A nationwide transition to zero-emission vehicles — only if powered by an electricity grid that’s gone over to clean energy itself — would have a dramatic impact on the air quality and health of Americans.
That’s according to a new report by the American Lung Association out Wednesday.
The report, “Zeroing in on Healthy Air,” predicts that a widespread transition to vehicles powered by clean electricity generation would result in up to 110,000 avoided deaths and $1.2 trillion in public health benefits across the U.S. over the next 30 years.
Climate change threatens health outcomes from wildfires and extreme storms to worsening air pollution. And poor air quality caused by transportation pollution contributes to a wide range of negative health impacts, including childhood asthma attacks, impaired lung function and development, lung cancer, heart attacks and strokes and premature deaths.
“I can advise [patients] to limit their time spent outside to limit the pollution they are breathing; I can’t ensure that they have clean, healthy air to breathe — and that is incredibly frustrating to me,” said Afif El-Hasan, a pediatrician and the national volunteer medical spokesperson for the American Lung Association, during a media briefing.
“It should be a right of every child to play and develop somewhere safe. That should not be up for debate ever,” El-Hasan said.
Already, 1 in 12 American children have been diagnosed with asthma, that’s about 6 million children in the U.S. age birth to 17.
The transportation sector is responsible for nearly 30% of greenhouse gas emissions, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, the largest share of any category that emits pollution. For this calculation, transportation includes cars, trucks, ships, trains and planes.
“‘ Too many communities across the U.S. deal with high levels of dangerous pollution from nearby highways and trucking corridors, ports, warehouses and other pollution hot spots.’”
— Harold Wimmer, American Lung Association
The report illustrates the potential health and climate benefits if all new passenger vehicles
sold are zero-emission by 2035 and all new heavy-duty vehicles sold are zero-emission by 2040. The report also projects that the nation’s electric grid will be powered by clean, non-combustion renewable energy replacing “dirty” fossil fuels
by 2035. Right now, natural gas
which was swapped for greater-polluting coal, is the main source to power U.S. electricity, though wind and solar are increasing their share.
Hitting the target to park gas-powered cars and trucks for good remains a big task, however.
Market tracker LMC Automotive expects EVs
to make up 34.2% of new U.S. vehicle sales by 2030, with all-electric at 30.1% and plug-in gas/electric hybrids at 4.1%. Sales of EVs, including plug-in hybrids, were only about 4% of total U.S. vehicle sales in 2021. Still, that marked a doubling a growth from just a year earlier.
No doubt, health costs, both financially and emotionally, are among the biggest burden on American families. Even those that have comprehensive insurance coverage face deductible thresholds and can miss work and school due to illness.
“‘It should be a right of every child to play and develop somewhere safe. That should not be up for debate ever.’”
— Dr. Afif El-Hasan
According to the American Lung Association report, a widespread transition to electric vehicles would generate more than $1.2 trillion in health benefits and $1.7 trillion in additional climate benefits by 2050. The transition would result in up to:
110,000 avoided deaths
2.79 million avoided asthma attacks
13.4 million avoided lost workdays
The report also suggested that the top 10 metro areas that would benefit the most from a transition to electric vehicles between 2020 and 2050 include:
Los Angeles-Long Beach, CA
New York-Newark, NY-NJ-CT-PA
San Jose-San Francisco-Oakland, CA
Miami-Port St. Lucie-Fort Lauderdale, FL
Houston-The Woodlands, TX
Detroit-Warren-Ann Arbor, MI
Dallas-Fort Worth, TX-OK
What’s more, the research finds that significant benefits from this transition may be concentrated in counties with higher populations of people of color.
For example, the 100 U.S. counties (3% of all counties assessed) with the highest percentage of populations of people of color could experience $155 billion in public health benefits, or 13% of the total benefits seen in the national study through 2050.
“Too many communities across the U.S. deal with high levels of dangerous pollution from nearby highways and trucking corridors, ports, warehouses and other pollution hot spots,” said Harold Wimmer, CEO of the American Lung Association.