Reviews | Electric cars are not enough | Opinion
During winter break, I drove 600 miles in a Nissan Leaf, a car powered almost entirely by sunlight. While it may seem like the environmental gold standard, the truth is that renewables can’t save the auto industry.
Cars have a complicated history in the United States They are, for now, an indispensable tool that most Americans cannot live without. For more than a century, our laws and systems have been desperately concerned with the automobile. But the climate crisis and centuries of widespread pollution are forcing us to rely more and more on our consumption each year.
Even in purely mathematical terms, carrying thousands of pounds of metal and plastic with us every time someone wants to go grocery shopping is a gross misuse of limited resources. Powering the engine with renewable energy is just one improvement on a fundamentally flawed model.
Electric cars require a multitude of different rare earth metals for their batteries, many of which are ecological and social problem extract. Battery technology is an exciting frontier that will revolutionize our power grid, but we don’t have the time waiting for science to catch up with our demanding way of life.
We cannot pretend that the technology to responsibly meet all of our needs is imminent when the irreversible consequences of emissions from the Global North began to devastate the world generations ago.
Living fairly will require lifestyle changes at the national level. Investing in scalable and diverse transport systems will take a lot of money, but these efforts will be the most frugal thing to do.
In fact, the infrastructure needed to transport individual vehicles over great distances (and from your home to the grocery store) is huge and growing. When was the last time you drove on a freeway that didn’t add lanes?
By making our livelihoods and basic needs dependent on the automobile, we have also ensured that we cannot grow our country’s middle class without exponentially expanding America’s highway system.
While cutting gasoline saves more than half lifetime emissions from a car, it is impossible to responsibly maintain the infrastructure necessary to live and die through the personal vehicle.
The reality is that having only one way to get around is a terrible idea. Mixing last-mile transit like bikes with reliable mass transit like buses and light rail is the best way to reduce emissions, travel safely and save your time and money.
If the car isn’t better, how did we get here?
The entrenchment of the automobile in the American psyche took millions of dollars and generations of political tinkering. This outrageous process deserves an article of its own, but suffice it to say that the America’s first highway engineers spared no expense destroying their competitors, erasing communities of color and consolidating unimaginable wealth.
Private interests have been pushing cars on our country for over a century, and it won’t be a small effort to undo the damage. Local initiatives like the Clifton Bike Lane and cost-effective strategies like bus-only lanes show the potential for a transit revolution in Cincinnati. However, our city is deeply dependent on the car and it will take time and constant effort from all of us to restore our right to quality public transport.