In an editorial published last week, Bloomberg (the news site, not the former mayor) declares that the only way cities can “dramatically improve air quality and extend lives shortened by pollution” is to follow the lead of places like Amsterdam and “ban (non-electric) cars.”
“Cities should offer up-front incentives to buy zero-emission cars, for instance, as well as non-financial benefits such as parking vouchers. Higher taxes on petrol and diesel cars — whether via congestion tolls or at the pump — will encourage drivers to switch and offset some of the costs of the transition,” the editorial board says.
They go on, and on, with policy advice, including more public transit options, charging stations, electric taxies and buses and “underground skating pods.”
There’s nothing wrong with underground staking pods, whatever those are, so long as they’re privately funded and operated.
But the entire premise of the Bloomberg editorial is wrong. Flat out wrong. Provably wrong.
The truth is that every city in America has made massive improvements in air quality over the past several decades — progress that was made without any help from electric buses, cars or taxis, and while “gas guzzlers” continued to dominate domestic car sales. Air quality in most places today is above, or well above, the government’s standards for safety.
Don’t believe it? Then go to the official government source for such information: The Environmental Protection Agency. It’s been tracking pollution levels for decades, whether it’s smog, carbon monoxide, or dust. Even in California, smog levels have declined sharply over the years.
The charts below tell the story.
And while pollution levels have been steadily declining, the number of miles driven has vastly increased — it’s up 50% since 1990. What’s more, car buyers have, over these years, been flocking to trucks and SUVs and away from passenger cars.
How is it possible that the air is vastly cleaner? Because new cars are more efficient and less polluting. And as the fleet of cars turns over, air pollution levels steadily decline.
Yet news outlets like Bloomberg continue to peddle the myth that air pollution is terrible and getting worse, and that the only way to clean the air is by taking draconian actions like forcing people into cars they don’t want or modes of transportation that don’t meet their needs.
Worse, they perpetuate the lie that electric cars are zero emission. They aren’t. While the cars themselves don’t emit pollution, the electricity that powers them does. So increasing demand for electricity means more pollution from the power plants — many of which run on coal — that fuel these “zero emission” vehicles.
Even when it comes to fighting climate change, electric cars aren’t necessarily better than their gas-powered brethren.
A report from the University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute calculated the CO2 emissions from plug-in electrics based on the energy sources used to generate electricity, and then translated that into a miles-per-gallon equivalent.
They found that an electric car recharged by a coal-fired plant produces as much CO2 as a gasoline-powered car that gets 29 miles per gallon. A plug-in recharged by a natural gas-powered plant is like driving a car that gets 58 miles per gallon. Given the energy mix in the U.S., the average plug-in produces as much CO2 as a conventional car that gets 55.4 miles per gallon.
In other words, not zero emissions.
Michael Bloomberg built his eponymous business selling hard, reliable data to newsrooms. The editorial board should look at some data before making ill-conceived and ill-informed pronouncements.
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