Gas cars may soon become as obsolete as horse-drawn buggies

Years ago, horse-drawn carriages shuttled San Franciscans up and down our hilly streets. In the coming years, more and more electric vehicles, many powered with clean, solar energy, will zip us around town. It’s a future that feels inevitable as policymakers around the world respond to climate change and air pollution. Major manufacturers, such as General Motors, Volvo and Toyota, are prioritizing electric vehicle development and a growing list of countries are exploring phasing-out gas-powered cars as early as 2030.

San Francisco’s Assemblymember Phil Ting wants California to move down the road too. He has introduced AB 40, which would require the state to develop a strategy to ensure that only zero-emission cars and light-duty trucks are sold in California by 2040.

“I know the idea is bold, but the urgency of global warming requires us to take aggressive steps to cut back on fossil fuels for the sake of our planet and its residents’ health,” Ting told me. “It’s simple: if we want clean air, we need clean cars.”

Phasing out combustion vehicles in the state does feel ambitious and a little scary. California, and much of the U.S., has a strong car culture. The sound of a revving engine can evoke feelings of nostalgia and power. Many people define themselves and their status by the cars they drive.

But things are changing, and must in this case. Gasoline emits too much pollution, keeps us addicted to oil, makes people sick and threatens our future on this planet. Last year, California hit a milestone with more than 500,000 electric vehicles sold in the state since 2010. Ting’s legislation could accelerate this momentum and spark greater growth of affordable electric cars and infrastructure.

When gasoline is burned, dangerous pollutants are released into the air. This is bad for everyone, especially children. Even before they are born, our next generation runs the risk of adverse pregnancy outcomes and birth defects from exposure to air pollution. Populations living in areas of high traffic density, which tend to be lower-income and ethnic minority populations, are also disproportionately impacted by vehicle pollution.

To top it off, gasoline car emissions significantly contribute to climate change. In California, the transportation sector represents almost 40 percent of the state’s total greenhouse gas emissions. In San Francisco, it represents approximately 45 percent.

“We simply have to stop exposing children to harmful air pollution and stop wrapping the planet in climate pollution,” Kathryn Phillips, Director of Sierra Club California, one of the many environmental organizations in support of the bill, said.

Incentivizing electric vehicle growth also has economic benefits. Electricity is cheaper than gas, and clean cars don’t require as much maintenance as their combustion-powered cousins.

People can use this savings to purchase other goods and services. A 2017 study by Energy and Environmental Research Associates found that petroleum displacement can fuel the local economy and spur job production. Similarly, a 2016 paper by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory identified billion-dollar increases in economic output under various scenarios, as well as job creation and household savings.

“Electricity costs a quarter to a half of the cost of gasoline per mile,” Janelle London, co- executive director of the electric-vehicle focused nonprofit, Coltura, told me. “For people who can’t afford to live near where they work, these savings can make a big difference.”

Unfortunately, many Californians can’t realize these benefits because they don’t have access to electric cars or charging stations. But AB 40 works to address these inequities. As part of the proposed strategy, the legislation requires the state to identify regulations and actions that could spur technology advancements, reduce costs and encourage greater consumer access.

As grand as mid-century America was for some, it’s not 1950 anymore. We don’t have two- Martini lunches. We don’t smoke two packs a day. And we know that gas guzzlers aren’t the future. Ting’s legislation simply calls for a strategy toward realizing this inevitability.

We’ve said good-bye to the pungent scent left behind by horse-drawn carriages. We can also say good-bye to the smoky smell of chemicals from gasoline engines.


A question from a reader

Olive oil, I assume, should not go into the blue, green or black bins. Where should it go? –

Norma Munoz

Fried food may be tasty, but the grease isn’t great for our bodies or our sewers. Even a little grease from multiple homes can create clogs that result in backups, overflows and expensive damage to infrastructure.

In 2007, the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) established SFGreasecycle. The program aims to help homes and restaurants dispose of used cooking oil, as well as develop a local source of sustainable biofuel. Biofuel can offset carbon emissions from fossil fuels. Check out SFPUC’s website for a list of participating used cooking oil drop-off sites in The City.

For small amounts of oil, wipe it away with a paper towel or toilet paper and throw the paper in the green bin. Greasy paper is excellent composting material!

You’ve got sorting questions? I’ve got answers. Email me at

Robyn Purchia is an environmental attorney, environmental blogger and environmental activist who hikes, gardens and tree hugs in her spare time. She is a guest columnist. Check her out at

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