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  • Gareth Davies

The Electric Car Panacea. October 2020

Updated: Aug 30, 2021

The promotion of electric cars as the panacea of all our transport ills gathers momentum. True, they can help in reducing but not eliminating carbon emissions, and this at a price. Scientists tell us a high proportion of the microscopic particles thrown into the air by cars arise from the reaction of rubber tyres with the road surface. This tyre wear is a big source of microplastics which eventually end up in rivers and the sea. In addition there is still no means of properly recycling tyres at the end of their lives.

A rapid growth of electric car ownership will increase congestion, not reduce it. Everyone will be able to ride around in electric cars, encouraged by government, whilst bus and rail services dwindle as a result of government warnings about public use during the pandemic.

Add to this the fact that electric cars could be making environments increasingly unfriendly to pedestrians and cyclists. Inaudible engines and obstructive charging systems are putting people with disabilities or pushchairs at risk. According to road safety campaigners, pedestrians are paying a hidden price for the so-called electric car green revolution.’ (George Monbiot in the Guardian).

So much for promoting walking and cycling as the healthier way to move around!

So will our attention thus be turned to the now rapid development of hydrogen powered vehicles and the fuel cell. We read that the UK is set to become a pioneer in the development of hydrogen fuel cell buses. Wright’s, the bus builders of Belfast, has revealed plans to decarbonise the UK bus fleet with the introduction of up to 3,000 zero-emission fuel cell buses over the next four years. Will the car industry follow? But the only zero carbon hydrogen is made by electrolysis of water. This only approaches zero carbon if the electricity itself is low carbon. While low carbon electricity is reasonably plentiful for powering houses it is not sufficient to make hydrogen in the volumes needed for large scale transport use.

In this modern world nothing is straightforward and simple except perhaps the painful conclusion that to decarbonise transport and move to zero carbon demands a serious and integrated transport and economic policy of reducing the need for transport. That in itself needs a new economics, new land use planning and a new structuring of the way we operate. Strangely, Covid 19 has shown us some of the ways. Working from home and moving towards local sustainable economies and societies are now being seriously talked about and actioned. Localism is firmly on the agenda.

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