Electric Vehicles: A Solution to America’s Car Emissions Problem by Rachel Hua

America has a car problem. In 2016, an estimated 91.3% of all households in the US were predicted to own at least one vehicle.[1] In 2018, more than 273 million vehicles were registered in the States – that’s a lot.[2] Traditional vehicles, which run off of either conventional gas or compressed natural gas (CNG), regularly emit greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming and climate change. According to the EPA, driving just one mile in an average passenger car can emit about 404 grams of CO2 per mile.[3] In total, the burning of fossil fuels needed for transportation accounted for 29% of all greenhouse gas emissions in 2017.[4]


Yet despite these daunting statistics, and despite the fact that the United States is consistently ranked in the top 5 countries for ownership of most cars, President Trump’s policy regarding CO2 production from automobiles remains lax.[5] I believe that the most effective way to reduce automobile emissions is through policy changes that seem feasible given Trump’s current stance against the environment. Thus, I believe that the government should create a policy that encourages car companies to convert predominantly to the sales of electric vehicles, rather than traditional vehicles that run off of gasoline and fossil fuels – not only will this lessen the impact of greenhouse gases but it will also create a whole new market for diverse, affordable EVs not limited to Tesla.


Under the Obama Administration, the EPA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) had created national programs in attempts of curbing the impact of greenhouse gases from transportation. Of these included the regulatory commitment to conduct a “Midterm Evaluation” for car models made during the two phases: 2012-2016, and 2017-2025[6]. The government ultimately aimed to cut 6 billion metric tons of GHG emissions over the lifetimes of the vehicles sold in model years 2012-2025 while allowing manufacturers flexibility in meeting the standards.[7] However, the Trump Administration now has different ideas, as Trump attempts to roll back Obama’s previous fuel standards, now freezing the minimum miles-per-gallon standard for newly sold light cars at 2020 levels of 37 miles per gallon for cars. This is down from the original target of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025. Trump’s plans to rollback vehicle-fuel economy standards could increase emissions from light vehicles by 13%.[8]


Given the Trump Administration’s adamant push for rollbacks in environmental rules enforced during the Obama-era and Clinton-era, including parts of the Clean Air Act and Clean Power Plan, it seems very unlikely that Trump will pass laws that strictly opt to lessen CO2 emissions anytime soon.[9]


Thus, my solution of EV promotion seems like the easiest and most possible option, as it not only helps the environment but also pushes technology, business, and industrial growth, which Trump clearly likes. EV vehicles seem to have a promising future. A side-by-side comparison of CO2 emissions by petrol-fueled cars versus EVs shows that electric cars produce about half the CO2 that petrol cars do, with the regular car producing 2.99 tons of CO2 and the EV producing 0.96 tons of CO2 when driven for 10,000 miles.[10] A study by Carbon Brief also showed that EVs do not produce any exhaust emissions including nitrogen oxides, particulate matter (PM10) and carbon monoxide. Thus, EVs already seem to be a lot more environmentally conscious than traditional cars when it comes to the production of greenhouse gases. Though creating the batteries for EVs initially produces more pollution than the initial production of conventional cars, this “carbon debt” is paid off as soon as the car is driven. In fact, a Nissan Leaf pays back emissions from battery production after less than two years, and emits three time less CO2 in its lifetime than a regular car.[11] A shorter-range model can even offset the extra emissions within 6 months, and continue to outperform gasoline cars until the end of their lives. In this same study reported by Carbon Brief, a typical EV is reported to produce 4,815 pounds of CO2 equivalent emissions per year, whereas a national gasoline powered car produces 11,435 pounds, which is still over twice as much, confirming prior data. Ultimately, it seems like electric vehicles are the solution for America’s automobile problem.


Norway is excellent example of a country that boasts green automobile policy. For years, the Norwegian government has offered incentives for the purchase of EVs, including exemption from sales, import and road taxes.[12] Owners of EVs are only expected to pay up to 50% of the listed rate for tolls and parking. As a result, EVs accounted for approximately 58% of all car sales in March 2018 in Norway – a gain of about 100 percent from the previous March.[13] According to Reuters, in 2018, Norway’s fully electric car sales rose to a record 31.2 percent market share from 20.8 percent in 2017, far ahead of any other nation, and buyers had to wait as producers struggled to keep up with demand.[14] Not coincidentally, in 2018, Norway was given the Environmental Performance Index ranking of 14 while America was ranked below as 27. While America might not be able to follow Norway’s footsteps precisely, I think the government should definitely try to implement national laws that encourage the purchase of EVs. So far, most of the laws seem to be state based. For example, The Californian Air Resources Board has plans to establish the Zero Emission Assurance Project (ZAP) to offer rebates for the replacement of a batteries and fuel cells in EVs. However, this is not enough – the issue of CO2 emissions needs to be regarded as a unified, federal issue, as it truly affects us all.


I believe that the conversion to electric vehicles represents the next step for the US if we want to significantly reduce the amount of greenhouse gases produced by automobiles. However, I also acknowledge that EVs would solve only a small fraction of America’s CO2 problem. Even though EVs overall produce less pollution than traditional cars, EVs are still powered by electricity, which is not always generated by clean power sources within America. If anything, we have a deeper problem to consider: where our electricity is coming from, and how it is sourced. Whether we continue to burn detrimental coal and fossil fuels, or whether we choose to switch to the use of solar power, nuclear power, or other renewable alternatives could ultimately determine our path towards a greener future.



[1] Maciag, Mike. “Vehicle Ownership in U.S. Cities Data and Map.” Governing, November 28, 2017. https://www.governing.com/gov-data/car-ownership-numbers-of-vehicles-by-city-map.html.

