I am the proud new owner of an electric car, purchasing a VW e-Golf at a time when the company deserves to feel collective shame. Yet, no company is a monolith, and I would like to believe the division producing the e-Golf was grounded in an ethic that our future must be clean. The car feels as thoughtfully designed and solid as one would expect from a much higher end luxury car. The car feels as if people were proud to make it.
My goal is not to promote the e-Golf as much as to elucidate on the joy of freeing myself from polluting. According to the EPA, an average passenger car emits 4.7 metric tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) per year, as well much more harmful compounds of methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), and air conditioning refrigerant (HFC-134a). While CO2 accounts for over 95% of the emissions from an automobile, the global warming potential of the other gasses is far more serious.
In addition, the health consequences from automobiles could likely be of tragic proportions. The effects of exposure to carbon monoxide are well known. But the effects of living near roadways, long-term exposure to roadways, and ultrafine particles are becoming much better understood. As the EPA notes:
“Air pollutants from cars, trucks and other motor vehicles are found in higher concentrations near major roads. People who live, work or attend school near major roads appear to have an increased incidence and severity of health problems associated with air pollution exposures related to roadway traffic including higher rates of asthma onset and aggravation, cardiovascular disease, impaired lung development in children, pre-term and low-birthweight infants, childhood leukemia, and premature death.”
Or, quite simply, would any of us have our children inhale pure auto exhaust?
I cannot justify a lifestyle that does harm to others, and cannot blind myself to the damage we cause. While in the process of designing alternative energy solutions for my house, I purposely bought the more expensive 100% wind option from my utility company. I keep my house cooler than most in the winter, and refuse to use air conditioning in the summer. I purposely economize my travel as much as I can, and attempt to plant trees to remediate my damage. And yes, I bought an expensive car that can only go about 90 miles at a time.
But, e-cars demonstrate these seemingly draconian lifestyle choices are not as painful as they may seem. The e-Golf is super quiet, super clean, and super peppy. The cost of these cars is dropping, and many states are incentivizing owners who invest in the new energy economy. And, while e-cars are currently far from a perfect solution, I am grateful for those who have taken risk to invest in technologies that make our planet better.