The overwhelming climate damage from Canadian cars comes from burning the gasoline to move them around. Over the full life cycle of Canadian gasoline cars and electric cars, the 70 tonnes of CO2 from burning gasoline absolutely crushes everything else.
To help visualize the gargantuan scale of gasoline car emissions — and how much less climate damage an electric car driven in Canada causes — I've created a series of charts.
Let's start by looking at the most consequential stage in a car's life cycle: the fuel.
Gasoline versus made-in-Canada electricity
Electricity made in Canada is much cleaner to drive on than gasoline. My first chart shows the relative climate emissions from fuelling our cars with each. (Note: In this article, I use the term "gasoline" to refer to both gasoline and diesel road fuels. They have similar CO2 intensities. For more on this and all the other nerdy carbon details used in this article, see the endnotes.)
As the top red line on the chart shows, burning gasoline creates sky-high emissions.
In fact, gasoline is even climate-dirtier than coal. Burning gasoline in a car emits more CO2 per unit of energy than burning coal in a power plant. And in Canada, our cars also dump twice as much total CO2 into the air each year than all our coal power plants.
Fortunately, we have a much cleaner and safer fuel: our made-in-Canada electricity.
Eighty per cent of Canadians live in provinces with super-clean electricity — Ontario, Quebec, B.C., Manitoba and Newfoundland and Labrador. Driving on their electricity nearly eliminates the climate pollution from fuelling a car. That's shown by the green bar at the bottom of the chart.
And even in our provinces with the most carbon-intensive electricity — like Alberta, Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia — driving on electricity is only half as climate polluting as gasoline. This is shown by the yellow bar. And that yellow bar keeps going down. It's already a third lower than in 2000 and is on track to keep falling.
What people are reading
Not only does burning gasoline create far more climate damage, it also makes people sick. The noxious chemical smog produced by burning gasoline and diesel is a key cause of illness and early death in Canada and worldwide. Even small amounts of tailpipe emissions have big health impacts. For example, a recent California study found that asthma-related emergency room visits declined in areas after only a tiny percentage of cars had switched from gasoline to electric.
And a third big strike against gasoline is that it costs Canadian drivers far more than electricity. How much more? Gasoline currently costs around $1.50 per litre. Charging an electric car at home costs around 25 cents per litre-equivalent for most Canadians. At those prices, gasoline will end up costing $30,000 more than electricity over the lifespan of an average new car.
So far we've just compared the fuel side of things. Next, let's expand the focus to see the full life cycle emissions, which include the cars themselves.
'What about the batteries?'
The most common question I get when discussing gasoline's huge climate impacts is: "But what about the batteries for electric cars?"
So, to shed some light on this perennial question, I dug into a detailed life cycle analysis of gasoline cars and electric cars by the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT). And to make it Canada-specific, I used the electricity emissions from our provinces. My next chart shows the result.
That towering bar on the left is the life cycle emissions for the average new gasoline car in Canada. It totals around 80 tonnes of climate pollution (tCO2) per car.
As the red part shows, almost all that climate damage is caused by the gasoline — a crushing 70-tonne climate hammer per car. Only a tenth of a gasoline car's life cycle emissions come from making the car itself. If that seems surprising, consider that the gasoline that has to be burned weighs 10 times more than the car itself.
Luckily, Canadians looking to buy a new car can choose one that runs on electricity instead. As the chart's right-hand bar shows, electric cars in Canada create far fewer life cycle emissions.
Making a gasoline car is currently a bit less climate-polluting than making an electric car. Around 2 tCO2 less. But this small advantage gets wiped out many times over by the extra emissions from fuelling the car.
For example, in our clean electricity provinces, the fuel needed to drive an electric car will emit only one tonne of CO2. That's shown by the tiny green bar on the chart. In these provinces, the life cycle emissions for an electric car add up to around 13 tCO2.
And even in Canada's dirty electricity provinces, electric cars result in only half the climate impact of gasoline cars. And as their electricity keeps getting cleaner, all their electric cars do, too.
The clear takeaway from this life cycle analysis is that gasoline cars are hugely climate-polluting. If we want a shot at a livable climate future, then we need to stop filling our roads and driveways with new 70-tonne climate hammers.
The good news is that we have cleaner electric options. The bad news is, well …
Canadians keep buying burnermobiles
Unfortunately, a decade of having electric cars available in Canada hasn't slowed the rising tide of gasoline burners.
Here's a chart showing the latest vehicle registration numbers from Statistics Canada.
