the train station can often require a car or bus. Even if you were within a thirty-minute walk or bike ride to a train station, inclement freezing or wet weather would make this impractical for many.

The solution to car pollution and the last mile is not blanketing our suburbs with an unbuildable ugly matrix of buses and trains, which will take decades to implement. The solution to this problem is far simpler and staring us in the face.

The first step is ending our poisonous commuter culture as much and as quickly as possible. Every job that can be performed remotely must be performed remotely. We do not need to build any new costly infrastructure to make this a reality. We just need to legislate away resistance to it. During the worst of the pandemic, about 70% of full-time workers were working remotely.

The second step is we need to discourage gas-powered cars from being driven into cities and greatly encourage the switch to electric. Like the first step, we do not need to build any new costly infrastructure to make this a reality. We just need to legislate things like tolls for driving a gas-powered car into a city alongside programs that make e-cars more desirable.

To encourage everyone everywhere to make the switch to electric, we need incentives that entice instead of the ridiculously brittle, politically correct, too little too late incentives most states and the federal government have implemented. Right now, less than 1% of the cars on the road are electric. Do we need any more proof that what we’re doing is failing?

Many of these incentives have price caps and limits that are aimed more at political correctness than saving our planet. Why cap the e-car price at $55,000? Who cares if someone wants to buy a $55,001 dollar electric car instead of a $55,000 dollar electric car? It is absurd to allow political correctness like this to be the enemy of saving our world. Does climate change have a cap? In the middle of a five-alarm fire, we should not care how much the e-car costs or if they are purchased by higher or lower-income people or a rental car company or a taxi service. We just need more e-cars on the road any way we can.

The Federal government additionally gets it wrong by layers on a confusing mix of phased-in requirements, including income caps and restricting the source of the battery and its components to America or countries with free-trade agreements with us. The result is something so byzantine that no one seems to be sure what it will do. At one point, car manufacturers estimated that 70% of e-cars will be excluded from some or all federal incentives, including most of the practical longer-range e-cars. Was all this intentional? Is this a North American trade protectionist bill or a climate protection bill?

Larger and broader subsidies are needed to vastly accelerate adoption by everyone. The subsidies need to be simple, instant, not income tax based, and apply to both used and new cars, and these subsidies need to remain in place until e-cars become as equally affordable as their gas counterparts.

We also need rules to prevent manufacturers and dealers from raising their prices in response to subsidies. The political analog is also needed. We must penalize states that are implementing additional taxes on e-cars. Yes, some states actually disincentivize e-cars with add-on taxes. These states illogically complain they are losing gas taxes because e-cars don’t burn gas. Are they taxing gas cars for all the costly environmental damage they do? No, they are not. Is the projected gas tax loss, which often amounts to something around 0.25% of gas tax revenue, significant? No, it is not.

We are still in the early days of a climate crisis of unimaginable scale. This self-destructive political correctness and pandering would be like people on the Titanic arguing about the source of the lifeboats or how much someone paid for them or the socioeconomic status of the passengers while the ship sinks with everyone aboard.

We should be banning the sale of any new gas-powered car before this decade is out. We put a man on the moon in a decade and reaped a whirlwind of benefits from that government-subsidized race into space that gave us the microchip and every piece of high-tech gear we own, from mobile phones to notebook computers to medical miracle machines.

Can you imagine what good we could reap by challenging ourselves to go after a difficult environmental target instead of going with the flow of the status quo adrift in a deep river of oil money? Think about how many beneficial American industrial companies like Tesla we could spur and all the good jobs that would go with it.

We also urgently need to counter the propaganda against e-cars. Scientific study after study has shown that every e-car, cradle to grave, pollutes less than gas-powered cars, regardless the energy source(1). Yet, time and again, opponents drag out the old lie that if you get your electrical power from coal, gas cars pollute less than electric cars.

Other critical disinformation that is slowing electric car adoption is that expensive high-powered chargers are needed and that we would instantly crush the power grid if everyone switched to electric cars. The vast majority of electric car owners charge at home. Most people do not need more than a standard 120V outlet to charge their cars. This is called level-1 charging. Electric cars typically charge at 4 to 5 miles per hour on a standard 120V outlet. If we do the math, most cars sit idle at home for at least 12 hours a day, and in that time, 48 to 60 miles of range can be added from a 120V outlet. The average American drives 14,000 miles a year. That’s 38 miles per day.

Installing a scattering of level-2 destination chargers in every community as if they were unusably slow mini-gas stations is wrong thinking. Level-2 requires hours to charge a car, and as a result, will accomplish nothing except create fevered competition for those limited parking spots with chargers. To get the most bang for our buck, we need to provide and promote level-1 charging where people park their cars overnight, not their daytime destinations. Installing low-cost level-1 chargers or 120V outlets in every parking spot in apartment building garages, overnight community street parking, and overnight lots will truly make e-cars practical for everyone. Fast DC chargers, such as Tesla Superchargers or Electrify America, are only needed for long-distance travel and the rare emergency. So, the future of filling up your car is at your home, and the community gas station model is doomed to the dustbin of history.

Right now, the single greatest obstacle to wider e-car adoption and phasing out the commute is entrenched moneyed interests from oil companies to cities whose economies rely too heavily on commuters. We need to stop looking at everything in terms of money. After all, what good is money or even food on the table in the short term when your house and the farm, where that food is grown, are slowly being burnt to the ground by climate change?

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