A transition to electric vehicles would not only help the environment, but also bring personal health benefits, writes Dr. David Shearman.
At a time when a series of new coal and gas mines are planned around the world and in Australia, and when science tells us that time is running out to avoid climate tipping points, a rational society must aim to reduce all emergency greenhouse gas emissions where it can.
The transition to electric vehicles (EVs) offers such an opportunity since transport is the source of 19% of national emissions and cars 85% of them. Some countries like Norway are 74% on their way to transition. The United States predicts a 50% transition within a decade, while Australia, with 2% so far, is only embarking on a National Electric Vehicle Strategy. A national target of 76% by 2030 as recommended by Climateworks seems achievable.
To lead the transition, it is important to detail the many additional benefits of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. It is the prevention of death and disease from air pollution that will relieve our overstretched health services and provide the opportunity to plan green and healthy cities.
Long-term exposure to toxic gases and particulate pollution in Australia leads to 2,500-3,000 premature deaths and illnesses and costs Australians up to $24 billion per year. In most Australian cities, vehicle pollution is the main cause.
Air pollutants from vehicles are inhaled and travel through the lungs to all organs of the body where they cause heart disease and heart attacks, strokes, cancer and diabetes. Children are prone to asthma, poor lung development, neurodevelopmental disorders, premature birth and underweight.
Air pollution causes a decline in mental abilities and dementia in the elderly. Numerous studies indicate that people living near major roads suffer more from cognitive decline and dementia than those living more than 300 meters away.
Successive federal governments bear much of the blame for these diseases by failing to adopt better air quality standards.
Also a parallel health issue, fuel efficiency standards (sometimes called vehicle CO2 standards, fuel economy standards or CO2 emissions standards), which regulate the average CO2 emissions from a fleet of vehicles, require urgent improvement. Their absence makes Australia a low priority for vehicle manufacturing, which will in turn delay the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.
Australia also has inadequate harmful emissions standards that are lower than most comparable countries. Improving them could also reduce air pollution and have health benefits.
One has to wonder why these poor standards and the resulting deaths have been ignored by governments for many years. There is no doubt that agreements have been reached and it remains to suggest that specific aspects of this subject may need to be referred to the next National Anti-Corruption Commission.
A major obstacle to a coordinated approach to these interrelated issues is the existence of government departments as silos or closed ministries. As society becomes more complex, so does the necessary interaction between silos.
In 2007, South Australia, to its credit, sought to address this issue with a South Australia’s Health in All Policies (SA HiAP) aimed at stimulating cross-sectoral policy activity to act on the social determinants of health in order to improve the well-being of the population and reduce health inequalities.
In 2017, it was found that there was some support for advancing an equity agenda across SA HiAPbut subsequent economic pressures caused the government to narrow its priorities to economic goals that remain today.
Currently, a select committee of the SA Legislative Council has been investigating public and active transport and will report on it. In the Terms of reference, the effect of active transportation (cycling and walking) on community health and well-being was mentioned, but not in relation to vehicle transportation. There was no mention of electric vehicles.
Clearly the SA HiAP the principles were ignored by the Ministry of Transport whose consideration of health should come after the Ministry of Health itself. Today our health services are on the brink of collapse and it is wishful thinking that they can improve in an increasingly complex and stressed society with more anxiety, depression, dementia and infectious diseases.
Services are to be aided by fewer consultations and hospital admissions for the legion of pollution-related illnesses. The urgent introduction of electric vehicles may offer some relief.
This, in turn, may well demonstrate cost savings by switching to electric vehicles through the use of comprehensive cost-benefit analysis that is rarely done across ‘silos’.
It also presents an opportunity for the federal government to embark on a preventative health program promoting the transition to electric vehicles by not only reducing operating costs, but also by educating and advertising the benefits for the everyone’s health.
Currently, a national electric vehicle survey is asking for submissions. The consultation document is somewhat narrow in its ambitions, as one would expect from a government “silo”. Hopefully, the many submissions recommended by David Ritter will explain society’s vast interrelated needs.
There is another consideration for the federal government.
The need to see the introduction of electric vehicles as the catalyst for entirely new thinking about road planning, suburbs, free public transport and the creation of green cities, with Australia lagging behind many other countries developed. These planning considerations have enormous implications for health.
We addressed the issue in our brief to the South African Parliament and explained how this is a unique opportunity to plan for healthy lifestyles instead of prioritizing a few minutes saved on a trip through the city.
Please let us have a vision for the transition to electric vehicles to be the catalyst for a green city concept with green space requirements in developments with separate roads and transport in wherever possible. A green space in a community, where children can play, dogs can walk and the elderly can sit, free from the noise, pollution and physical hazards of transport, confers immense health benefits. for life.
Dr. David Shearman AM Is Emeritus Professor of Medicine at the University of Adelaide and co-founder of Doctors for the Environment Australia.
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