The height of each bar on the chart indicates the number of light-duty vehicles (cars, SUVs, vans, and pickup trucks) registered each year in Canada.
The black bars are vehicles that burn gasoline. Their numbers have marched upwards like clockwork — from 17 million two decades ago to more than 24 million last year. It's a startlingly, relentless rise that's adding another million fossil burners to our roads every three years.
That's a lot of 70-tonne climate hammers.
Where are all the electric cars? They're shown on the chart by those tiny green bars at the top. Yeah, not many. They're barely visible at this scale.
In Canada, electric cars are a thin green frosting on top of an ever-expanding fleet of burnermobiles. For every new electric car added to our roads over the last five years, we've added 10 more gasoline cars.
Ten steps backwards isn't climate progress.
More tailpipes. More emissions
Unsurprisingly, adding millions more gasoline burners has also led to millions more tonnes of climate pollution pouring out the tailpipes.
My next chart tracks gasoline emissions from Canadian cars since 1990.
The CO2 coming out of tailpipes is shown by the lower grey line. The full life cycle emissions for that gasoline are shown by the upper line.
Take a look at the trend since 2010. That's been the decade of rising electric car options and sales. Have cleaner options led to falling gasoline emissions in Canada?
No. Just the opposite.
Gasoline emissions have taken off, rocketing past the 100-million-tonne mark.
Canada's single biggest source of climate pollution is the making and burning of gasoline. Having that emissions curve surging upwards obviously isn't climate progress.
It's Category 5 climate failure.
What can we do in Canada?
Is there anything we can do to bend our emissions curve rapidly downward toward climate safety?
It turns out that many of our peer nations have found ways to reduce the climate pollution from their cars.
The policies that have worked for them are based on the "polluter pays" principle. These policies include higher taxes on gasoline and adding CO2-weighted fees on gas guzzlers. We can adopt policies like these that have worked so well for them.
Here are just two examples.
Our Commonwealth peers in the United Kingdom (U.K.) successfully reduced their car emissions by doubling their gasoline taxes. The Conservative government of John Major started that decades ago with the express goal of reining in their climate emissions. Today, the U.K. taxes gasoline three times higher than Canada does — their gas tax is the equivalent of $560 per tonne of CO2 emitted.
A second example is Norway. They’ve led the world in the race to eliminate the sale of new gasoline-burning cars. And as the chart above shows, their success has resulted in a plunging drop in their car emissions.
Nearly everything I read in Canada about Norway’s rapid transition away from gasoline cars gets the policy part wrong. The common assumption here is that Norway did it by offering great incentives for buying cleaner electric cars (carrots). But the key to Norway's success has been policies that raise the cost of the dirtier gasoline cars (sticks).
Their most effective single policy has been a "polluter pays" tax added to new cars. Specifically, they calculate the purchase tax for new cars based on car weight, CO2 emissions and NOx emissions. This can nearly double the cost of buying a polluting gas guzzler. Imagine Canada bringing in an 80 per cent sales tax on big, new gas-guzzling SUVs and you've got the basic idea.
And a second "polluter pays" policy tag teams with that: Norway taxes gasoline even higher than the U.K. — at the equivalent of $600 per tonne of CO2 emitted.
These two policies can easily add $50,000 or more to the cost of the kinds of new gas guzzlers Canadians buy.
So, it's not surprising that Norwegians stopped buying new gasoline cars. Their policies made them too expensive. Canadians would do the same if we adopted similar policies.
And, critically, Norway's policies have also changed the incentives for legacy automakers. If automakers want to sell cars in Norway, they have to offer cars that Norwegians can afford — electric ones. And, unsurprisingly, car companies fill their showrooms in Norway with electric cars. In fact, many legacy makers have completely stopped offering gasoline cars there.
In contrast, Canada's car emissions are rocketing in the opposite direction — up, up, up. That's because we've avoided "polluter pays" policies. Instead, our gasoline taxes remain ultra-low compared to most of our peers. And we lack any effective "polluter pays" fees on buying new gas guzzlers. The result is that new gas guzzlers remain as affordable as ever in Canada. And so Canadians keep buying them.
And, to make matters worse in Canada, legacy automakers have a huge financial incentive to prioritize selling gasoline cars here, while dragging their feet on offering electric cars. That's because legacy car companies make the most profit selling their biggest gas-guzzling SUVs and pickup trucks. They are desperate to sell them somewhere in the world.
