Vehicle Electrification and Climate Change

February 9th, 2023 by

vehicle electrification and climate change

If you’re like most people in the United States, climate change is a serious concern and it is directly affecting your life. A 2020 study by Pew Research found that two out of three Americans think climate change is a problem and that we should do more about it as a society. That’s because the effects of a warming planet are becoming more and more observable; weather patterns are shifting, sea level rise is becoming more noticeable, especially during hurricanes. The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is the largest group of scientists in the world working together on understanding climate change, and their latest report, released in 2022, found:

  • Human-induced climate change, including more frequent and intense extreme events, has caused widespread adverse impacts and related losses and damages to nature and people, beyond natural climate variability.
  • Current unsustainable development patterns are increasing exposure of ecosystems and people to climate hazards.
  • Climate change impacts and risks are becoming increasingly complex and more difficult to manage.
  • The magnitude and rate of climate change and associated risks depend strongly on near-term mitigation and adaptation actions, and projected adverse impacts and related losses and damages escalate with every increment of global warming.

To summarize: climate change is here, it’s real, it’s caused by humans, it’s harming humans, and if we change what we’re doing we can make it better. If we don’t change, it’s going to get worse. With these facts becoming increasingly accepted across American society, it’s understandable that more Americans want to do something to combat climate change.

At the same time, because climate change is a global problem caused by the burning of fossil fuels, it’s easy to feel powerless to change it. We can vote for candidates who support clean energy, but they don’t always win. We can install solar panels at our house if we can afford it. But you may live in a place where solar isn’t feasible, or you may rent from a landlord who is not as concerned about the climate as you. We can buy from socially and environmentally responsible companies, we can limit our travel and work from home, but overall it doesn’t feel like we’re making a significant impact.

Enter Project Drawdown, a private non-profit started in 2014 that has effectively identified the necessary strategies to get to a carbon-neutral future. The Project Drawdown website is absolutely full of information and strategies for stopping climate change with solutions that exist today. And guess which solution is #4 on the list? That’s right: transportation.

Transportation Impact on Climate Change

Worldwide, transportation accounts for 14% of greenhouse gas emissions, according to Project Drawdown. In the United States, that number is even higher because of how many Americans own and drive cars. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, transportation is the #1 source of greenhouse gas emissions, accounting for 27% of CO2 in America, with cars and light trucks making up the majority of that number, according to The Oak Ridge National Laboratory for the Department of Energy. Solving the climate problem definitely means addressing the transportation issue.
2020 US GHG Emissions by Sector


But does this mean that we should just give up on travel and transport? Should we take public transportation and ride our bicycles everywhere we go? This is clearly not a feasible choice in most communities across America. Transportation and personal mobility is key to enjoying time with our friends and family, getting to work and school, and getting to needed medical appointments. The U.N. recognized this in their report “Mobilizing Sustainable Transport” from 2016, in which they said:

“Global progress in reducing greenhouse gas emissions cannot be realized without decisive action in sustainable transport, and countries cannot provide food security or healthcare without providing reliable and sustainable transport systems to underpin these advances.”

Even Project Drawdown recognizes that just reducing transportation, limiting the movement of goods and people, is not a workable solution: “Mobility has played a critical and complex role in shaping society, and the demand for it is only growing,” and they ask: “How can we support the social good of mobility, but end its dependence on petroleum? In what ways do vehicles, infrastructure, and operations need to change to eliminate transportation emissions?”

Your Carbon Footprint

You probably knew that Americans have the highest average carbon footprint – the amount of CO2 we are responsible for putting into the environment – of citizens of any country in the world. The Nature Conservancy estimates that Americans produce about 16 tons of COs for every person every year. You can use their calculator to figure out your carbon impact, which helps you measure greenhouse gas emissions from your living arrangements, your diet, your purchases, and – you guessed it – your transportation habits. While you may ultimately come in under this 16 ton average for your household, it won’t be by too much. A lot of the impact is already baked in.

But one of the biggest ways that you can reduce your carbon footprint without changing your lifestyle is by changing the way you get from point A to point B. Most people can reduce their carbon footprint by 15% or more by switching to an EV or Plug-In Hybrid Vehicle. Here’s how that works:

  1. The average American drives about 13,000 miles per year according to the Federal Highway Administration (more if you’re age 20-54, and more if you’re male).
  2. The average fuel economy of cars on the road today is just under 23 miles per gallon.
  3. Each gallon of fuel burned creates 8.887 kg of CO2.
  4. 13,000 miles / 23 MPG * 8.887KG CO2= 5,023 kg or 2.5 Tons of CO2.
  5. If you drive 18,000 miles per year and you only get 20 MPG, you’re going to reduce your impact by 25%!

If you ask me, climate change is not the biggest reason to switch to an electric vehicle. The biggest reason is that for those of us who have to drive, an EV is just a better driving experience. The ride is smoother and quieter, the pickup and acceleration is better, and the technology is exciting, entertaining, and creates a safer driving and riding experience than a traditional internal combustion engine vehicle.

But the fact is, there is no more impactful personal decision that someone can make in American society to reduce their carbon footprint and do their part to fight climate change than switch to an EV or PHEV. But that’s not the end of the story. If you have questions or concerns about EV manufacturing, battery recycling, or whether to go partial hybrid or full EV, look for upcoming articles from Green Wave Electric Vehicles.

Keep learning!