Understanding the Health Consequences of Air Pollution
Normally I write about the development of gigafactories, the charging infrastructure or the supply and demand of lithium and the corresponding perspectives. This issue is a bit out of the ordinary. Nevertheless, the topic seems to me to be extremely relevant. It is about the environmental pollution caused by cars with gasoline or diesel engines. This is especially true for cities and metropolitan areas with heavy traffic.
Environmental Defence, a Canadian environmental organization, and the Ontario Public Health Association, a non-partisan, non-profit organization, have published an interesting study on the subject called: Clearing the Air. According to the study, replacing all conventional vehicles and SUVs with electric cars in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) would prevent more than 300 premature deaths every year. The researchers estimate the social benefit at C$2.4 billion.
It is obvious that electric cars do not emit harmful - or in the worst case fatal - emissions. These range from nitrogen oxides to carbon dioxide and ultra-fine particulates. It's clear that electric cars do not completely solve the problem of environmental pollution, as their production still consumes a comparatively large amount of energy. It is also problematic when they are powered by coal-based electricity.
Noticeable ecological improvements
First, electric cars are shifting the ecological burden out of the cities, where people suffer particularly from it due to traffic density. Second, an electric car’s life cycle assessment is significantly better than that of vehicles with conventional drive systems. After all, renewable energies are on the advance and coal-based electricity is on the retreat. The bottom line is that e-cars not only provide more driving pleasure but also contribute to a noticeable improvement in air quality.
Health Canada, the department of the Government of Canada that is responsible for federal health policy, estimates that 14,600 premature deaths per year are attributable to air pollution throughout the country, including more than 3,000 in the GTA. Of course, cars with combustion engines are not exclusively responsible for this but it is known that they are among the biggest air polluters of all, along with industry, real estate and agriculture.
Traffic-related air pollution is partly responsible for lung cancer, respiratory diseases such as asthma, allergies and chronic lung diseases as well as cardiovascular diseases such as angina pectoris, heart attacks, high blood pressure and strokes.
Extensive prosperity gains
Researchers say that trucks and buses have effects similar to those of passenger cars. According to their calculations, converting all trucks to more efficient models would prevent 275 premature deaths in the GTA, representing an estimated social benefit of $2.1 billion. Switching to electric buses would reduce the number of fatalities by 143, representing an estimated social benefit of $1.1 billion.
With a population of around six million people, the GTA is clearly a major metropolitan area. However, a good third more people live in New York and three and a half times as many in Beijing.
Of course, figures like those projected by Canadian researchers are always open to criticism. Nevertheless, they make it clear that when comparing costs between combustion and e-cars, the health burdens or costs should also be taken into account. Seen from this perspective, the purchase incentives for e-cars, as they exist in Canada or Germany, appear in a completely different light.