Alexandra Warner

Currently, the U.S. is trying to move from pollutants to clean energy. The Inflation Reduction Act that was passed in the Senate on Aug. 16 is trying to help encourage a transfer to cleaner energy. While this act does absolutely nothing for reducing inflation, it does create incentives to combat the climate crisis with clean energy. And though the Democrats have generated good ideas to steer towards clean energy. But how likely is it that the Democrat’s goals make these environmental changes happen quickly? Not very likely.

One of the key efforts Democrats are tackling in this act is clean commercial vehicles. They are creating incentives for people to buy electric vehicles. Last year, Biden directed the U.S. government to purchase only American-made, zero-emission passenger cars by 2027 and electric versions of other vehicles by 2035. Shortly after his inauguration speech, he stated, ​​“We’re going to harness the purchasing power of the federal government to buy clean, zero-emission vehicles.”

Is it a realistic goal to have everyone driving electric cars? Not really.

According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, ​greenhouse gas emissions from transportation, mostly trucks, account for about 27 percent of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, making it the largest contributor of U.S. GHG emissions. And although it sounds like a great idea, making these cars are bad for the environment and not everyone can afford buying  these expensive electric vehicles. Sure, you could use hybrids, but not everyone has access to chargers (especially those who live in an apartment), nor do their houses have the modern wiring for electric vehicles. Also, there are very few pre-owned EVs under $15,000. This EV movement can be taxing to less affluent people.

The hybrid idea is a good one, except for the fact that there aren’t enough vehicles available. California wants to ban the sale of gas and hybrids by 2035, and the IRA does not offer incentives for hybrid purchases. People will then need to rely on public transit, which is not available or reliable everywhere. These cars are also bad for the environment. The batteries inside EVs are made of lithium-ion cells that power most electric vehicles that rely on raw materials — like cobalt, lithium and rare earth elements. These elements have been linked to grave environmental and human rights concerns. For example, mining cobalt produces hazardous tailings (leftover material after separating the ore) and slags (stony waste) that can drain the environment. And according to the New York Times, studies have found high exposure in nearby communities to cobalt which can cause respiratory problems and even lead to cancer. Extracting the metals from their ores also requires a process called smelting, which can emit sulfur oxide and other harmful air pollution. Around 70 percent of the world’s cobalt supply is mined in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and a substantial number of workers in these mines are children. The workers only use hand tools which puts them at greater risk to their health and safety.

And not to mention, what would happen to the toxic batteries when the car dies? According to Princeton University, only 5 percent of lithium-ion batteries are recycled. Most lithium batteries end up in landfills, where their hazardous components can leak into the soil and groundwater. We should definitely encourage recycling batteries, but it’s not happening currently. So, although buying electric vehicles sounds promising, there are many harmful environmental side effects these products can cause.

Not only is it unrealistic for the U.S. to turn to all electric cars, but we don’t have the electrical grid to withstand all the electricity to charge these vehicles. If Democrats want to quickly make a change for clean energy, they would need to improve the grid first and that would take a very long time. Instead, we should be turning to ways to create cleaner gas.

When you go on road trips, what do you always see? Trucks. One idea that the bill promotes, and I agree with, are incentives for biodiesel. Biodiesel is made from cooking oil and animal carcasses which are used to power trucks. It is renewable and burns very cleanly. Although biodiesel doesn’t apply to all cars, it does apply to trucks which contribute to the majority of the GHG emissions with transportation. And yes, it is expensive, but the federal government is going to pay for every biodiesel gallon that is produced. This is a realistic goal that the Democrats should continue to promote instead of hoping everyone switches to electric cars.

Something that I found interesting was that the Democrats hope to turn to wind and solar energy entirely in order to get rid of coal and dirty fossil fuels. However, wind and solar aren’t reliable as they only account for around 20 percent of the energy generated in the U.S., according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. What if the wind doesn’t blow or it’s not sunny? No one would be getting any energy. The best option would be nuclear energy, but the Democrats don’t support this because of the events of Chernobyl. People are scared; instead, they should be researching nuclear power plants so circumstances don’t happen like this again. Nuclear energy is extremely clean and is a good, steady alternative to creating clean energy. As energy needs to peak and dip depending on the time of day and year, adding natural gas to nuclear energy helps create more power during those peaks. Democrats should turn towards creating incentives for more nuclear energy power plants because it will help improve the climate.

 The biggest question currently being asked is: How can we store large amounts of energy? And if we knew how to, I wouldn’t be writing this article. We can store on a very limited basis, like from solar panels on a house, but that’s only on a very small scale. When energy is created, it is instantaneously used. If we overproduce, it goes to waste. Finding ways to store large amounts of energy is the next and biggest step we should and are taking, and it would not only help the country but the world and help slow the climate crisis.

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