In the media

Hostility to cars is counterproductive and leads to increased emissions

Johan Grelsson

By Johan Grelsson

Ny Teknik

24 August 2022

This article was first published in NyTeknik

There is a growing group of activists and commentators who want to abolish the car as a means of transport to protect the environment. But limiting car traffic in an urban environment automatically has a negative knock-on effect on the expansion of electric car infrastructure there. It is emissions, not driving, that must be reduced, writes Johan Grelsson.

Several initiatives aimed at limiting the electrification of vehicles have recently appeared in the media . The arguments are based on the assumption that motoring should decrease and that therefore neither new roads nor charging stations are required for electric cars.

On the contrary, today's dependence on fossil fuels is built in and Sweden will not achieve 100 percent new car registrations. It's like trying to control weeds by stopping fertilizing and watering the lawn, which just means that the weeds are given free rein to thrive while the lawn takes a beating.

The arguments put forward are not based on fact but rather subjective opinion. Here are two concrete examples:

Some forms of energy do not change
One of the arguments put forward is based on the fact that forms of energy change over time and that it would therefore be foolish to establish a physical infrastructure based on electricity. An example of this is Toyota's future city, Woven City, where there are no charging points on the streets. No wonder, given that Toyota does not believe in electric cars, charging points are not needed.

There are forms of energy that do not show a tendency to change, other than growing in scope. Electricity is one such form of energy. There are currently no scenarios in the electricity industry that suggest anything other than increased consumption. It is difficult to imagine a future where electricity does not play a decisive role in growth and development.

In parallel with the electrification of cars, a journey of change is underway for almost all other transport and industries, where electricity is a crucial carrier of fossil-free energy. The fact that there already is an expanded physical infrastructure for electricity simplifies the transition, provides higher utilisation of existing assets and scaling up.

New smart city planning should involve the electric car
In an ongoing urban planning case relating to  Backaplan in Gothenburg, they are currently looking at "transforming the area, which largely consists of shopping centres and paved surfaces, into an attractive densely built mixed city." The municipality's goal is that "the proportion of car trips in the area is a maximum of 15 percent of the total number of passenger trips in the future." 

There are many residents here who want to do everything they can to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, but who nevertheless need a car to make ends meet. It is therefore a major problem that the municipality does not even have a plan for car traffic and planning for a charging infrastructure.

Similar examples can be found in the Stockholm area, where new developments have been built without a plan for electric cars and charging infrastructure, not infrequently due to lack of land. It is worth noting in these cases that fossil fuel powered cars found their way there anyway, like weeds. Electric cars, on the other hand, failed to take hold, as did the climate gains.

It is emissions, not car use, that must be reduced. The electric car today is the most realistic solution for achieving that goal. These vehicles need to be recharged and they need roads to drive on. For the foreseeable future, the car will be the main mode of transport outside the areas that are optimal for public transport, or for those who need to transport more than just themselves, for those with poorer health, for those who live in rural areas, and others.

All these people need a car in their lives and if fossil-free alternatives are not available, emissions will remain. Mind you, even if you use car-sharing services, carpooling schemes or other forms of car use, those cars must also be able to be charged with green electricity so as not to emit petrol or diesel exhaust gases. 

If Sweden is to achieve its high climate and environmental goals, the electrification of vehicles needs to be accelerated and stimulated, not slowed down and punished. It is not sufficient for homeowners to switch to electric cars, even residents of apartments must change the fuel they use and they must have the conditions to enable them to succeed in doing so.

In our desire to root out the weeds, it would be unwise to simultaneously kill the newly sown grass that is trying to establish itself. It is neither realistic nor desirable to assume that in the future we will not need the car. Instead, electric cars need the best conditions in the form of more investment in charging infrastructure on the roads, in residential areas and as an integral part of the city. 

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