At the COP26 climate summit, world politicians slapped themselves on the back for reaching a last-minute agreement, which was already inadequate on timing. If the rest of our climate progress mirrors transport policies, we have a difficult future ahead of us.
COP26 may have been one of the last possibilities to avert devastating climate change. Still, the best and boldest action our leaders could imagine for transportation was the universal adoption of the electric car, with a vague nod to public and active transport. And who knows if they will succeed by 2035: otherwise it would be madness.
Can the electric car be enough?
The electric car excites me, I admit. And there is no doubt that politicians and many companies are also enthusiastic. It gives us the impression (the illusion?) That we are drastically reducing our environmental impact without having to change practically anything in our lifestyles. Beautiful, is not it?
No. It's not nice. The electric car does what internal combustion engine (ICE) cars have always done in our urban areas. It allows us to put the places where we buy, work and live further away. And do you know what it is? The problem is precisely that, because ever-expanding cities are unsustainable.
Building endlessly by bringing concrete into green areas, and swapping forest or agricultural land for residential neighborhoods (even when low-density) burns exorbitant amounts of limited resources. The more our cities grow, the less interest there is in efficiently building infrastructure such as water, sewage, electricity and public transport. What is the use of wasting time improving what we have? Something new is being built further on. Farther and farther. You can get there by car: petrol or electric, the same is the function.
Because the electric car is still a car.
Electric cars, like petrol cars, make our cities less attractive and less efficient for more sustainable modes of transport. Regardless of the type of propulsion, car drivers kill 1,35 million people worldwide. In Italy one death every 14 hours.
More cars in cities mean more parking space, less space and less efficient public transport. Plugging a car into an electrical outlet doesn't stop it from being a lethal car or causing traffic. Again: there is still no clear and sustainable path to manage e-waste generated by electric vehicles. Electric cars are not "green", at least not entirely. They still use (at the moment) tires that create huge waste streams. Tire wear produces microplastics that end up in our waterways and oceans.
Although electric vehicles use regenerative braking, which is better than traditional internal combustion cars, they still use brake pads when the brakes are applied. Braking generates toxic dust made up of heavy metals such as mercury, lead, cadmium and chromium. These heavy metals make their way to our streams and rivers, forever incorporated into these waterways.
Drive less, switch to active transport
Even if electric vehicles were great for the planet, we may not reach a level of use in New Zealand to significantly reduce transport emissions to deserve our climate goals. Do cars have to disappear completely?
Neither. They help in the ecological transition, even though about 80% of vehicles this decade are likely to still be combustion. Let's face it, the current electric car adoption rate reflects adoption by the wealthiest in our society: only Once those with the highest disposable income buy an electric car, we can expect the adoption curve to flatten. .
It is unreasonable, for example, to expect middle- and low-income people to replace their current vehicles with a more expensive electric car. Mitigating emissions through consumerism is highly unfair. We are placing the most significant burden on the most vulnerable groups.
Those who push the electric car make great promises that lull us into a lie. The lie is that we can live our lives in pretty much the same way, without worrying about the planet. In fact, our lifestyles they must undergo significant changes to have a significant impact.
We need fairer cities. Following the example of Ljubljana (no car), in the direction desired by the Veil plan of Paris (cycle city) or from Seattle (streets transformed into dehors), or from the city of Barcelona e Madrid (superblocks and city of 15 minutes).
Don't be afraid: this is good news. The changes needed to move us closer to a sustainable future cover many of the things we love about living in a community. It is about bringing together the different uses of the land to make it possible to live, work and shop in our neighborhood. It is about connecting communities with cycling and public transport infrastructure for longer journeys.
Life as we know it will have to change, but that change may be for the better.