This story was originally published by Grist and appears here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

In cities across the country, people of colour, many of them low-income, live in neighbourhoods crisscrossed by major thoroughfares and highways. The housing there is often cheaper — it’s not considered particularly desirable to wake up amid traffic fumes and fall asleep to the rumble of vehicles over asphalt. But the price of living there is steep: Exhaust from all those cars and trucks leads to higher rates of childhood asthma, cancer, cardiovascular disease and pulmonary ailments. Many people die younger than they otherwise would have, and the medical costs and time lost to illness contribute to their poverty.

Imagine if none of those cars and trucks emitted any fumes at all, running instead on an electric charge. That would make a staggering difference in the trajectory, quality and length of millions of lives, particularly those of young people growing up near freeways and other sources of air pollution, according to a study from the American Lung Association.

The study found that a widespread transition to EVs could avoid nearly three million asthma attacks and hundreds of infant deaths, in addition to millions of lower and upper respiratory ailments. Children, being particularly vulnerable to air pollution, would benefit most, said study author William Barret, the association’s national director on advocacy and clean air. “Children are smaller, they’re breathing more air pound for pound than an adult,” Barret said. “The risk can be immediate, but it’s also long-lasting.”

Some 27 million children live in communities affected by high levels of air pollution, the study found. Their vulnerability begins in the womb, where vehicle exhaust, factory smoke, and other pollutants can jump-start inflammation in a fetus and its mother, causing health problems for both and leading to preterm birth and congenital issues that can continue for a lifetime.

Prior research by the American Lung Association found that 120 million people in the U.S. breathe unhealthy air daily, and 72 million live near a major trucking route — though, Barret added, there’s no safe threshold for air pollution. It affects everyone.

Bipartisan efforts to strengthen clean air standards have already made a difference across the country. In California, which under the Clean Air Act can set state rules stronger than national standards, 100 per cent of new cars sold there must be zero emission by 2035. Truck manufacturers are, according to the state’s Air Resources Board, already exceeding anticipated zero-emissions truck sales, putting them two years ahead of schedule. All that’s needed is for the EPA to grant California the waivers required to implement these standards.

Other states have begun to take action, too, often reaching across partisan lines to do so. Maryland, Colorado, New Mexico and Rhode Island adopted zero-emissions standards as of the end of 2023. The Biden administration is taking similar steps, though it has slowed its progress after automakers and United Auto Workers pressured the administration to relax some of its more stringent EV transition requirements.

While Barret finds efforts to support the electrification of passenger vehicles exciting, he said the greatest culprits are diesel trucks. “These are five to 10 per cent of the vehicles on the road, but they’re generating the majority of smog-forming emissions of ozone and nitrogen,” Barret said. Ozone is especially harmful. When ozone makes its way inside the human body, it causes what amounts to a sunburn, inflaming and degrading respiratory tissues.

The EV shift could prevent millions of childhood asthma attacks. #AirPollution #ChildhoodAsthma #EVTransition #CleanAir #EVs

Lately, there’s been significant progress on truck decarbonization. The Biden administration has made promises to ensure that 30 per cent of all big rigs sold are electric by 2030. California has moved aggressively to curb truck emissions, aiming to make medium- and heavy-duty vehicles zero-emission “where possible” by 2035, while heavily regulating certain kinds of freight trucks.

Though legislative mandates and tax incentives like those in the Inflation Reduction Act go a long way toward getting EVs on the road, they don’t remove internal combustion trucks and cars, which pose enough of a health threat that advocates are urging immediate change.

Ideally, Barret said, the Biden administration would immediately roll out clear-cut standards to slash emissions. It is considering truck standards that would by 2032 reduce emissions from heavy-duty vehicles 29 per cent below 2021 levels using battery-electric and hybrid vehicles. The current standard only explicitly calls for the use of advanced diesel engines. The study’s authors also strongly recommend that the EPA finalize multi-pollutant regulations for light- and medium-duty vehicles, which are currently under consideration. Such measures, combined with an increase in public EV charging stations, vehicle tax credits and other incentives, could change American highways, not to mention health, for good.

“We just need to see more and more of that given the growing urgency of the climate crisis,” Barret said.

Keep reading

Not so fast, EV boosters.
This article overlooks increasing particulate pollution from tire and brake wear.
Particulate pollution from tire wear is a well-known issue. A fatal mistake to ignore it.

