From the “duh” department, California is already healthier thanks to the penetration of electric cars, which has resulted in cleaner air in areas where electric cars are more prevalent, according to a new study.
The study was published last week by the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California. It tracked real-world pollution levels, electric car penetration and ER visits across California between 2013 and 2019.
Unsurprisingly, the study found that clean air vehicles actually drove clean air, with the benefits being greater in areas where there was more of it. Amazing. Who knew.
Every increase of 20 cars per 1,000 people (which is roughly equivalent to 2% of cars – since California has 840 cars per 1,000 people) was associated with a 0.41 ppb (parts per billion) drop in concentrations. nitrogen dioxide in the atmosphere. California law sets average NOx standards at 30 ppb, so a 0.41 drop is a big chunk, especially compared to just 2% EV penetration.
It stands to reason that getting gas-powered cars off the road would reduce NOx emissions, as nitrogen dioxide is a form of pollution particularly associated with vehicle tailpipes and is the main contributor to smog formation, with a variety of negative health effects.
For example, worldwide, automobile traffic is specifically responsible for 4 million new cases of childhood asthma per year. And air pollution is responsible for up to 200,000 dead in the United States per year.
And so the study checked whether areas with higher EV penetration and less NOx would also have fewer asthma problems, and what do i knowthey did it !
Every 20 electric cars per 1,000 Californians in a particular ZIP code was associated with a 3.2% drop in asthma-related ER visits.
And since ER visits are extremely expensive in the US healthcare system, it stands to reason that any drop in ER visits would also reduce healthcare costs. This even applies to those who do not suffer from asthma, due to cost pooling via health insurance.
The cost-benefits of better public health are not always highlighted, but should be relevant here. The study did not focus on these, but other studies did. For example, the IMF estimates that fossil fuels are responsible for $5.3 trillion worldwide in health and environmental costs every year, and any reduction in fossil fuel pollution should reduce that number.
And the best part of these results is that they happened quickly, in just a few years, and with only a low number of electric vehicle penetration. The study period only tracked from 2013 to 2019, where the installed base of electric vehicles across California grew from a tiny 1.4 to a still modest 14.7 cars per 1000, and yet the study has always found these benefits significant even with a small number of electric vehicles.
And those numbers keep growing. Electric vehicles accounted for 8% of the new car market in California in 2019, but that figure is up to 17% now. Certainly, if the study were to incorporate new data, the health benefits of clean air vehicles would continue to improve. And in the longer term, the the benefits of avoiding climate change will be enormous.
But the benefits of cleaner air have not been evenly distributed. The postcode-level analysis of the study showed that areas with fewer electric cars also tended to be poorer areas. This is a problem because these are the areas that tend to suffer most from the negative health effects of pollution anyway.
The average electric car costs more than the average gas-powered car…but that’s because the average electric car is a Tesla, because Tesla has about 70% of the EV market. The cheapest electric car, the Chevy Bolt, may also be the cheapest car of any type in California, as long as you can qualify for all available federal, state, and regional incentives — and buy it before marchwhen it is expected to lose half of its federal budget EV tax credit (if you are looking for a Bolt, feel free to use our link to find local dealers).
Nevertheless, there are other difficulties in bringing electric cars to poorer areas – poorer people tend to buy more used cars than new ones, tend to have more difficulty coping with upfront costs which may be higher with EVs while running costs are lower, and may not have access to their own off-street parking, as on-street parking makes owning an EV less easy.
There are solutions to some of these problems – for example, apartments and HOAs in California already cannot prevent residents from installing EV chargers, and the Inflation Reduction Act understand tax credits for used electric vehicles – but there is still work to be done to distribute the health benefits of electric cars more evenly. Or better yet, we can skip the whole concept of owning a private car and build better public transportation, which is a particular problem in the most populated areas of California and can provide disproportionate benefits to poorer communities. .
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