Switching to electric cars will save lives and billions in healthcare costs

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By Alan Mozes

Health Day Reporter

WEDNESDAY, December 14, 2022 (HealthDay News) — As the United States moves toward a world where electric vehicles (EVs) have completely replaced fossil-fuel powered engines, Americans can look forward to reliably cleaner air and better health be happy?

Absolutely, a new study predicts.

Researchers say the resulting improvements in air quality by 2050 will be significant enough to reduce both the risk of premature death and related healthcare costs in the billions of dollars across the country.

But there’s a catch.

When it comes to better air to breathe, longer lifespans and reduced healthcare spending, some parts of the country — like Los Angeles, New York City and Chicago — are likely to benefit significantly more from greening transportation than others.

Study author H. Oliver Gao, director of systems engineering at Cornell University in Ithaca, NY, said he and his colleagues are not surprised by the general finding that electric vehicles will be a boon to American health.

“We expected – and I think most people expect – significant air quality and health benefits associated with electric mobility,” he noted.

Because what people drive matters: Vehicles powered by petroleum fuels — primarily gasoline and diesel — are responsible for nearly 30% of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States.

Fully electric cars, on the other hand, have no tailpipe emissions. While Gao noted that “the technology has actually been around for a few decades,” the transition to an EV world is finally picking up steam.

He said two major federal initiatives — the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act of 2021 and the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 — contain climate-friendly components. The Infrastructure Act, for example, is investing $7.5 billion to build a nationwide network of 500,000 electric vehicle charging stations. Meanwhile, the Inflation Reduction Act provides tax credits for commercial vehicles that use clean energy.

Even earlier, the number of electric cars sold worldwide rose from less than 1% in 2016 to 2.2% in 2018 and then to 4.1% in 2020. By 2021, more than 8% of cars sold worldwide were electric vehicles.

In the United States alone, electric vehicle sales more than doubled between 2020 and 2021, from 0.3 million to 0.7 million vehicles, the study authors found.

“But it’s in the cities where the real action will take place, because that’s where local officials — and citizens — will make the critical decisions that can really drive local EV adoption,” Gao said.

And at that level, the numbers — in some places — are already far more impressive than the national figures.

In 2021, electric vehicles accounted for 22% of sales in San Francisco alone; almost 12% in Los Angeles and Seattle; and 3.4% in New York City.

Still, the researchers are “surprised by the variability” of benefits across cities and regions, Gao said.

That variability became apparent after his team reviewed several factors, including emissions data from the US Environmental Protection Agency.

Investigators also analyzed different policies, regulations, and incentives for electric vehicles in the United States.

They also conducted regional infrastructure assessments, examining what is already in place or planned, including how all the electricity needed is produced from state to state.

This resulted in public health projections for 30 metropolitan areas.

Biggest Winner: Los Angeles.

By 2050, improving air quality from widespread adoption of electric vehicles would save nearly 1,200 lives a year, the study authors found. It would also reduce healthcare costs by an estimated $12.6 billion.

The study also estimated that New York City would have nearly 600 fewer projected deaths annually and $6.24 billion in healthcare savings.

Chicago, California’s San Joaquin Valley, and Dallas would be the next largest beneficiaries, with 276, 260, and 186 fewer deaths per year, respectively, and healthcare savings of between $2 billion and $3 billion per year.

Gao said the research team’s goal is to show cities and regions how existing policies are likely to be affected, while helping to support innovation and improved transportation plans in all American cities.

That kind of forward planning is critical, according to Noelle Selin, associate director at the Institute for Data, Systems and Society at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Mass., who reviewed the results.

“Given that transportation is a major source of air pollution, it’s not surprising that electrification of transportation is likely to improve air quality,” Selin said. “A large number of studies have shown that moving away from fossil fuels can also significantly improve air quality as a contribution to climate protection.”

And for that reason, she said, “Policies and incentives to encourage electric cars … are important to both benefit public health and mitigate climate change.”

The results were recently published online in the journal Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews.

More information

The US Environmental Protection Agency helps separate EV fact from fiction.

SOURCES: H. Oliver Gao, MS, PhD, Director, Systems Engineering and Associate Director, Cornell Program in Infrastructure Policy, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY; Noelle Selin, PhD, Professor and Director, Technology and Policy Program, Institute for Data, Systems and Society, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Mass.; Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, November 28, 2022, online


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Switching to electric cars will save lives and billions in healthcare costs
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