By Thea Hassan
The adage, “if you want to be green, don’t spend the green,” popped into my head as I read the Jan. 13 Another Voice article declaring electric vehicles “bright spot[s] in all the painful haze of global warming and climate change.”
At GObike, we respectively disagree and urge our climate change concerned compadres to consider the advantages of active, shared and mass transportation opportunities.
While electric vehicles have a place in the new mobility era we are entering, they are not the panacea to limiting greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector – the number one source of emissions in the state and nationwide, with passenger vehicles accounting for a whopping 82 percent of emissions in New York.
Though New York State has set a target for 100% renewable electricity by 2040, currently only about a third of electricity generated in the state is carbon-free, with another third coming from nuclear power plants. The remainder of electricity is generated mostly by natural gas-fired power plants.
In the United States only 17 percent of electricity comes from renewable energy sources. Thus, if you charge your snazzy new electric vehicle across the state line, your carbon-free advantage disappears. Instead of reducing your footprint, you are simply offsetting it – the emissions were released earlier in the cycle rather than during your drive. We’ll save the litany of environmental, social and ethical dilemmas associated with electric vehicle production for another day.
Climate change is not a distant threat – it has arrived. As the business as usual scenario continues, we are rapidly burning through our remaining carbon budget to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change expects we will expend this budget within the next 10 years. Switching to electric vehicles that will, hopefully, be run on carbon-free electricity 20 years from now is conveniently easy but inconveniently far too little and far too late.
We must think easier. We do not need to overhaul our entire passenger vehicle fleet, trading in our gas motors for electric batteries. Instead of building new cars, let’s repaint the streets to reprioritize the person over the motor vehicle. Let’s create programs to make it easy for commuters to use mass transit to get to work in our downtown core (NFTA’s Metro Rail runs on local hydropower). Let’s develop policies to protect the safety, comfort and time of people walking, biking and using transit.
Nationwide, nearly half of trips are less than three miles, an easily bikeable distance for many people. A quarter of trips are a mile or less, a perfectly walkable distance for those healthy and able.
Technology like apps, real-time transit information and e-scooters are making it easier than ever to step out of your car. These solutions exist, right now, waiting to be used. Metro Rail runs every day, ready for riders to board. Our community workshop is open to anyone looking for an inexpensive, upcycled transportation option – the bicycle. Less is always more, and our transportation sector is no exception.
Thea Hassan is communications director at GObike Buffalo.