How electric vehicles could change our lives
Lung health has taken center stage in the COVID-19 pandemic era, and it's never been clearer that pulmonary well-being is essential to life. Yet nearly half of all Americans live in communities impacted by air that is unhealthy to breathe, and climate change is making it even harder to protect our environment. A new report, "The Road to Clean Air" by the American Lung Association, highlights a powerful strategy to address the dual public health crisis of air pollution and climate change: a transition to electric vehicles.
Transportation is a logical place to start, as the sector is a leading contributor to both climate change and air pollution. And according to the Lung Association's 2020 "State of the Air" report, Cook County ranks among our country's most polluted areas.
"The Road to Clean Air" report details how a nationwide transition to electric cars, buses, and trucks increasingly powered by clean, non-combustion renewable energy would benefit the health of Americans across the nation. The report found that, if that transition were made by 2050, our nation would avoid 6,300 premature deaths and prevent more than 93,000 asthma attacks and 416,000 lost workdays per year -- benefits valued at more than $72 billion. Illinois itself could see $3.2 billion in annual benefits.
Air pollution places everyone's health at risk, but those most vulnerable to the impacts of air pollution include children, seniors, people living with asthma and other chronic health conditions, low-income communities, and communities of color. The effects range from wheezing, coughing, and asthma attacks to heart attacks, stroke, and even premature death.
In addition to improved health and lives saved, the report found that transitioning to electric cars, buses, and trucks would generate $113 billion in global climate benefits in 2050 alone. This could be just the beginning of the economic benefits, as moving the electricity grid to cleaner, non-combustion renewable power and developing new electric vehicle technologies drive greater innovation and support green jobs.
Illinois Governor JB Pritzker realizes the importance of this effort. Not long ago, he released eight principles that would improve the state's environment while also boosting our economy. One of these principles included support for an electric transportation sector, as well as a focus on equity as Illinois moves forward with cleaner solutions.
As the American Lung Association pushes for all governors to shift toward electric transportation, we are encouraged by Gov. Pritzker's position and are hopeful that he and the Illinois General Assembly will seize the opportunity to make the health benefits highlighted in our report a reality.
The bottom line: as we move toward electric vehicles, we are going to save lives, improve health, and help clean our environment -- both today and for future generations. And that's something we can all support.
• Harold Wimmer is the president and CEO of the American Lung Association and member of Illinois Clean Air Now (ICAN), a coalition of clean energy, health advocacy, and transportation industry stakeholders.