Today, more than four in ten Americans live in places impacted by unhealthy levels of air pollution. Unsurprisingly, transportation and electricity generation are the leading contributors to unhealthy air. That is why shifting to zero-emission vehicles and electricity is a much-needed solution to the ozone and particle pollution problems that plague communities across the country. The recently released “Zeroing in on Healthy Air” report sheds light on the huge opportunity this solution presents for improving public health and addressing climate change.
The Current Pollution Problem
Experts have long understood that emissions from the transportation sector greatly contribute to ground-level ozone pollution (or smog) and particle pollution. Both are harmful to health and can even be deadly. For example, the World Health Organization classifies diesel exhaust as a carcinogen. In addition, cars and trucks emit carbon dioxide, which is one of the greenhouse gases responsible for driving climate change.
“We all live near roads, we all are operating vehicles and so from the smallest town to the largest city, cleaning up the transportation that’s driving by our own front doors, by our schools, by our playgrounds will help the health of everyone,” said Paul Billings, senior vice president of public policy at the American Lung Association.
The electricity sector adds to the health burden. Extracting, processing and burning fossil fuels for electricity, like coal, oil and natural gas, emits additional dangerous pollutants and greenhouse gases. And burning other fuels instead, like biomass or trash, still produces health harms.
Breathing ozone pollution and particle pollution is unhealthy for everyone, but certain populations are more vulnerable, such as children, older adults, pregnant people and those with lung disease and other pre-existing health conditions. Where you live can also put you at higher risk. Unhealthy air increases the risk of asthma attacks, heart attacks and strokes, lung cancer and premature death.
Too many communities are exposed to nearby sources of pollution that harm their health – like power plants, oil and gas operations, major roads and ports. A shift away from combustion – whether burning gasoline and diesel in vehicles or coal and natural gas in power plants – - is critical to improving the health of those most impacted by emissions, including in lower-income, rural communities across the United States. “It should be a right of every child to play and develop somewhere safe. That should not be up for debate, ever,” explained Afif El-Hasan, a pediatrician and American Lung Association volunteer medical spokesperson.
- Dr. Afif El-Hasan
Electric Vehicles Powered by Clean Electricity Offer a Solution
According to the “Zeroing in on Healthy Air” report, transitioning to 100% sales of zero-emission vehicles and 100% non-combustion electricity generation over the next 30 years could generate over $1.2 trillion in health benefits in the United States. Other benefits include:
- Approximately 110,000 lives saved
- Over 2.7 million childhood asthma attacks avoided
- 13.4 million lost works days avoided
- Over $1.7 trillion in global climate benefits gained
What You Can Do
To make these benefits a reality, we need policymakers at every level of government to drive the transition to a zero-emission future. We are seeing progress. For example, the Biden administration strengthened greenhouse gas emissions requirements for cars in March, and in February, it was announced that the U.S. Departments of Transportation and Energy would provide close to $5 billion over five years to help states create a network of EV charging stations. On the state level, 15 states have adopted zero-emission vehicle standards and increasing numbers are pursuing zero-emission truck requirements.
But there is still much to do. “What we would hope comes out of this is that it helps to tell the story of why certain policies might be so important at the local level, state level and even federal level as these discussions go on,” said Will Barrett, lead author of “Zeroing in on Healthy Air” and senior director for clean air advocacy at the Lung Association.
The findings of the “Zeroing in on Healthy Air” report make it clear that the transition to zero-emission vehicles and electricity will be lifesaving. Visit our report online and sign our petition to learn more about what you can do to support a more rapid transition to zero-emission vehicles.
Blog last updated: February 28, 2023