Canada's ever-growing horde of burnermobiles and soaring tailpipe emissions are exactly what you get when polluters don't have to pay.
In this article, I grouped provincial electricity into two groups for simplicity.
For those interested in a breakdown by province, here's a chart showing the details. The data source for provincial electricity emissions is Canada’s National Inventory Report (Part 3).
The height of each bar shows grams of CO2 per kWh delivered to the wheels.
The red bar is gasoline. This is essentially the same in all provinces.
The five green bars on the left are the five provinces I grouped together as having super-clean electricity. Eighty per cent of Canadians live in these provinces.
The next four provinces, shown by orange bars, have much dirtier electricity. In the article, I grouped them together using a population-weighted average that worked out to be very similar to Alberta’s electricity of just over 700 gCO2 per kWh to wheels.
This chart also lets you see how much cleaner each province’s electricity has become since 2000. For example, Alberta's electricity is now 36 per cent cleaner than in 2000. And Ontario's electricity is 91 per cent cleaner. Policies already on the books will continue this trend towards cleaner electricity as coal power is slated to be replaced primarily by wind. That means that an electric car bought today will be fuelled by increasingly cleaner electricity over its lifespan.
HOW TO COMPARE GASOLINE TO ELECTRICITY
In this article, and in that chart just above, I compared gasoline to electricity in terms of the CO2 emitted to deliver the same amount of energy to the wheels. I like this metric because it allows direct comparisons of fuels that are independent of any specific model or make of car. For those interested in how I calculated this metric, here are the details.
For gasoline cars. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says ~20 per cent of the energy in gasoline ends up turning the wheels. The rest is lost in waste heat and friction. So, to deliver each kWh of energy to the wheels, drivers need to fill the tank with 5 kWh worth of gasoline. The direct emissions from burning 5 kWh worth of gasoline are 1,260 gCO2. The full life cycle emissions for gasoline are ~ 25 per cent higher (EPA). Adding those increases gasoline's life cycle total to 1,577 gCO2 per kWh of energy to the wheels.
For electric cars. Battery electric cars are far more energy efficient. The EPA says that ~88 per cent of the electricity put into an electric car makes it to the wheels. So, to deliver each kWh of energy to the wheels requires charging the car with 1.14 kWh of electricity from the grid. The emissions from that depend on the electricity supply. For example, Quebec's electricity emits 2 gCO2 per kWh. So, 1.14 kWh of Quebec electricity results in 2.28 gCO2 per kWh of energy to the wheels — 500 times less climate polluting than gasoline.
DETAILS ON THE AVERAGE CAR
If you are interested in details about the "average car," here are some key metrics used by the ICCT in its life cycle analysis. The ICCT data I used in this article were specifically for the average new sedan-style car sold in the United States (note: key differences with the SUVs and pickup truck segment are discussed further down). Using U.S. government data, the ICCT determined that the average new gasoline car there consumes 7.8 L per 100 kilometres. Canadians buy slightly more gas-guzzling cars than Americans do, but I didn't adjust for that. For new electric sedan-style cars, the ICCT found that the sales-weighted average battery size is 70 kWh. For U.S. cars, it found that the average lifespan is 314,000 kilometres. They assumed new electric cars will last for a similar number of kilometers as new gasoline cars — although it also noted that new electric car batteries are built to last several times longer (see discussion on batteries below for more details).
BATTERY EMISSIONS ARE LIKELY OVERSTATED
The ICCT life cycle analysis listed the emissions for making the average new electric car battery at around four tonnes of CO2. But the study also pointed out that a broader life cycle accounting would shift a big chunk of these battery emissions from the electric car phase to the post-car, second-use phase as stationary grid storage batteries. That's because they say that many of the current generation of electric car batteries are built to last 600,000 to 1,200,000 kilometres. So many batteries have a long useful life remaining even when the car itself wears out. These batteries are getting reused as stationary batteries to store electricity. This second phase in their life cycle reduces fossil fuel emissions further by capturing excess renewable electricity generation (example: more sun and wind power being generated at a given moment than the grid needs). This, in turn, reduces the amount of fossil fuel burning needed to generate electricity. The combination of this battery reuse, together with future recycling of the battery materials, is expected to reduce the emissions from building electric cars to below those from building gasoline cars.
