California Seeks to Combat Climate Change, But Could its New Gas Vehicle Ban Threaten the Virus-Weakened Economy?

Traffic on I-80, in the East Bay, by Izahorsky on Flickr.

Traffic on I-80, in the East Bay, by Izahorsky on Flickr.

Alison Lucha, Staff member

Many believe the world needs a plan to save it. But, what is the most effective way it can be done? 

California Gov. Gavin Newsom continued to press his case for aggressive climate action last month when he signed an executive order requiring all new cars sold in the state by 2035 to be electric or produce zero emissions. Zero-emission vehicles, or ZEVs, will no longer need gas to run, nor will they produce any carbon dioxide, relying instead on rechargeable batteries and electric power – much of it produced by the state’s bountiful supply of solar energy.

The state’s ambitious goal of reaching net zero emissions for new cars may face hurdles in terms of costs, access and technology. According to an article published by Forbes, “Experts say California’s phasing out of gas-powered vehicles is a move with future potential but achieving this goal, however, comes with many challenges.

Currently, ZEVs represent only 8% of new passenger vehicle sales in California. The sales of ZEVs would need to increase up to 100% by 2035 in order to reach Newsom’s goal. To achieve this will require the further build-out of charging stations for electric vehicles and scaling up vehicle production and delivery.

In the end, it will also require more money, which at the moment has many people worried. Although the governor’s executive order is intended to benefit the climate, some are concerned about additional spending on clean vehicles and how those costs will impact the coronavirus-rattled economy. 

Getting a sizable number of people onboard with the mandate may prove challenging, due to the state of the economy. “It’s hard to say right now if this could benefit the people,” said Hazelin Hernandez, a former Diablo Valley College student. “This pandemic has made a huge impact on our economy. People are losing money and are just now trying to get back on their feet. I don’t think people can afford to have electric cars.”  

Others feel the shift to all-electric vehicles can’t wait any longer, and they say that now is the moment to push ahead with an aggressive electric vehicle plan. “We definitely need to make a change now if we are to help our climate,” said DVC student Ana Perez. “I also believe electric cars are the way to go, but with elections coming up it’s hard to say if it will happen.

“There is a possibility of having Trump re-elected, and if that happens we will never see this plan go through.”  

On average, owning an EV now costs about half as much as a gas-powered car when factoring in the price of fuel over the car’s lifetime. In fact, the cost of ZEVs has lowered dramatically as technology has improved in recent years. According to U.S. News & World Report, “electric vehicles are cheaper to own over time due to better efficiency.” 

This wasn’t always the case. In the past, the publication reported, electric vehicles were “polarizing, short on range, and lacking in performance,” in addition to being costlier than gas-powered vehicles. Most electric vehicles can now drive over 100 miles on a single charge, with some reaching up to 300 miles. An average person drives 37 miles per day, so the modern performance of EVs would meet most individuals’ commuter needs.

EV engineers have long known that zero-emission vehicles could make a positive impact on the world’s climate. What they didn’t expect was a global pandemic, which would decimate the economy.

Now, even in the progressive state of California, which has endured unprecedented wildfire destruction this year fueled by hotter, drier weather, some question whether now is the moment to go all-electric.      

“Using electric cars to help better our climate is definitely a good idea, but with the [COVID-19] situation we are now in, I don’t think it’s the right time to act on this,” said Hernandez.

California has been a leader promoting clean vehicles and renewable energy industries. This has already made an impact on other states that are planning to follow suit developing an electric vehicle infrastructure. But with the economy’s current situation, many people find themselves stuck in the middle.

“Yes we want to make a difference and take care of our planet,” said Perez.“But is our country going to afford it?”