Who Leads the Charge?

I am very fortunate to live in a community (the mid-Hudson Valley) where many, if not most, people care about not just their immediate surroundings but also about the future of our children on this planet. They understand the value of personal and communal action to bring about societal change. They support those on the front lines and engage in political activism whenever they can. However, I find it intriguing that many of them fall prey to certain lines of thinking that result in lack of action when it comes to electric vehicles (EVs). I will address the most prominent of these in this article. I have already addressed environmental concerns about EVs in a previous article.

1. "I'll drive my fossil fueled vehicle into the ground, then I'll buy an EV"

To prolong the life of a commodity by taking good care of it is surely to be admired. However, the flaw with this argument is two-fold. First, people are tacitly assuming that not driving a car into the ground is akin to throwing it into the garbage prematurely. This is not true- the market for used cars in the US is much bigger than the new car market and will continue to grow in the coming years.

Second, by delaying the purchase of an EV (despite having the financial means to do so), people unintentionally shift the burden of change to someone else, possibly someone with lesser means. We cannot expect college students with little to no money or fresh graduates with a mountain of student debt to buy new electric cars. What they need is old, affordable cars that have been well-cared for by people with the means to buy new electric cars.

2. "I am waiting for the next generation of electric cars... they're going to be so much better"

Again, this argument is mistaken for two reasons. First, it is true that the next generation of electric cars will be better than this one, but if everyone waits for the next generation of electric cars, there is no next generation. Analogously, if everyone waits for someone else to go out on the street and protest injustice, then no one will show up at the protest.

Second, this argument would carry some weight if buying an EV was a risky proposition, as it was in 2008 when people bought the Tesla Roadster 1.0 or in 2010 when the Chevy Volt went on sale. EVs were an unproven technology then and charging infrastructure was almost non-existent. We live in a very different world now. Most major auto manufactures are designing or selling the second or even third generation of their EVs. These vehicles are well-built, reliable, require low maintenance, and many models offer over 225 miles of range on a single charge. Charging infrastructure has expanded tremendously across the continental US for long distance travel. Tesla is leading the charge (pun intended) but other networks such as Chargepoint, EVgo and Electrify America continue to grow rapidly as well. More importantly, every EV model comes with a portable charger than can be plugged into any regular outlet. Consequently, the majority of EV charging happens at home when we sleep.

3. "I'd like to buy an EV but they don't make one that fits my needs, because ..."

For the sake of argument, let us assume the patently false statement that out of over 40 models of EVs available in the US (with base prices as low as $27k), none are worthy of being the primary car for an American household. There are about 128 million households in the United States and on average, there are 1.88 vehicles per U.S. household. In 2019, out of the nearly 17 million new auto sales in the US, only 330,000 were EVs. That's a little less than 2%. Clearly, many families are buying/replacing their second and third cars and yet less than 2% of the total sales are EVs. Therefore, claims that people cannot find an EV that suits their lifestyle seems like a refusal to acknowledge the severity of the climate crisis and the role that our fossil-fueled vehicles play in it.

Transportation is the biggest source of greenhouse gases in the US and according to the EPA, 60% of those emissions come from our beloved passenger cars, SUVs, and pickup trucks. Transportation is also a major source of air pollution and responsible for tens of thousands of premature deaths every year.

This brings me to the most important part of my article. As I have stated before, most people in my community are engaged citizens who seek to create a better future for all of us. However, I feel deflated and dejected when they do not take moral responsibility to initiate a change in their own lives in order to mitigate the consequences of the climate crisis. It is our lifestyles, powered by the consumption of fossil fuels, that have made the US the biggest carbon polluter in the history of our planet. One has the right to criticize the Federal administration and its numerous shortcomings, but not in the absence of personal action. Institutional change and personal transformation are intimately intertwined and must happen simultaneously. The incentives for EVs, though not perfect, are quite attractive for families able to afford new cars.

One of my heroes, Mahatma Gandhi said, "All the tendencies present in the outer world are to be found in the world of our body. If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change." I am proud to be a member of a community that aspires to do that. We just need to bring that intention and focus to eliminate our consumption of fossil fuels.

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