SUVs & PICKUPs
The life cycle data I used in the article was for sedan-style passenger cars. The ICCT also analyzed the average new SUV/pickup category separately. Not surprisingly, life cycle emissions were higher in all stages. But once again, gasoline emissions overwhelmed everything else. Gasoline emissions for the average new SUV/pickup were 18 tCO2 higher than for sedan-style cars — resulting in 88-tonne climate hammers per car. In contrast, the emissions from making the bigger batteries for the electric SUV category rose by one tonne of CO2. All in all, the emissions gap between gasoline and electric cars was even larger for SUVs than for sedan-style cars.
DIESEL VERSUS GASOLINE
In the article, I only discussed "gasoline" for simplicity and because 95 per cent of passenger vehicles in Canada burn gasoline. Diesel cars have a similar CO2 intensity as gasoline cars. It is often stated that diesel engines can be a bit less CO2-intensive than gasoline engines. But studies of real-world driving show most or all this benefit gets lost before getting to the wheels. For example, a study by the ICCT concluded: "a modern gasoline vehicle can have the same or even lower CO2 emissions than a comparable diesel version." One big reason is that diesel vehicles require a lot of extra energy to filter out the higher levels of NOx gases. Trying to avoid paying that energy penalty was the motivation behind the Dieselgate emissions cheating scandal by VW and others a few years ago. In addition, diesel vehicles are often heavier and have more powerful engines, further eroding the real-world efficiency for them.
This is a brilliant article -
This is a brilliant article - very thorough analysis, clearly presented by text and by visuals. I really appreciate the data for NS where I live because many people think the fact we still burn coal means it's not worth buying an electric car, which simply isn't true now and will be less true over the life of the car, as so clearly laid out here. I also really appreciate the policy review which I haven't seen anywhere before. It clearly lays out a path to changing the sales dynamic in Nova Scotia and throughout Canada. Thank you for the great research and presentation! I will share this article widely.
Gasoline versus electric cars
Gasoline versus electric cars?
Asking which car is better for the environment is like asking which dictator is best for democracy.
Saxifrage: "The overwhelming climate damage from Canadian cars comes from burning the gasoline to move them around. Over the full life cycle of Canadian gasoline cars and electric cars, the 70 tonnes of CO2 from burning gasoline absolutely crushes everything else."
On all other environmental and public health fronts, the damage from electric cars (EVs) is the same as or worse than (mining, particulate pollution from tires and brakes, road wear) the damage from internal combustion (ICE) cars.
Both car types leave non-drivers -- the poor, the disabled, the old and the young, and the marginalized -- out in the cold. On the social equity index, both cars fail.
Using two tons of metal to transport a 150 lb human being is an ecological non-starter.
Eight billion people on the planet and counting. If half the population commutes hundreds and thousands of kilometres per week in two-tonne metal behemoths, energy use and ecological footprint go off the scale.
EVs may do less climate damage, but that does not make them a sustainable transportation option. Logic fail.
Which type of car is green?
Which type of car is green?
Which brand of cigarette is healthy?
Pick your poison.
Obscene energy expenditure. Lost productivity, sedentary lifestyle (and health problems), millions of deaths and injuries, roadkill, and social isolation.
Urban sprawl, disintegration of community, loss of green space, endless freeways and traffic jams, inefficient public transit, lost productivity, strip mall blight, mega-mall culture, parking lot proliferation, accidents, and property damage.
Insanely long commutes in bumper-to-bumper traffic. Sprawl multiplies congestion, energy consumption and waste, time and productivity loss, emissions, and footprint.
EVs are the yuppie response to climate change. No solution to the climate crisis is more shallow. (Not for nothing that most of the first EV models were luxury cars beyond the reach of most citizens.) Wealthy progressives want EV subsidies so they can salve their guilty conscience over their outsize footprint without having to make any real change in their unsustainable lifestyles.
A city of cars is not sustainable. A world of cars even less so.
Articles on sustainable transportation that do not mention public transit are not worth the time of day.
Saxifrage's time and computing power would be better spent focussing on sustainable climate solutions. Stop advocating false solutions.
EVs take us down the wrong road.
Branding Quebec's hydro dams,
Branding Quebec's hydro dams, B.C.'s Site C Dam, and Ontario's nuclear plants as "super-clean electricity" is greenwashing.
Hydro projects flood landscapes with massive ecological impacts locally and downstream.
Drowning thousands of square miles of vegetation causes CO2 and methane emissions, as well as mercury poisoning. Out of sight, out of mind.
Nuclear leaves us with radioactive waste that needs to be buried and monitored for tens or hundreds of thousands of years. Future generations will be responsible for safeguarding our nuclear waste. Nuclear waste "requires special treatment for orders of magnitude longer than the lifespan of any human civilization to date."
