A rapid nationwide transition to electric vehicles powered by renewable energy would save more than 100,000 American lives and $1.2 billion in public health costs over the next three decades, according to a new report.
The American Lung Association’s analysis highlights the damage to public health caused by the world’s reliance on dirty fossil fuels and offers a glimpse of a greener, healthier future – if political leaders decide to act.
According to the report, swapping gas-powered vehicles for new zero-emission cars and trucks in the United States would lead to 110,000 fewer deaths, 2.8 million fewer asthma attacks and avert 13.4 million sick days by 2050.
This change would result in a 92% drop in greenhouse gases by 2050, generating $1.7 billion in climate benefits by protecting ecosystems, agriculture, infrastructure from sea level rise and catastrophic weather events, including drought and flooding.
Overall, communities of color and low-income neighborhoods would reap the greatest benefits from zero-emission technologies, as they currently suffer disproportionately from air pollution and climate disasters, the study found.
Calculations are based on transitioning to sales of 100% electric cars by 2035 and 100% electric trucks by 2040, as well as switching from dirty fossil fuels to 100% renewable energy sources such as as solar, wind, hydro and nuclear by 2035.
However, given the political polarization in the United States and the lack of political urgency, it seems highly unlikely that oil and gas companies will stop drilling or that American car dealerships will only sell electric cars by 2035.
Joe Biden’s Build Back Better (BBB) legislation, which includes landmark funds for climate initiatives, failed to pass the Senate due to filibuster by Republicans and conservative Democrat Joe Manchin, the pro-fossil fuel senator from West Virginia.
But the ALA report details the widespread health benefits that could be achieved if political leaders prioritized climate action over corporate profits.
“The current rise in gas and energy prices is a symptom of our dependence on fossil fuels. But aside from the economic pain, there is significant public health pain caused by our reliance on fossil fuels. The transition to zero-emission technologies and energy depends on strong political leadership and investment, to bring the potential health benefits off the page and into the real world,” said Will Barrett, author of Focus on healthy air.
The scientific evidence is unequivocal. According to Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
In the United States, transportation and energy are major contributors to greenhouse gases and toxic air.
At least four in 10 Americans – more than 135 million people – live in communities affected by unhealthy levels of air pollution that increase the risk of asthma attacks, strokes, lung cancer, heart attacks, impaired cognitive functioning, premature births and premature deaths.
The greatest direct health risks are faced by those who live near highways, ports, rail yards, refineries, drilling sites, pipelines and power plants – who are disproportionately lower-income communities. color and low-income households. These health problems are due to decades of inequitable land use policies and systemic racism.
According to the ALA, a transition to zero-emissions technologies compared to the status quo would result in a 78% reduction in volatile organic compounds (VOCs) – which can cause breathing difficulties, nausea, central nervous system damage and the Cancer. Nitrogen oxides (NOx), which are associated with increased emergency room visits and hospitalizations for asthma, could drop by 92%. (NOx and VOCs are building blocks of ozone – or smog.)
Fine particle pollution (PM2.5), which increases the risk of heart disease, lung cancer and asthma, would fall by 61% by 2050.
Every state stands to benefit, with more than half earning at least $10 billion in cumulative public health savings through a range of avoided health impacts such as premature deaths, related emergencies to asthma and sick days. The country’s two most populous states – California and Texas – could save $100 billion, while six others – Pennsylvania, Florida, Ohio, New York, Illinois and Michigan – are expected to save in minus $50 billion by 2050. (Hawaii and Alaska were not included.)
The hundred U.S. counties, representing about 3% of the total, with the highest proportion of people of color could receive about 13% of the cumulative health benefits of transitioning to green transportation.
The impacts of doing nothing are very real.
As a child, Washington DC-area Rohan Arora rushed to fetch his asthmatic father’s inhaler as he coughed and huffed, triggered by air pollution on his journey home from work. “It was almost every day, a hazard to live in the city, and sometimes he needed to go to the hospital. The transition to zero emissions and clean renewables is urgent,” said Arora, 21.
Heavy vehicles such as freight trucks represent only 6% of the national road fleet, but generate 31% of the total greenhouse gases in the transport sector. In short, cars produce more harmful planet-warming gases and air pollutants because there are so many of them on the road, but trucks are by far the most toxic.
The BBB legislation earmarks $555 billion to tackle the energy and transportation sectors through a variety of subsidies, tax incentives and other policies aimed at boosting jobs and technology, as well as major investments in sustainable vehicles and public transport services.
“Zero-emission transportation is a win-win for public health,” said ALA President and CEO Harold Wimmer.