Shifting to EVs is not enough. The deeper problem is our dependence on the car

This column is an opinion piece by Paris Marx, a technology writer based in St. Johns. For more information on the Opinion section of CBC, please refer to the FAQ.

Earlier this month, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made a bold claim: Canada “is not going to be just a global player in EVs, … we are going to be a global leader.” Over the past year, the federal government has been announcing a number of deals with auto companies and suppliers aimed at growing the domestic electric vehicle industry.

With the rise in gas prices $2 per litre. at over for the first time in May the Atlantic CanadaAs another reminder that the world is warming rapidly, it is clear that we desperately need to rethink our transportation system. But is the government paying too much attention to electric vehicles instead of encouraging more people to give up their cars altogether?

Electric vehicles produce fewer emissions throughout their life cycle than equivalent vehicles powered by fossil fuels, but the framing often used by government and industry that they are “zero emissions” is misleading.

Unlike a conventional vehicle whose emissions come from the burning of fossil fuels, a large proportion of EV’s emissions come from its production; More specifically, its battery. This is the side of EV that is not often included in advertising campaigns.

international energy agency Estimate That promoting the green transition would require a significant increase in mineral extraction that emphasizes EVs over alternatives such as public transport and cycling. For example, demand for lithium is expected to grow by 4,200 per cent and cobalt by 2,100 per cent.

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Green Laundry Operation

Those figures sound great for the mining industry, which hopes to use EVs to greenwash their operations, but they have dire human and environmental consequences throughout the supply chain.

The “lithium triangle” is poised to become an important source of the mineral in South America, but it is already Water Pollution and lowering water levels, threatening access to fresh water for local communities.

Meanwhile, the site of most of the world’s cobalt extraction in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) experiences There are believed to be high rates of birth defects, contaminated water, and about 40,000 children working in artisanal mines. In 2019, electric car maker Tesla was involved in several companies name in trial On the death of children in the cobalt mines in the DRC.

But this is not happening only abroad. Also increasing mining is part of the prime minister’s pitch for Canada to become a global EV leader. There are already lithium mines in Quebec be responsible subject to environmental accidents and community protest, while indigenous protest is already growing On plans to exploit the Ring of Fire in Ontario. We certainly want to see more as provinces across the country look for mineral deposits to exploit.

Surrey, BC.  An electric vehicle charging space is depicted in a parking lot in
Unlike a conventional vehicle whose emissions come from the burning of fossil fuels, a large proportion of EV’s emissions come from its production; More specifically, its battery, writes Paris Marx. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

In 2019, transportation is responsible for 25 percent of national emissions, second only to oil and gas, and which had risen by 54 percent since 1990, partly because people were driving more and buying larger trucks and SUVs than sedans. Transport sector emissions need to be addressed, but the problem goes beyond tailpipe emissions.

According to Statistics Canada, 73.7 percent Canadians live in urban areas, but most are in the suburbs, not the downtown core, and those suburbs continue to grow. that reality is the product of decades government Policy Which encouraged suburban living and prioritized cars over other forms of mobility.

A study released in January found that 83 percent Canadians own or lease a vehicle, and 81 percent of car owners felt it would be impossible not to do so because many of our communities are built to deny residents a reliable alternative. those suburban communities also have high carbon footprint compared to denser urban areas

But car dependence isn’t just an environmental problem. In 2020, an estimated 1,745 people The motor vehicle died in the collision and another 7,868 people were seriously injured. travel time is also getting taller In Canadian cities, and sitting in a car is associated with a whole range of adverse health effects.

In addition, owning a car is more expensive than many people realize. Before the pandemic, inflation and rising fuel costs, Canadian Automotive Association Estimated The annual cost of vehicle ownership ranged between $8,600 and $13,000, depending on the model. It’s definitely more now.

an unprecedented opportunity

The climate crisis offers us an unprecedented opportunity to re-imagine how we move and how we build our communities, but the push for electric vehicles is about making the smallest possible change – one that could possibly Will not deliver the scale of emissions reductions that we need . Meeting the scale of that challenge requires embracing the dominance of cars in our communities.

The federal government has increased transit funding, but most of the money will not flow Until 2026 and onwards. Meanwhile, subways in major cities need expansion to meet demand, needing municipal bus systems. operations funding To provide more consistent and reliable service, and many cities in Canada lack proper cycling infrastructure.

Similarly, in the liberal end Approved VIA Rail’s high-frequency rail plan between Toronto and Quebec City comes after a five-year delay, but it still won’t come to fruition until the early 2030s. And it still won’t match the high-speed rail being built in countries in Asia and Europe. The ambition we need is not there.

Electric vehicles will be part of the solution, but the deeper problem is how many Canadians rely on their cars with no reliable alternatives. Governments serious about climate action need to change this.

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