Just a couple of weeks ago, I was hiding out in the basement with my parents as tornado warnings blared every five minutes on our phones. Hurricane Ida had already left more than 1 million without power in Louisiana, and it was just starting to move through the Northeast, including where I live in Philadelphia. The morning after the barrage of warnings, I could barely believe the pictures and videos that I saw on the news. The Schuylkill River, just a 15-minute drive from my home, had reached a near record flood stage, inundating houses and cars. In fact, almost the entirety of the Vine Street Expressway was underwater. I was lucky that my house wasn’t impacted, but across Philadelphia and surrounding suburbs, along with the flooding, more than 70,000 lost power and many are still dealing with the costly cleanup.
Flooding occurred long before human-caused climate change existed. However, warming air and water temperatures caused by global warming allow for higher storm surges and heavier rainfall. That combination escalates flooding risks. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has even had to increase the number of average Atlantic named storms and hurricanes that they expect to see per season given the increase in intense storms over the past decade.
This climate-induced shift is telling us that more than ever, we must lean in on the primary cause of climate change: transportation.
For years, Environment America’s Destination: Zero Carbon campaign has been calling for 100% of new car sales to be fully electric by 2035 or sooner.
Why 2035? Most cars have a lifetime of about 12 years. So, if by 2035 all new car sales are electric, by 2050 we’re likely to reach the necessary target of nearly 100% zero emission vehicles on the road.
As we’ve seen the impacts of climate change devastate homes and lives across the country this summer, this transition is overdue. In 2019, everyday cars and trucks alone emitted over 1000 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (MMtCO2e). If included in a global ranking of countries’ economy-wide carbon emissions, these emissions from just U.S. personal vehicles would come in sixth.
Last week we saw a big step in the right direction. New York joined this effort when Gov. Katy Hochul signed into law a commitment to make all new vehicle sales in New York electric by 2035.
New York is the third state to take this big transportation step. It follows California, where Gov. Gavin Newson, signed an executive order last year for 100% EV sales by 2035, and Massachusetts, where Gov. Charlie Baker did the same in January. New Jersey could be next. In October 2020, Gov. Phil Murphy recommended that all new car and truck sales be electric by 2035 and has since signed into law legislation that increases access and incentives for EV charging infrastructure.
In addition to these four states, seven others are part of California’s Zero Emission Vehicle Program, which requires automakers to sell a certain amount of zero emissions vehicles to those states. We know that these programs work: in 2018, these 11 states with ZEV mandates made up more than 27% of new EV sales.
Electric vehicles are gaining speed: In just the first half of 2021, more than 310,000 EVs were sold in the United States. Whether done through the ZEV Program, state EV tax incentives, or exemptions from vehicle emissions inspections, these state programs are driving the expansion of the U.S. EV market.
Gov. Hochul’s announcement follows a letter that a coalition of 12 governors sent to President Joe Biden in April calling for all new car and light-duty truck sales to be 100% electric no later than 2035. The Biden administration is listening: Just last month, President Biden signed an executive order stating that 50% of US car sales by 2030 should be all-electric vehicles.
While waiting out in my basement for Hurricane Ida to pass through Philly, I felt a renewed sense of urgency to stop the progression of climate change in its tracks. If this is the damage just one storm can do in 2021, I can’t even imagine what’s in store for us if global warming continues unchecked. New York’s commitment to 100% EV sales by 2035 made me hopeful that a future powered by 100% electric vehicles is in sight, and I’m more fired up than ever to help us get there.