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Britain’s ambitious shift to electric vehicles poised to have dramatic health, environmental impacts

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Jeff Tyson

Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced this week that Britain will ban the sale of new petrol, diesel and hybrid cars beginning in 2035 — five years earlier than their initial commitment.


Oliver Gao

Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering

Oliver Gao, professor of civil and environmental engineering, is the director of Cornell University’s Center for Transportation, Environment, and Community Health. He researched what the impact would be of transitioning gasoline cars and diesel trucks to electric vehicles in Houston and found it would prevent as many as 246 premature deaths annually. Gao says Britain’s transition would mean big environmental and health improvements.

Gao says:

“The urban transportation sector contributes to various negative health outcomes including cancers, cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, and premature mortality. The sector is also the main greenhouse gas emissions sources ­­­– 29% in the U.S. – causing climate change. Depending on fleet turnover rate, one major impact of electrifying the road transportation sector can be eliminating pollution hotspots for those who live close to the roads. However, even at small penetration rate for electric vehicles, the health impacts can be significant. In particular, this is a great potential for protecting vulnerable children at schools and at playgrounds.

“Greater impacts of improving air quality, protecting public health and mitigating climate change can be achieved if electric vehicles are provided with clean electricity. Although life cycle emissions of electric vehicles depend on their type and manufacturing process, providing clean electricity for the urban transportation sector can be a huge step toward the zero-emission urban mobility dream.

“Britain’s new electric vehicles law can be expected to have significant environmental and health implications.”


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