Cleaner Now Than Ever: Driving Electric Cars and Trucks Cuts Global Warming Emissions

Over a Vehicle’s Lifetime, Electric Advantage Is Big and Growing

Published Jul 25, 2022

Washington (July 25, 2022)—The future of transportation is electric—and that future has real benefits not just for electric vehicle drivers, but for everyone. As more drivers make the switch to electric vehicles, that means a cleaner, healthier future with less global warming emissions.

In a new analysis, “Driving Cleaner: How Electric Cars and Pick-Ups Beat Gasoline on Lifetime Global Warming Emissions,” the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) shows that switching to electric cars or pickup trucks from comparable gasoline vehicles is one of the most effective ways we can reduce emissions and avoid the worst impacts of climate change. On average, electric vehicles produce less than half the global warming emissions that come from driving a similar gasoline vehicle. This advantage has grown with a cleaner electrical grid and more efficient EV technology. And that advantage holds over the whole lifetime of the vehicle, from manufacture to driving to disposal.

Transportation is the largest source of global warming emissions in the U.S., and more than half of that pollution comes from passenger cars, trucks, and SUVs. Making the emissions cuts we need to fight climate change means electrifying the cars and trucks that we use to get around. “The electric vehicle market is poised to grow dramatically, with more options than ever, from small cars to pickup trucks,” said David Reichmuth, senior vehicles engineer in the Clean Transportation Program at UCS. “This is an exciting moment—and drivers can be confident that by making the switch, they’ll be helping to rein in climate change.”

Among the new findings in UCS’s report:

  • Today, the average electric vehicle is so clean that the global warming emissions are the equivalent of driving a car getting 91 miles to the gallon.
  • For 90 percent of the country, driving an electric vehicle is cleaner than driving even the most efficient gasoline vehicle. That’s up from two-thirds of the country in 2015—a remarkable improvement in less than a decade, thanks mostly to an increasingly clean electric grid.
  • Manufacturers are delivering electric versions of more vehicle models, and that’s especially important for pickup trucks, a growing part of the passenger vehicle market. Switching from a gasoline pickup truck to an electric pickup truck will reduce the total global warming emissions over the truck’s lifetime by 57 percent.
  • The climate advantage of an electric vehicle includes the vehicle’s entire life cycle—from manufacturing to driving to disposal.

A vehicle purchased today will be on the road for many years to come. Conventional cars require the extracting, refining, and burning oil for every mile they drive over their lifetime. Electric vehicles, however, have the potential to get even cleaner over their lifetime as electricity generation moves away from fossil fuels and towards renewable sources.

While electric vehicles are cleaner and cheaper to fuel than gasoline vehicles, they’re still a small portion of the cars on the road today. To make sure that everyone can benefit from the advantages of electric vehicles and the transition can happen as quickly as possible, governments should invest in incentives and infrastructure to make driving electric more accessible—and a cleaner, more resilient grid to charge them.

“Transitioning to an electric car or truck is one of the most critical tools for fighting climate change, and it’s a positive change that car buyers can make right now,” said Reichmuth. “The electric future is cleaner, it’s healthier, and it’s within reach.”