Rise Of Electric Vehicles Makes Good Planning More Crucial Than Ever

There may be plenty of reasons to hail the rise of electric vehicles, including California's policy to ban the sale of gas-powered cars by 2035. But what may be good for the air is not necessarily good for cities.

2 minute read

September 15, 2022, 8:00 AM PDT

By Josh Stephens @jrstephens310


Row of white electric cars at charging station

BigPixel Photo / ELectric cars

Economists, energy analysts, and even psychologists will debate and anticipate the impacts of a gas-free future. I expect it will, on balance, be far better than the status quo. But tradeoffs will be made (oil drilling for cobalt and nickel mining, for instance) and unintended consequences will arise, as they always do with major technological shifts.

Back in 2005, the prospect of widespread use of electric vehicles—much less ones that could outdrive the gnarliest hot rods of the day—was, if not unthinkable, at least implausible. That year, Californian drivers emitted roughly 180 million tons of carbon into our 1.01 million cubic miles of troposphere.

California surely needs to reduce pollution. But, just as surely, it also needs to make nicer cities. The trouble with “nicer cities” is inherent in the phrase itself: it's vague, subjective, and debatable. Public policy loves metrics, though. The more definitive a measure, the better. If you can say what you want, you can figure out how to get it, and, later on, you can evaluate whether you've gotten what you want.

Cars are still cars, electric or not. They still take up space. They still require energy and infrastructure. They can still kill occupants and bystanders alike. They still make people lazy and antisocial. Walking, biking, rolling, scooting, and bus-riding are all preferable to lithium mining and highway-building if we want to be sustainable.

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