EVs produce more particulate pollution from tire wear than their ICE-model equivalents.
Heavier vehicles are harder on roads as well as tires and brakes, leading to higher particulate emissions.
"Health impact of tyre particles causing 'increasing concern', say scientists" (The Guardian)

"Electric-powered vehicles, of course, have no exhaust emissions. However, because they’re 24% heavier on average, the study found that EVs shed more particulate matter from tires and brakes, and also kick up more particulate matter from road surfaces.
"When you combine the benefit of having no engine exhaust with the penalty of additional weight, the study claims that when it comes to total particle emissions, EVs are only 1 to 3% cleaner than internal-combustion vehicles.
"When it comes to particle emissions, electric cars aren’t much cleaner" (Digital Trends)

UofC School of Public Policy: "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)
"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.
"…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."
"Electric cars won't reduce congestion, they won't solve our parking problems, they will still kill people, especially when all the giant pickups and SUVs hit the streets, and now we are learning that they won't even significantly reduce pollution in cities. Maybe it's time to consider other ways to get people out of cars, and really make a difference."

EPA: Health and Environmental Effects of Particulate Matter (PM)
"Exposure to such particles can affect both your lungs and your heart. Numerous scientific studies have linked particle pollution exposure to a variety of problems, including:
- premature death in people with heart or lung disease
- nonfatal heart attacks
- irregular heartbeat
- aggravated asthma
- decreased lung function
- increased respiratory symptoms, such as irritation of the airways, coughing or difficulty breathing."

More particulate pollution from car tires instead of particulate pollution from nitrogen oxides (smog). Pick your poison.
EVs do not solve our particulate problem. Public transit, walking, and cycling reduce both pollutants.
The least polluting option remains public transit, cycling, and walking in smart cities designed for people, not cars. Transit buses produce far less tire particulate pollution per passenger mile than any personal automobile — car or truck.

EVs may make some environmental and health problems even worse: traffic injuries and deaths, particulate pollution, and upstream mineral mining impacts.
Take cars off the road. Invest in real solutions.

Congestion, yes. Bad urban design, worse quality of life, sure. Continued requirement for manufacturing all those individual vehicles, with its attendant environmental footprint, certainly. Trains and transit are just generally far more efficient than trucks and cars, in a stack of ways, and lead to better quality of life. We should be shifting towards them.

The rubber thing though . . . I find it an odd co-incidence that nobody ever talked about the oh so huge amount of pollution involved in tire wear until EVs started to look like a threat to ICE, fossil-fuel-powered cars. I think on that one what you're repeating is oil company propaganda. I'm sure there is pollution from tire wear--it's impossible for that not to be the case. But I'm also sure that it's being massively exaggerated for tactical reasons. And I think it's a bad look for you to be willing to push Exxonmobil's talking points as long as they're against EVs.

That's funny. I make the same complaint about radical degrowthers who attack renewables and electrification in general. Though they are correct to be sceptical of technological fixes, their commentary on renewables aligns with Exxon. They even use many of the same outdated or flawed sources.

In this case, however, particulate pollution from tires, brakes, and road surfaces is widely reported by mainstream and environmental media, including The Guardian (cited above).

Grist (source of the article above) published on this issue last year:
"Kicking the tires on electric vehicles" (Oct 5 2023)

Neither of these publications is in the pocket of Exxon.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) is also a reputable source: 'Non-exhaust Particulate Emissions from Road Transport: An Ignored Environmental Policy Challenge" (cited above).

I have waged a longstanding campaign against cars, car culture, sprawl, EVs, and EV subsidies — and advocating instead for public transit. Exxon's coincidental campaign against EVs and renewables does not negate or undermine these arguments.
Climate is not our only problem. Simply replacing ICE cars with EVs is not a green solution. The problem is cars in general, not EVs in particular.
I would oppose EVs even if particulate pollution were not an issue.

It is possible to oppose EVs for different reasons. Exxon opposes EVs to protect its fossil-fuel profits. I oppose EVs for a long list of environmental and health reasons.
Exxon's alternative is the ICE car — continuing dominance of the car.
I oppose the car altogether — and have done so for decades. Long before climate and GHGs hit the headlines. Cars are the problem — not what is under the hood.
My solution is public transit, infrastructure for cycling and pedestrians, ending sprawl that forces people to drive, and urban redesign.
Exxon's sole concern is profits. My concern is sustainability and public health.

When degrowthers reject renewables, that leaves them with only two bad energy options: fossil fuels and nuclear. Even in a future with a smaller footprint, degrowthers will still need to get their energy from somewhere.
Fossil fuels, of course, are the problem we are trying to solve. Nuclear has its own drawbacks. Nuclear cannot be a climate solution because it cannot meet our emissions reduction schedule.

