The same rainstorm that earlier drowned a third of all the agricultural land and cost lives in Greece has brought incredible destruction to Libya, where at least 2,000 are thought to be dead. It’s just one in a string of deadly storms that have wracked the globe during a year that has also seen record heat, frighteningly hot oceans, and record-low ice in Antarctica.
All of this is a result of the human-made climate crisis. A U.N. report issued this week shows that in spite of significant progress, nations are falling short of the goals necessary to prevent catastrophic change that could trigger an unprecedented refugee crisis, threaten the world’s food supply, and destabilize governments around the globe. Storm clouds are right on the horizon, and the world is not moving fast enough.
But there are intriguing notes of change. One of those can be found in a report on electric vehicles recently published by Bloomberg. That report looks at both how EVs are moving into all areas of transportation, and what trends predict for the near future. Perhaps most intriguingly, it shows how EVs are already cutting demand for gas and diesel by about 3%, but the biggest impact comes from a factor many might not expect.
The demand for EVs is accelerating in almost every area of the world. The best-selling car in the United States is an EV (though it actually comes in fifth place among passenger vehicles overall, behind four nonelectric pickups). EVs top the charts in Europe and in China. According to the International Energy Agency, each year since 2016 has seen “exponential growth” in EV sales, and it projects a 35% year-over-year increase in EV sales by the end of 2023. European Union countries have approved a plan to ban the sale of gas-powered cars by 2035.
Public transportation and commercial transport are also getting more electric, with both electric buses and electric over-the-road trucks becoming more popular. But even when you add up all the cars, buses, and trucks that have gone electric in the last decade, that’s only a third of all the oil that’s being saved by EVs.
So where is the rest? It’s in vehicles that are rarely seen on American roads.
This is an electric tuk-tuk in Mysuru, India. The driver of this particular vehicle complained that there were not enough public charging stations in his city, which is certainly true because the popularity of these vehicles has exploded in what Bloomberg calls India’s “Rickshaw Revolution.” Similar vehicles are rapidly replacing gas-powered alternatives in nations across Asia and Africa.
The other big factor isn’t three-wheeled vehicles, but ones with just two wheels. In the United States, electric motorcycle companies have had a hard time attracting the support of riders, largely because in the U.S., riding a motorcycle is often a matter of style and culture rather than necessity. (And because riding any two-wheeled vehicle on American roads can be inviting disaster.) But around the world, electric scooters are becoming hugely popular. Again, it’s largely Asia leading the way: Electric scooters and motorcycles are replacing the gas models that had been ubiquitous in the crowded cities of China, India, Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand, and elsewhere. More than 90% of world sales of two-wheelers take place in Asia.
Why are these smaller EVs becoming so popular? Because they are easier to maintain, cheaper to operate, and in many cases cheaper to buy than gas versions. In crowded cities where most trips are only a few miles and on streets where traffic rules can seem … creative, electric scooters can be the perfect means of getting from A to B.
In the U.S. and Europe, electric two-wheelers have also become popular, mostly in the form of electric bicycles and scooters, either those owned by individuals or those available from rental companies that seem ubiquitous in some locations. Those green or orange e-bikes may be irritating—so irritating that some cities have moved to limit them—but they take cars off the street and replace them with quiet, clean transportation that is genuinely making a difference.
Altogether, electric two- and three-wheeled vehicles displaced just under 1 million barrels of oil a day in 2023, according to Bloomberg’s report. And that number is growing more rapidly than any other segment of EVs. For many, an electric scooter isn’t just an alternative to a bike or motorcycle, it can replace a far more expensive—and far more polluting—traditional car.
So if oil use is slowing, why do gasoline prices remain so high? Part of that is the gas companies, which have generally been increasing the gap between oil prices and gas prices over time. But the bigger factor at the moment is that oil-producing countries have been deliberately cutting production to generate an artificial shortage.
It’s another good reason to think about removing the grip that oil has over transportation in the U.S. This would also be an excellent time to think about whether in the great majority of situations in your own life, an electric two-wheeled solution might be your best option.