Once again, Saxifrage has managed to publish an article on cars without considering the issues around mining and manufacture, and their impacts on communities in developing nations. Out of sight, out of mind.
Saxifrage's laser-like focus on GHG emissions blinds him to other planetary perils. Our footprint is not limited to GHG emissions and climate.
The author wrote this article
The author wrote this article focused on the debate between electric vs gas cars, not cars vs every other mode of transportation. I prefer to walk, cycle, inline skate, or take public transit. I have a family of 7 in my household. I now live in Regina, Saskatchewan, but I lived in Toronto, Vancouver, and a major European city.
It was fine & dandy not driving in those cities, but I'd be significantly limiting my family & me in terms of quality of life not to have a vehicle in Saskatchewan. It would be a monumental undertaking and sacrifice. I tried. I live in a province that shut down its public interprovincial bus service. Then Greyhound pulled out, and there are no current options that I am aware of from travelling between towns and cities.
An article like this is excellent for convincing the population here that O&G is inferior and more destructive. Most are still going on about EVs not being functional in winter. EVs are better in winter. Winter jurisdictions are some of the most significant adopters of EVs. I'll take any win to battle climate change and ill-informed behaviours.
Why are we debating between
Why are we debating between two transportation options that are both terrible for the environment?
Why are we debating between two transportation options that are both inimical to efficient public transit?
Why are we debating between two transportation options that both soak up subsidies to the detriment of the actual sustainable solutions?
Why are we debating between two transportation options that both promote social inequity and keep non-drivers marginalized?
We have only one sustainable destination — the sustainable city designed for people, not cars. Why are we debating between two transportation options that drive us away from that destination?
EVs are not merely a detour from sustainability — they make efficient transportation solutions impossible.
In face of an ecological crisis on all fronts, we do not have time and resources to waste speeding in the wrong direction.
Why? Because private
Why? Because private automobiles and taxis simply offer too many advantages for people to give them up voluntarily. Ask anyone who takes their kids to ice hockey practices at 3 AM.
Thanks, Barry Saxifrage, for writing this article. It cuts through the nonsense being spread by anti-EV people.
Most of your commentary is
Most of your commentary is dead spot on. But as far as public health goes, you are dead cold wrong.
Diesel exhaust is deadly. Gasoline exhaust only slightly less so. Electric vehicles have zero tailpipe emissions.
I've suffered from chemical injury for decades. Diesel exhaust and laundry dryer exhaust fumes are the most commonly referenced "killer" fumes for those of us whose body systems were pushed beyond tolerance by chemical exposures, and unlike fumes from insecticides, they have increased for city dwellers over decades.
I know the young love their bicycles (except for very occasional long journeys, I travelled solely by bicycle for decades, long before they became camp). In Toronto, public transit has become increasingly dangerous, and there is no provision at all for those who are made immediately ill by cologne, laundry "softeners" clinging to clothes, etc.
Neither to cab companies understand what "scent-free" means, and Uber has no provisions at all.
Environmentally, the article makes it clear beyond argument that electric vehicles are environmentally superior.
And frankly, most of the people I know who own cars have families, and transport not only two adults and two (sometimes more) children, but often a tent and canoe as well. And sometimes bicycles, because they don't intend on driving beyond the point that the gear they need to take with them for basically emissions-free weekends or vacations.
It's a matter of losing sight of the trees for the forest. Or vice versa.
Even used vehicles became much more expensive during Covid, because that was the only way to get around without exposing the whole family to Covid.
Now remind me, please, how many tons a train is per passenger, and how much diesel fuel it takes to run it.
@ f nordvie: Thank you for
@ f nordvie: Thank you for the correction. I apologize for my omission. It would be wrong to downplay the improvement in urban air quality. (EVs would still be responsible for any and all emissions and releases involved in upstream power production, mining, and manufacture.)
By reducing fossil fuel production, we also reduce upstream emissions and releases: oil spills, rail car infernos, tailings ponds, refinery pollution, methane leaks.
Still, car culture is responsible for sedentary lifestyles (stress and health problems), millions of deaths and injuries, roadkill, and social isolation. Sprawl devours green space, reducing ecosystem services (e.g., air and water filtration) and eliminating local food production.
The upstream mining impacts are greater for EVs. Electric cars weigh c 20-45% more than their ICE versions, with a proportional increase in materials. As consumers demand longer range batteries, EVs will get even heavier.