If we reject cars in general and EVs in particular, that leaves us with good options: transit, cycling and walking, and cities designed for people, not cars.

What is your timeline for redesigning our cities? Please give the calculation a genuine try.

You may have missed this NO article on transit.

In my comments I reiterated Vancouver's limited success in achieving a 53% transit/walk/bike mode share in the daily commute before the pandemic threw the numbers off. That took nearly 40 years of buildout, both with dense transit-oriented development and the advent of rail rapid transit, greatly enhanced bus service and taking away unneeded road space for cars and devoting it to bikes in protected bike lanes. The cost was tens of billions to reach the halfway point, yet there are still cars everywhere, and the excessively large residential lots are still there south of 16th Ave. Going car free is an admirable goal, but it will be impossible to achieve outside of a massive earthquake.

So a realist's calculation would, if reluctantly, require the inclusion of cars when upping the spending on transit and rezoning for human beings and while removing incentives for the private car. We're talking generations, not years.

EVs are ideal for car share, where multiple drivers do not own individual cars and where, if practiced more widely, will actually help reduce the number of cars on the roads. In lockstep with new transit infrastructure with really great service, the timeline to achieve 2/3 non-car mode share is, I think, entirely possible. Add in converting suburban malls to actual towns with their own walkable work-home-shop reality and feeding the the towns with radiating transit lines (trams, buses, separated bike commuter roads...) and 3/4 non-car mode share is on the horizon.

But that last quarter will be very, very hard to convert because it is narrowed to essential trips that cannot be made any other way than by road vehicle, preferably not belching noxious fumes and, with much lower traffic counts, not producing as much rubber dust per km of road (a phenomenon that became known decades ago).

EV battery research has quickly led to battery storage in the grid and closes the troublesome intermittency gap that kept renewables outside of the base load power chain. Not anymore, thanks to CATL's and BYD's EV car battery programs with larger grid-scale storage becoming a profitable branch endeavour. Today, they're looking at salt and silicon as the structural foundation. Tomorrow, it may be possible that recycling of EV and grid batteries will displace mining new metals entirely in a closed loop system that benefits the world's electrical grid as a priority over EVs and roads.

If that's possible in 30-50 years, then today's kindergarten kids may actually bear witness to the conversion of all the asphalt roads to better uses, like park space, transit corridors, housing and so forth, and every residence may actually be Alvin Tofler's "Electronic Cottage" where home and work are metres apart. The pandemic already started the process, but all those cars need to be replaced with something better. The tools to do so are already at hand.

Alex: "Going car free is an admirable goal, but it will be impossible to achieve outside of a massive earthquake."
I live car free. No earthquake.

I do not dispute the political difficulty of rapid switching from cars to transit. Generational dependency is hard to kick. Once people are used to driving everywhere they go, that behavior becomes next to impossible to change. Which makes it even more important to start the switch ASAP, before future generations are trained to be dependent on cars.

Physically, change is not impossible. If we really wanted to do it — if we believed our lives depended on it — we could start making the change we need. Price in the full environmental, climate, and health costs not just of cars and urban sprawl — but all goods and services, designs and paradigms. Regulate cars and sprawl out of existence. Divert the trillions of dollars we spend on the automobile and its infrastructure to urban redesign, public transit, cycling infrastructure, and sidewalks.

If we can build sprawl, we can unbuild it. If we can grow our population from 1 billion to 8 billion in two centuries, we can reverse it. Future development must adhere to a sustainable model.

Will it happen? I am under no such illusion. Our species will continue to run amok, far exceed planetary limits, and degrade our life support systems, as habitat and biodiversity shrink. I merely prescribe the necessary steps to avert disaster. No doubt we shall fail.

Again, what is your estimated timeline to rebuild our cities? I live 90+% car free right now, and went a decade at 100% back in the 90s. But the city around us is filled with cars, even though the city around us achieved also 50+% car-free commuter mode share. THAT took 40 years to achieve.

The latest demographic data indicate the world's population will peak somewhere around 2050, then plateau and enter a long decline. This is a natural trend, no draconian laws needed. Peak car was achieved in 2015-18 (an average of several sources who analyzed reams of data) after Asia and Europe built out mass transit, predominantly high capacity electrified rail. Meanwhile, 40% of residents in Vancouver's dense West End have never owned cars.

Urbanizing the suburbs would be my pick as the most effective move toward walkable communities. Frequent rail service to suburban malls that are encouraged to build a small town on their sites, network the rail station with more neighbourhood trams and buses, then encourage city councils to allow homeowners with big lots to subdivide and infill, moving from single family detached to single family attached, then to low rise with mid rise on nearby arterials. Continuous sidewalk retail with offices and apartments above will make it easy for local residents to stay local. But there will be an occasion where they will have to go farther afield for important reasons. Hopefully there will be a train to take them there.

