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Despite the exponential growth in popularity of electric vehicles and an increasing number of Australians switching to zero-emissions transport, it’s unlikely a battery powered, or hydrogen fuel-cell car, will be the right choice for absolutely every motorist.
In addition to a number of conspiracy theories that some opponents cite, there are some legitimate disadvantages that render EVs not quite right such as overall range limitations, lack of places to charge and the initial cost to buy.
That said, even in the relatively short time electric cars have been available in the mass market, much progress has been made in electrification including practicality, infrastructure and pricing, resulting in the considerable growth of 1.8 per cent of the new car market sales last year to 7.5 percent at the same point this year.
Perhaps you’re one of the many Australians considering an EV for your next car but the business case doesn’t quite stack up. Perhaps you’re one of those who choses to listen to the hearsay over the facts. Either way, there’s one irrefutable reason electric power makes a lot more sense over the combustion engine.
Regardless of the sophistication and efficiency of a given petrol or diesel engine, combustion engines produce localised emissions, while EVs do not. It’s widely known what effects fossil fuel emissions have on the environment, but what’s not so frequently talked about is the effect it has on our health.
Respiratory illness is on the rise in Australia and many of the conditions effecting people of all ages are known to be linked to air pollution and vehicle emissions. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, almost one third of Australians were living with a chronic respiratory disease in 2021.
Furthermore, findings by ResearchGate published in the European Journal of Public Health found increases in all atmospheric pollutants lead to a 35 per cent increase in asthma symptoms, a 30 per cent reduction in respiratory flow and volume, and a 30 per cent increase in hospital stays for treatment of pre-existing respiratory conditions.
“Urbanization, (sic) elevated levels of traffic and consequent vehicle emissions, and industrial lifestyle are correlated to an increase in the frequency of asthma exacerbations and respiratory infections, especially in people who live in urban areas compared with those who live in rural areas,” it said.
Reducing airborne pollution therefore, is one of the best strategies for combating rising rates of respiratory illness in Australians. And one of the best ways of doing that is replacing combustion powered cars with electric cars.
You could, of course, repeat the popular EV opponent’s argument that owning an electric vehicle merely repositions its ‘tailpipe’ to the place where the electricity is generated, which is a valid point if two key factors are ignored.
Firstly, take Victoria’s Latrobe Valley where all of the state’s coal-fired power stations are located. While the brown coal plants continue to belch their cocktail of sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, particulates, lead, arsenic, mercury and, of course, carbon dioxide into the air, the valley’s population of about 80,000 have to breathe it.
But about 200km down the road Melbourne’s population could be using the power to charge electric vehicles and keep the capital’s air clear for 4.5 million people. Ideally, no Australians would be exposed to air pollution but what’s better in the short term?
Secondly, when we transition to renewable sources of energy (Victoria has a 95 per cent clean energy target by 2030), the fossil-fuelled tailpipes in the Latrobe Valley will be bunged which nullifies the ‘relocated tailpipe’ theory all together.
The good news is that driving an electric vehicle makes a difference and every person that choses an EV over a combustion-powered vehicle is helping to clean up the atmosphere for the benefit of all.
A report published in 2020 by information analytics specialist Elsevier found that air quality in areas of the US where electric vehicle adoption is fastest, had improved most significantly compared with areas taking longer to transition to EVs.
"Incentivizing (sic) a rapid uptake of EVs will improve population health nearly immediately as most benefits of reduced mortality attributable to air pollution accrue in the short term,” the report concluded.
Switching to electric cars is not something that can happen overnight, nor will it be possible for all Australians for many years yet, but if you’re sitting on the fence, in addition to all the environmental and financial advantages you can add another - helping everyone breathe a little easier.