@ f nordvie: Heavier cars
@ f nordvie: Heavier cars (EVs) are more deadly in accidents. EVs may also contribute more particulate pollution:
"Heavier vehicles also generate more particulate pollution from tyre wear. They require more materials and energy to build and propel them, adding to emissions and energy use.
"How big a problem is this extra weight? A rough comparison between mortality costs and climate benefits shows that it is significant. Under the energy systems operating in most countries today, the cost of extra lives lost from a 700-kg increase in the weight of an electrified truck rivals the climate benefits of avoided greenhouse-gas emissions."
"Shaffer et al., Make electric vehicles lighter to maximize climate and safety benefits, Nature, 2021
"OECD Says Electric Cars Won’t Save Us From Pollution" (Treehugger, Dec 8, 2020)
"The organization calls particulate matter ‘An ignored environmental policy challenge.’
"The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has issued a new report, 'Non-exhaust Particulate Emissions from Road Transport: An Ignored Environmental Policy Challenge,' which looks at the issue of the particulate matter (PM) emissions from tire, brake, clutch, and road wear, as well as the resuspension of road dust, basically stirring up all the PM that settled on the road previously. The report assumes that diesel and gasoline-powered cars are going to be replaced with electric vehicles, eliminating tailpipe emissions, but that problematic PM emissions will remain or even increase.
"… the OECD notes that the PM emissions from road traffic might even be worse for health than those from other sources, like burning coal, because they are concentrated in areas with the greatest population density and the most traffic. "They are not just particles of carbon, either, but include toxic metals and other materials. 'Other elements, including iron, copper, zinc and sulphur have also shown associations with health impacts, such as cardio-pulmonary oxidative stress, heart-rate variability and tissue damage.'
"The OCED notes that if policies don't recognize the fact that size matters when it comes to PM emissions, then 'consumer preferences for greater autonomy and larger vehicle size could therefore drive an increase in PM2.5 emissions in future years with the uptake of heavier EVs.'"
"…No matter how they are powered, we need fewer, lighter, and smaller cars, particularly in our cities.
"We know that non-exhaust emissions are a serious problem for human health, and they are not being discussed as a serious issue. As the OECD notes, 'given the magnitude of the aggregate social costs they entail, and the fact that the transition to electric vehicles will not lead to significant reductions in non-exhaust emissions,' perhaps we should look at policies to deal with the number of cars in general, rather than what is under the hood."
@ f nordvie: FN wrote: "In
@ f nordvie: FN wrote: "In Toronto, public transit has become increasingly dangerous, and there is no provision at all for those who are made immediately ill by cologne, laundry "softeners" clinging to clothes, etc."
In 2020, 1,745 Canadians died in motor vehicle collisions and 7,868 people sustained serious injuries. Far fewer deaths and injuries on public transit.
"Transport Canada: Canadian Motor Vehicle Traffic Collision Statistics: 2020"
Sedentary lifestyles and stress promoted by car culture are a killer.
No statistics for roadkill, but more vehicles means more dead animals, birds, and wildlife.
The public health risks of cramming people on buses and trains together like sardines in a can should not be dismissed lightly either. To your list, one may add the risk of communicable diseases, such as COVID. Transit will need to increase passenger spacing and service frequency as well as improve ventilation — all increasing costs.
Trains and buses are being electrified, reducing environmental footprint per passenger.
The twice-daily commutes in every town and city across the land overwhelmingly consist of single-passenger vehicle traffic. When multiplied by billions of human beings, this ritual becomes a resource-, energy-, and ecological extravagance the planet cannot afford.
Large sprawled cities are inimical to efficient, sustainable transport. 20th century sprawl is a failed experiment.
No sense pursuing it further. More cars will just make it worse — regardless of what's under the hood.
When you're in a hole, stop digging.
@ f nordvie: Are we barking
@ f nordvie: Are we barking up the wrong tree?
Sprawled cities force people to drive. The fundamental problem is urban sprawl — for which there are no good transportation solutions. We should be advocating for sustainable cities instead of unsustainable sprawl. That's where we need to start.
Designing cities for people, not cars. Siting amenities close to people instead of far away. Living close to places of work instead of making a twice-daily trek from distant suburbs. Investing in public transit, cycling, and sidewalks to serve transportation needs instead of millions of private automobiles. Committing ourselves to the public good instead of private extravagance.
The decisions we make now about urban design set the blueprint for generations to come. We cannot undo sprawl except at enormous cost. So let's not make it worse!
