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Op-Ed: Think bigger. Switching to electric cars isn’t enough

Op-Ed: Think bigger. Switching to electric cars isn’t enough

Aerial view of crowded parking lot
A Tesla charging station in Santa Monica.
(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

It might feel like the easy solution — just replace your gas-guzzling SUV with an electric SUV, and if everyone does that, eventually we’ll solve climate change. You can see why California regulators decided last month that by 2035, all new cars sold in the state must be electric. After all, car exhaust is the single biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions in California, so surely switching gas-powered cars to electric ones will make a huge dent in fighting climate change.

Except it doesn’t. For starters, electric cars still pollute. They don’t have tailpipe emissions, but the process of producing and transporting them creates pollution. According to the International Energy Agency, the average gas-powered car will create 41.9 tons of CO2 emissions from the point it’s manufactured until it’s retired, in contrast to 21.1 tons of CO2 from an EV. In other words, while the average EV will pollute about 50% less compared with a gas-powered car, it’s still highly polluting.

There’s also pollution, and other harms, that come before the manufacturing stage, especially in the intensifying global competition to procure rare earth materials (concentrated in China) for EV batteries. In the past, we have often been dependent on the Middle East for oil. Do we want to create a future in which we’re again dependent on countries that may not be aligned with our values for required materials for our transportation system?

The second issue is power capacity. During the first week in September, California faced a historic heat wave, and alerts were issued asking EV owners to not charge their vehicles during peak times. And this is at a time when only 1.9% of cars operating in California are EVs….

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