Gas-powered vehicles are a huge contributor to climate change.

By Anne Ye

Published June 17, 2020. Updated June 17, 2020.

Transportation is one of the largest producers of greenhouse gases in the world. If we want to make a real dent in stopping climate change, we need to make a shift to cleaner transit systems and vehicles, fast. 

Electric vehicles are one way to do this. Over the course of an electric vehicle’s lifetime, much fewer greenhouse gases are emitted than in their diesel-powered counterparts. Even as companies have been trying to reduce emissions by gas-powered vehicles, electric vehicles have an advantage because, while they are running, they produce little to no running emissions. Almost all of their pollution comes from battery production, which some critics say defeats the image of electric cars as greener transport options.

Electric car recharging in Berlin, Germany. Credits: Michael Movchin / Felix Müller

The manufacturing process behind batteries used to power electric cars indeed produces carbon emissions. Batteries are made up of rare metals. In order to extract these metals from deep inside the Earth and make them usable, greenhouse gases must be emitted. The machines used in the extraction process and the factories the batteries are produced in send a lot of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. In order to solve this problem, we need to make our infrastructure and manufacturing techniques more efficient. 

For instance, the country in which the battery is produced plays a big role. If we were to produce the same battery in China versus in the United States, we would find that Chinese battery manufacturers produce up to 60% more carbon dioxide than American manufacturers. So if we were to produce the batteries in the United States, the pollution would not be much worse than when producing diesel engines. However, the lifetime emission difference between gas and electric-powered cars shows that electric cars are much cleaner. 

Also, batteries can be recycled. The same cannot be said for fossil fuels. As we do more research and electric vehicles become more common, recycled batteries will become easier to find and more accessible. This can save a lot of greenhouse gas emissions from destroying our planet in the long run. 

The biggest issue right now is that electric cars are much more expensive than their gas powered counterparts. Because electric cars are newer, and gas engines are much more widespread, the cheaper price of gas vehicles is difficult to compete with on the market. This is where public policy can play a part and help cut transportation emissions. 

In the meantime, there are other transportation methods that are still cleaner than driving gas engines around. Public transportation is a great example, and although we all groan at the thought of dirty New York City subway platforms, at least we will be helping to make sure our children have clean air to breathe. If public transportation is not an option, try planning a carpool. Five people in one car saves more carbon emissions than five people in separate cars. Rideshare companies such as Uber and Via also have options of sharing a car with others who are using their services, and this option can actually save you money since it’s cheaper than not sharing a ride. CitiBike is also a super cheap and green option for New Yorkers, as well as tourists wanting to explore the city.  

A Citi Bike Station. Credits: Omar Rawling

If we all do our part to fight for clean energy in transportation, electric vehicles might become a widespread solution in the decades to come. Who knows, maybe a better alternative transportation technology will come along.


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