Doubling down on cars (EVs) makes already difficult problems intractable and puts solutions out of reach. Forever.
A one-Earth footprint cannot accommodate an energy-intensive lifestyle where people drive everywhere they go -- or an urban model relying on millions of cars to transport millions of people.
We need to hit the brakes on sprawl and car culture ASAP.
We have a choice. We can either invest in the private automobile, car culture, and sprawl. Or we can invest in the public good: transit, cycling, and smart urban design.
Sinking public dollars into private cars just slows public transit down — and puts the only sustainable solution out of reach.
There is no evolution from more private cars and more sprawl to efficient public transit. More private cars and more sprawl do not enable efficient public transit at some future date — they make it impossible.
If the goal is efficient public transit, it is self-defeating to promote car use and enable sprawl.
The supply of tax dollars is not infinite. Scarce public dollars spent on private cars are dollars not spent on public transit.
Once middle- and upper-class consumers are happily ensconced in their automobiles, there is no shifting them. There is no incentive for governments to invest in and improve transit if the vast majority vote for cars and EV subsidies.
Transportation policy and investment focussed on cars abandons the marginalized — the poor without political power, seniors, the handicapped, and environmentalists — without hope of essential mobility options. Mass transit does not work without the masses.
Handing out EV subsidies to wealthy people who don't need them while ignoring the transportation needs of people who cannot afford cars or choose not to drive is unjust.
I am all for public investment in public transit that incentivizes citizens to change. Free urban transit would be an excellent choice. Canada is also lacking in regional and national public transit options. That is where scarce tax dollars should flow.
Astonishing carnage on the
Astonishing carnage on the roads. How many lives is driving cars worth?
"Road Traffic Injuries and Deaths—A Global Problem" (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC], 2023)
"Road traffic crashes are a leading cause of death in the U.S. for people ages 1–54, and they are the leading cause of nonnatural death for U.S. citizens residing or traveling abroad.
"Each year, 1.35 million people are killed on roadways around the world.
"Every day, almost 3,700 people are killed globally in crashes involving cars, buses, motorcycles, bicycles, trucks, or pedestrians. More than half of those killed are pedestrians, motorcyclists, or cyclists.
"Crash injuries are estimated to be the eighth leading cause of death globally for all age groups and the leading cause of death for children and young people 5–29 years of age.
1.35 million fatalities. That's like wiping a city the size of Calgary off the map every year.
The incidence of injury and serious injury is far higher.
When it comes to climate
When it comes to climate change, choosing the lesser of two evils is very important. Especially when one is a lot less evil. Your logic is an even bigger fail my friend.
It would solve multiple
It would solve multiple problems - congestion, parking, vehicle-related-injuries - to incentivize smaller cars, fewer SUVs, fewer trucks. A needed part of the solution. Already, the average battery size (and weight) in North America is double that selling in Europe.
Barry Saxifrage always does
Barry Saxifrage always does good research, which makes his articles very compelling, but as happens when writers are already convinced of their conclusion, he has considered only the relatively narrow aspects of gasoline vs electric cars and, of course, the EVs win. No mention of the GHG emissions or devastating effects of mining on ecosystems, rivers, wildlife, and ultimately people, not just those who live in the vicinity, but ultimately everyone. Nor has he considered the GHG emissions or other effects of intensely increased subsidized manufacturing. Nor the fast tracked and limited environmental assessments that are to be eschewed to facilitate both.
And he has not considered the most obvious question: Do we really think we can buy, mine and manufacture our way out of climate change?
No...it doesn't make sense. All of us buying a brand shiny new EV, I would bet with Mr. Saxifrage, is not going to do what those on the bandwagon think it is going to do. I think we will look back at the unconsidered damaged caused by runaway mining and manufacturing, greased by fewer regulations and subsides, as a boon for capitalists, the cause of inestimable ecological damage, and only limited - if any - real reduction in greenhouse gases.
Mr. Saxifrage is not claiming
Mr. Saxifrage is not claiming that "we can buy, mine and manufacture our way out of climate change." He is talking about the difference between electric and gas powered vehicles. It does not much good to demand a revolution when all we can do is take little steps. It may well not be enough. But I would rather try. You could, for a moment, envision a city with electric vehicles only: no noise. No stink. Clean air. The improvement in quality of life and health would be immediate. And no, it will not solve the climate crisis.