[2] Statista Research Department. “Number of Cars in U.S.” Statista, March 12, 2020. https://www.statista.com/statistics/183505/number-of-vehicles-in-the-united-states-since-1990/.

[3] “Greenhouse Gas Emissions from a Typical Passenger Vehicle.” EPA. Environmental Protection Agency, May 10, 2018. https://www.epa.gov/greenvehicles/greenhouse-gas-emissions-typical-passenger-vehicle.

[4] “Sources of Greenhouse Gas Emissions.” EPA. Environmental Protection Agency, May 10, 2018.  https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/sources-greenhouse-gas-emissions.

[5] Pentland, William. “The World’s Top Car-Owning Countries.” Forbes. Forbes Magazine, June 19, 2013. https://www.forbes.com/2008/07/30/energy-europe-automobiles-biz-energy-cx_wp_0730cars.html#288d8eacfa5f.

[6] “Regulations for Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Passenger Cars and Trucks.” EPA. Environmental Protection Agency, April 10, 2020. https://www.epa.gov/regulations-emissions-vehicles-and-engines/regulations-greenhouse-gas-emissions-passenger-cars-and.

[7] “Carbon Pollution from Transportation.” EPA. Environmental Protection Agency, May 10, 2018. https://www.epa.gov/transportation-air-pollution-and-climate-change/carbon-pollution-transportation.

[8] Hausfather, Zeke. “Analysis: How Trump’s Rollback of Vehicle Fuel Standards Would Increase US Emissions.” Carbon Brief, July 10, 2019. https://www.carbonbrief.org/analysis-how-trumps-rollback-of-vehicle-fuel-standards-would-increase-us-emissions.

[9] Popovich, Nadja, Livia Albeck-ripka, and Kendra Pierre-louis. “95 Environmental Rules Being Rolled Back Under Trump.” The New York Times. The New York Times, June 2, 2019. https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/climate/trump-environment-rollbacks.html.

[10] “Electric Vehicles.” Carbon Footprint. https://www.carbonfootprint.com/electric_vehicles.html.

[11] “Factcheck: How Electric Vehicles Help to Tackle Climate Change.” Carbon Brief, May 13, 2019. https://www.carbonbrief.org/factcheck-how-electric-vehicles-help-to-tackle-climate-change.

[12] “2018 EPI Results.” Environmental Performance Index. https://epi.envirocenter.yale.edu/epi-topline?country&order=field_epi_rank_new&sort=asc.

[13] Chappell, Bill. “Electric Cars Hit Record in Norway, Making Up Nearly 60 Percent of Sales in March.” NPR, April 2, 2019. https://www.npr.org/2019/04/02/709131281/electric-cars-hit-record-in-norway-making-up-nearly-60-of-sales-in-march.

[14] Chappell, Bill. “Electric Cars Hit Record in Norway, Making Up Nearly 60 Percent of Sales in March.” NPR, April 2, 2019. https://www.npr.org/2019/04/02/709131281/electric-cars-hit-record-in-norway-making-up-nearly-60-of-sales-in-march.

3 thoughts on “Electric Vehicles: A Solution to America’s Car Emissions Problem by Rachel Hua

  1. Thank you for such a thoughtful blog, Rachel! I previously had not really put that much thought into the possibility of electric vehicles becoming the predominant form of personal vehicles in the US because it felt very far off. It still seemed to me like something that is not economically feasible yet, so I was really curious to read your blog. I am wondering how exactly EV promotion would take place, perhaps through subsidies or regulations. I am sure this decision would require quite a bit of research into the economic investments necessary and how best to incentivize US consumers. I found the example of Norway to be particularly interesting. I am surprised that a seemingly simple policy of exemption from various taxes and fees worked so well. This makes me hopeful that the US could follow something similar, especially because the idea of reducing taxes has good potential to cross party lines.

  2. Hi Rachel,

    Thanks for your post on EV! I also feel optimistic about EVs paving the future of transportation – one that is appealing sustainably, economically, and technologically (people are absolutely nuts over Tesla). However, I do there are 3 major obstacles that hinder EV adoption: oil industry legacy, EV infrastructure, and cost. Oil is a major and expensive industry that has been around for long, and displacing the oil industry is, unfortunately, something that everyone is on board with. With infrastructure, major EV adoption would require a network of cars and charging stations, which are very costly to set up. So far only few places in the US have the infrastructure to support EV adoption. Lastly, the cost of EV vehicles themselves are also really high. Teslas, the most mainstream EV in the market right now, are out of the price range of most Americans. The price barrier makes EVs look sexy but definitely also hinders its adoption rate.

    One trend that I believe will drive faster EV adoption is the rise of drones. Drones run on electricity, and if shown to be useful methods of transportation/delivery during the COVID19 pandemic, this could catalyze faster drone and general EV adoption. I think it’s important that we make the switch to EV ASAP to reduce carbon emissions, but how long that will take is the main uncertain issue.

  3. This blog helped correct some outdated misconceptions I had about electric vehicles, since I remember in middle school hearing how electric vehicles produce more greenhouse gases over their lifetimes than gas-powered vehicles because of the materials used and reliance on coal-power. It’s good to hear that that was either wrong or no longer true, which seems to make electric vehicles a much more viable option for reducing our greenhouse gas emissions, especially given Norway’s success. However, I wonder if there might be other priorities that should capture our attention, as you mentioned in the last paragraph, our electricity production needs to be transformed for the transition to EVs to have the greatest impact. There are also other ways within the transportation sector, like building out public transport in big cities, high-speed rail nationwide, converting city roads to pedestrian or biking combined with a car tax to move people away from cars, or even telecommunications like we are seeing now during the COVID-19 crisis. Another exciting possibility is self-driving EVs taking over as a new form of public transport, although this might be too far in the future to rely on to reduce greenhouse gas emissions now.

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