I was a cab driver in Calgary for a couple of years in the 70s in Calgary. I've seen it all, way more than any car share experience. There are ways to make car share less public, more of a private co-operative where, say, 25 residents of an apartment block own or lease three or four an electric cars that are managed online, and where all previous users who blocked out time are visible. This removes 20-21 individual cars, more if many resident families own two cars, and it allows those who abuse the rights of their neighbours to experience consequences.

Out of it all, I prefer to walk.

For practical and psychological reasons, car sharing will never take off.
Many drivers form a personal attachment to their own car. The car is a form of self-expression. A part of one's identity. Which is why car-sharing will not replace the private automobile any time soon. People will not give up their own cars of their own free will. Even if car-sharing is more economical.
To the affluent, cost is no object. Cars are a status symbol. A reflection of one's income and worth. An extension of self. A personal statement.
If a man's home is his castle, his car is his second home. People decorate and personalize their cars, inside and out. The car is their personal living space.
The iconography of the car and its association with freedom, independence, sexuality (hard to make out on a bus), and masculinity is undeniable. Largely a product of advertising.
People frequently store and carry personal items in their car: CDs, clothes; items for specific tasks, e.g., tools and equipment required for work. (Think of all the stuff a real estate agent has to lug around.) Also sports gear (e.g., golf clubs), baby strollers; items to accommodate special needs, e.g., car seats for infants. The prospect of loading and unloading all this stuff several times a day into a series of vehicles is daunting. The height of inconvenience.
All this convenience, freedom, luxury, extravagance, and waste come at huge cost. As long as we can download most of those costs to the public purse, society, future generations, and the environment, we shall persist.

What about pets, smoking, and allergies? Who wants to get into a car filled with cat and dog hair or second-hand smoke? If gym equipment must be cleaned after every use, who cleans up the car?
If your child has peanut allergies, will you have to scour the car for traces of chocolate bars or peanut butter sandwiches?
Are you careful about personal hygiene? Not everybody is. Did the previous driver/passenger wash his hands after performing bodily functions? Did he sneeze? Does he have a communicable disease?
Not going to happen.
Civilization — our species' urban experiment — is doomed to fail. I do not expect our cities to be any more salvageable or sustainable decades down the EV road. On the contrary.
But that will not stop me from speaking to the issue. Or from opposing the further expansion of car culture on all fronts. No matter what is under the hood.

Re Pounder’s diatribe against EVs, I’ll just pick one error out. He says that EV brakes create more Particulate emissions than lighter cars. As someone who has actually driven an EV for 6 years, I can assure readers that there will be fewer not more emissions from brake wear. When you press the brake pedal in an EV your car is slowed primarily by the drag of regenerative braking, ie neither disc nor drum brakes are engaged. Therefore no
wear on the brakes. In fact a huge cost advantage of EVs is the much less frequent requirement for expensive brake jobs!

Above, I posted news articles on studies from authoritative sources to support the claim that heavier cars increase particulate levels from tire, brake, clutch, and road wear, as well as the resuspension of road dust.
The OECD report addresses the trade-off between regenerative braking vs increasing vehicle weight:

"'Electric vehicles are estimated to emit 5-19% less PM10 from non-exhaust sources per kilometer than internal combustion engine vehicles (ICEVs) across vehicle classes. However, EVs do not necessarily emit less PM2.5 than ICEVs. Although lightweight EVs emit an estimated 11-13% less PM2.5 than ICEV equivalents, heavier weight EVs emit an estimated 3-8% more PM2.5 than ICEVs.'
"The reason light EVs emit less non-exhaust PM than an ICEV is that they have regenerative braking and not nearly as much brake wear, so there are lower emissions. But as the long-range electric Hummers and Rivians and F-150s roll out, then the weight kicks in."
"OECD Says Electric Cars Won't Save Us From Pollution" (Treehugger)

The particulate pollution comparison between ICE cars and EVs is a bit of a red herring. Both types contribute significantly to urban particulate pollution. All else being equal, the heavier the vehicle, the higher its particulate production. Compared to the alternatives (transit, cycling, walking), cars come off very much the worse for wear.
Which underlines my main theme. Cars are the problem. Switching out ICE engines for electric motors or employing regenerative braking does not solve the car or particulate problem. No car is green.
Which car is better for the environment? It's like asking which brand of cigarettes is healthier.