I would rather envision a car
I would rather envision a car-free city. I would suggest that the road infrastructure alone is the next largest element outside of fuel that drains resources to maintain car dependency. The land area required by cars alone, EV or not (~70% of which are occupied by a single occupant), exceeds 40% of the total area of the entire city. Energy is not the only source of major waste in a society saturated with private cars.
Yes, it will take years to redesign our cities, but that can be started with creative urban design measures that incrementally liberates road space from cars and devotes it to human beings.
Other than that, the feds have implemented an EV-only car sales policy for 2035. I think that's achievable, but it does kick the can way down the road for other politicos to handle, for better or worse. Barry suggests an 80% tax on the big burners be implemented, but offers no timetable. Doing it tomorrow would be political suicide due to the egregiously high level of car dependency of voters. But that's only the stick approach.
Perhaps a more workable solution would be to up the carbon tax by 10% more than planned each year, with a top-out year pushed further into the future. Couple that with sweeter carrots, like far more generous but time-limited grants for EVs, a major upscale in the funding for public transit tied to better zoning in cities, and upping the grants and subsidies for zero emission endeavours outside of the Car Nation (i.e. tripling the nation's renewable electricity capacity, paying 100% of the costs of increased standards of building insulation and zero emission appliances, etc.).
As for mining, how on Earth does Canada avoid it? By continuing to rely heavily on mining in other nations with lower environmental, labour and human rights standards merely to maintain our dependency on essential materials like stainless steel kitchen utensils and surgical instruments, cobalt used in medical CT scans and dental x-rays, aluminum and steel transit bus bodies and frames, copper electrical wiring, triple glazed windows and foam or rock wool insulation designed for energy efficient buildings, and so on and so forth? These everyday materials don't come from the air.
One key overriding goal should be to bring down our per capita emissions from the pigs-of-the-planet level to the rabbit scale. That can be done without slamming the door on immigrants or banning mining. But that's a topic outside of a limited EV vs gasoline analysis.
Many good points about our
Many good points about our possible utopian future. But until then, we are all frogs in the frying pain as the temperature keeps rising. My bet is on frog's legs for dinner as we are all 'cooked' by our own collective emissions.
All very nice as an
All very nice as an "envisioning" exercise. What are you proposing happen to people in the northern 90% of our country, where there are no trains, not even bus routes any more? Let them walk 40 miles to buy groceries, and make that trip every 3 days so they can carry them?
What about most seniors, who can't bicycle or walk the distances required?
Back to the drawing board, thank you.
Or shall we all turf the beef and embrace horses on the streets again?
Thank you Mr. Saxifrage -
Thank you Mr. Saxifrage - this is exactly what I would want to know when choosing a car.
This is a really well
This is a really well-presented treatise,. Two thoughts:
A) one can not actually go out and buy an electric car. If one could a lot more people would buy them
B) how about pricing the purchase of an electric car at the same price of an equivalent gasoline car, with future payments required equivalent to the cost of the gasoline not purchased. In that way the choice would be much easier for those who are not wealthy.
That's right, EV dealers
That's right, EV dealers currently have long waiting lists.
David, I really like your
David, I really like your proposal.
This is great analysis. But
This is great analysis. But it is also narrowly focused, and there is a broader context to consider. A rapid transition to electric cars will be much easier with a declining number of cars, and the IPCC has concluded that a transformation of our transportation systems away from automobile domination is essential for meeting climate targets. I wrote about this in 2020 in the National Observer - https://www.nationalobserver.com/2020/03/04/opinion/make-2020-year-peak-car and more recently in Plan Canada (peer reviewed) https://www.cip-icu.ca/Files/Plan-Canada/plan-canada-issues/PlanCanada_V...
If you are in BC, please ask a group or business in your community (environmental group, neighborhood association, faith group, or your local bike shop) to endorse the Climate Emergency Coalition's open letter on transportation. It covers a rapid transition to electricity, as well as concrete steps to reduce the number of cars. See second (lower) sign-on box at https://bcclimateemergency.ca/sign-on
Great article Barry! It
Great article Barry! It always bothered me that the top 5 best selling vehicles in Canada were SUVs and pickups and it's been that way as long as I can remember. Fortunately, the auto accompanies are rolling out EV versions of the popular categories, but unfortunately they're still less efficient than smaller EVs. I don't think people will change their habits on the size of vehicles they want. I just hope Canadians commit to making the change to electric. There will be plenty of political opposition and disinformation opposing a change that it is in everyone's best interest to support, but I'm hopeful that public opinion will eventually be drawn towards common sense.