Savannah Zerbel/Daily Emerald

Opinion: Electric vehicles are here to save the automobile industry not climate change.



Electric vehicles are all the craze these days, representing a conscious shift in the consumer away from the dirty, polluting, archaic past of gas-driven cars. However, this transition is more lateral than progressive. Electric cars are the automobile industry trying to maintain its dominance by selling an environmentally friendly product. The problem is not what drives on our roads, but the roads themselves.

Don’t get me wrong, relative to traditional combustion engine vehicles, electric cars are almost objectively better –– especially so in Eugene, as 80% of our electricity comes from renewable sources. We’ve all heard the statistics that electric cars in the short term contribute to carbon emissions, which is true. Production of batteries for EVs requires rare Earth metals like cobalt and lithium that are environmentally devastating and dangerous to mine. Not to mention they only last for 10-20 years. Also, barring the Pacific Northwest, the vast majority of EVs will be charged with electricity still being generated by non-renewable means.

Marc Schlossberg, a professor in the school of Planning, Public Policy and Management, is not against EVs but does not buy their marketing as an environmental savior.

“Even if we have EVs, the land consumption, the disruption of urban space is still problematic,” Schlossberg said. “Replacing one form of car dependency with another does not address the economic and ecological issues that are critical for our survival.”

Schlossberg is right. EVs are marginally better, but their adoption is just an obfuscation from the root causes of our warming world. The way our society is physically built, our infrastructure, is incompatible with combating climate change. Our cities are low density sprawls of wide roads and single-unit housing. These unwalkable communities coerce the population into car dependency and discriminate against those who cannot operate or own a car.

We only praise cars because we have no other viable transportation options. The simple truth is that cars are annoying, loud, dangerous and the second largest money sink besides housing. Car dependency is bad, no matter the type of car.

The solutions are not entertaining futuristic technologies thought up by tech CEOs who have a vested interest in the automobile industry. Instead, we must invest in boring things we already have.

The new electric Ford F-150 has a battery capacity of 98 kWh, whereas the average electric bike has a capacity of 300 Wh, meaning that one electric truck battery is equivalent to approximately 325 electric bikes. Coupled with the fact that 60% of all vehicles trips are less than 6 miles, and the average occupancy of a car being only 1.5 people displays how inefficient car dependency is. Electric bikes could transport hundreds more people for a fraction of the resources and infrastructure.

Plus, add the bill for the charging infrastructure for electric cars to the list of decaying highways and bridges that are required for car dependency. Instead of, y’know, the charging infrastructure for ebikes — which is a wall outlet that already exists just about everywhere.

We don’t need individual electric vehicles that operate in a tunnel beneath the city. The solutions already exist and just need more investment: trains and buses that come frequently enough that you don’t need to check a schedule and cities built for the biker and pedestrian. We can not leave our future up to the whims of CEOs operating on behalf of profit margins. Elon Musk didn’t buy the title of “founder” for the already existing Tesla company because he cares about the environment, but because he doesn’t want to be around “a bunch of random strangers.”

Remember, attacks on car-centrism are not an attack on drivers; it's not our fault society is built for cars. We are simply products of our environment and fall back on cars because it is what is provided to us. Cars are great resources, and the right tool for some trips – but not all. If there was a simpler, easier and cheaper transportation method we would take it.

Because even if we get the future the venture capitalists of Silicon Valley want — an electric car in every garage — it won’t stop Eugene from getting gridlocked every game day.

Read more like this

Opinion Writer

Porter is an opinion columnist at the Daily Emerald. As a student of Global Studies and Cultural Anthropology, he writes passionately about politics and culture through an intersectional lens.