A shift to electric cars, SUVs, trucks, and buses would prevent 731 premature deaths per year in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA) and reduce the region’s annual greenhouse gas emissions by eight million tonnes, bringing Ontario half-way to meeting its 2030 carbon target, according to a modelling study released this week by Environmental Defence Canada and the Ontario Public Health Association.
GTHA residents “use vehicles every day to travel to work, go to school, move goods, and do many other tasks,” the two organizations state. “This vehicle travel emits air pollution that contributes to illness and premature deaths, and greenhouse gas emissions that are responsible for climate change.”
So “we’ve modelled five scenarios (plus a base case of current conditions) to compare the health benefits of reducing traffic pollution from cars and SUVs, trucks, and buses.”
That comparison shows that “a single EV replacing a gas-powered car brings approximately $10,000 in social benefits, justifying strong government action to get more EVs on the road quickly,” Environmental Defence says. In an interview with The Mix earlier this year, ED’s clean economy program manager, Sarah Buchanan, also pointed to the issues of social inequity and discrimination brought into focus by both air pollution and the epidemic.
“There are so many intersecting factors—the obvious health nexus with the pandemic, but we’re also in the middle of an inequality crisis, a climate crisis, a biodiversity crisis, a political polarization crisis,” she said. “There’s a lot going on, and they all integrate with and often worsen each other. So it’s time to shine a brighter and maybe more uncomfortable light on the intersections between these issues.”
The two organizations call for zero-emission vehicle (ZEV) mandates and incentives to speed up sales, green recovery funding to help transit agencies buy electric buses, and scrappage programs plus low-emission zones to encourage freight operators to cash in their older heavy trucks. “More than 250 cities in the European Union have already adopted such measures, resulting in significant air pollution and GHG reduction benefits for their residents,” Buchanan writes.
“Exposure to traffic-related air pollution is a serious public health concern, responsible for hundreds of premature deaths every year in the GTHA and contributing to respiratory illness such as asthma, cardiovascular conditions, and lung cancer,” said Helen Doyle, chair of OPHA’s Environmental Health Workgroup.
“While everyone can be affected by air pollution, older adults, young children, people with underlying medical conditions, those living close to busy roads, and people facing socio-economic barriers are most at risk,” she added. “Switching to electric vehicles and cleaner trucks will reduce this harmful pollution and, in combination with other active and sustainable transportation measures, is an important solution to this public health concern.”
“The evidence in this report makes a clear case for stronger government action to accelerate a shift to cleaner vehicles,” Buchanan said. “Strong policy tools to electrify vehicles and reduce pollution from trucks will save lives by improving respiratory and cardiovascular health, and reducing future climate-related health risks.”