The big idea
Road transportation (as in, everything that’s not a boat or a plane) is a major polluter. In fact, emissions from the sector have been rising for the past 20 years. In 2020, passenger cars were the biggest source of emissions, accounting for 41% of global transportation emissions.
Anthony Eggert, a clean transportation expert and director at the ClimateWorks Foundation, has been working on changing that for the past two decades. He’s been working on transitioning the world away from oil-based combustion engines towards a safe transportation system for people and goods everywhere in the world. That’s more than just cars. “It’s about transitioning, basically everything that has motor power, operating on roadways, from three wheeled rickshaws, to buses, to the trucks that deliver our goods, from the factories to your doorstep.”
How do we do that? You guessed it. An electric revolution.
As you read this, there are over a billion polluting vehicles currently on the road. And that number is actually still growing. Different parts of the world are still modernising so they’re adding more trucks, more cars and more buses which is helping them grow but it’s contributing to the upward cure of transport-related emissions. “We need to bend that curve back in the direction of a future that is consistent with a 1.5 degree or safe climate.”
How do we do that?
Anthony is one of the people behind Drive Electric, the campaign to end the polluting tailpipe and accelerate the global transition to a clean transportation future. They do that in three ways:
Smart Government Policies
They support government policies at all levels that overcome barriers and grow the Electric Vehicle (EV) market. Encouragingly, there are already policies that include regulations, incentives and infrastructure programmes that are already shifting hundreds of billions of dollars in the direction away from combustion and towards clean electric vehicles.
Business Leadership and Action
They work with business leaders that are committed to a clean future to electrify their vehicle fleets and support their employees and customers to adopt EVs and engage vehicle manufacturers to increase their EV investments.
This is a broad term encompassing all of the organisations, collectives and constituencies representing the environment, local communities, health, labor, consumers, business, and equity. Drive Electric supports the essential voices of key stakeholders including the communities most affected by vehicle pollution and who deserve cleaner air.
What will the revolution look like?
Your average person will have more choice in terms of what they buy. “If they’re in the market for a vehicle,” Eggert says, “there’s going to be more offerings beyond the big polluting SUVs and such. There are going to be cleaner options across the board.” It also means the air that we breathe will be cleaner. “This is going to have a very near term and immediate effect on people’s ability to buy cleaner products, their ability to breathe cleaner air, and of course, ultimately, to have a safer climate.”
But aren’t EVs expensive?
Six years ago, yes. Today, they’re fractionally more expensive to buy but a thousand times cheaper to run because batteries, the tech that makes EVs possible, have gotten cheaper. In fact, batteries have declined at 87% in price just over the last 10 years. And that trend continues. By Eggert’s research institutions, they think that in a matter of a couple of years, EVs are going to be a cheaper and more affordable product for everybody in the world. Add to that the fact that the fuel that powers these (electricity) is already cheaper than gasoline and diesel. Plus, the maintenance cost of these vehicles is already proven to be less expensive to own and operate. So when you sort of add all that up, “this is going to be a dramatically more affordable mobility system for people who buy cars for people who use buses for companies that need to, you know, deliver goods.”
What about if I want a vintage luxury Rolls?
Well, deep in the heart of Wales is a non-descript industrial unit where classic cars roll in to the sound of sputtering flat-fours and emerge accompanied by just the low hum of an electric motor as they head off into the hills. Electric Classic Cars has made a business out of converting classic cars into EVs. Indeed, Eggert agrees, soon not only will you be able to buy a new electric Rolls Royce, you can already make your old one significantly cheaper – for a price.
What About Charging?
There are three types of charging:
- Level One: The wall plug which you can use to charge your car overnight.
- Level Two: This is the 3-4 hour charger. You usually see these in hotel car parks.
- Level Three: This is the super-charger. You can park, go get some snacks, take a rest break, come back, and you’ve got enough juice to continue on your way.
For Eggert, it’s all about building the right infrastructure: “We have an opportunity here, as we continue to add new housing infrastructure, to not make the mistakes of the past, which is to not make them ready for this transition.” A lot of states are now adopting rules that require that new constructions, both residential and commercial, be ‘EV make-ready’. This means that you put in all of the capacity so that it’s very simple and cheap to just hang a charger on the wall. In the same way that sofas these days come with their own USB charging ports, houses will come with the infrastructure to charge cars.
How do people feel about it?
One truck fleet operator told Eggert that one of their drivers prefers to call in sick if she can’t drive an electric vehicle that day because she prefers it so much, because of the lower vibration, the lower noise and the easier drive. Another anecdote he tells is of a bus driver who arrives at work 15 minutes early so they can get the jump on the others to get the electric bus.
Why is this relevant to me?
You might not own a car but if you order things online, this affects you. “When you hit the buy button, what you’ve kicked off is a chain reaction that extends all the way back to where that product originates from and where it’s produced. That whole supply chain has to be cleaned up for that button that you just push to actually be better for the climate, not contributing to the problem.”
Cities definitely do bear the brunt but it’s usually further down the supply chain that you find high concentrations of pollution. There’s an area in California, which is sometimes referred to as the “diesel death zone”. This is an area in which research has shown that diesel pollution is contributing to a significant increase in unnecessary premature deaths and a significantly increased incidence of childhood asthma.
Eggert underlines how important it is for them to be part of the conversation, hence the ‘people power’ pillar of their strategy.
“It’s important that they be part of the conversation and that they’re part of the coalition, that their voices are there at the outset”.
Until next time – stay curious!