Banning Gas Cars Won’t Fuel a Cleaner and Cooler Future

It’s not the end of the world, but from some of the photographs you’d be forgiven for thinking it might be. Across the West Coast, raging wildfires have led to mass evacuations, caused multiple deaths and billions of dollars in property damage, and even gave the sky an eerie, dystopian look as dangerously polluted air settled in the valleys.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom blamed climate change. As part of his bold plan to address the Earth’s warming temperatures, the governor issued an executive order that would ban the sale of new gasoline-powered cars beginning in 2035. “Our cars shouldn’t make wildfires worse – and create more days filled with smoky air,” he noted. “Cars shouldn’t melt glaciers or raise sea levels threatening our cherished beaches and coastlines.”

The edict, as it now stands, would allow Californians to drive and sell their existing internal-combustion-powered vehicles, but it would empower the notoriously ham-fisted California Air Resources Board to come up with detailed regulations. Who knows what that will look like by the time his edict goes into effect? In one fell swoop, the governor has done what even Democratic-dominated legislative supermajorities have deemed too far-reaching.

What’s the connection between wildfires and the internal combustion engine?  The world is indeed getting warmer. Average temperatures are up about one and a half degrees Fahrenheit over the last 70 years. Temperatures likely will continue to rise as long as humanity keeps pumping heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere.

Hotter temperatures are likely to increase drought and other conditions that cause fires to spread more easily. To stop the wildfires, we must stop the warming; to stop the warming, we must stop the emissions; and to stop the emissions, we must ban the cars that cause them. Such, at any rate, is the logic behind Newsom’s latest move.

The idea is even more striking given the level of car dependence in predominantly suburban California, and the car culture that still flourishes here. Unfortunately, the governor has largely been uninterested in some of the more mundane reasons for the state’s increasingly dire fire seasons. There is a problem. Actually, there are several problems.

First, while climate change can certainly play a role it creating favorable conditions for wildfires, it’s hardly the only or even the most significant factor for their spread. In California, 100 years of lackadaisical forest management plays a much bigger role. Even Newsom admitted that the state’s land-management practices have been inadequate – and the state and feds earlier this year announced plans to double their forest-thinning efforts.

Second, most fires are easily preventable if people would be more careful. The behavioral changes that would most reduce fire risk have nothing to do with climate change, but rather involve things like tending camp fires, disposing of cigarette butts, or choosing a different plan for, say, your gender-reveal party. When Smokey the Bear said that only you can prevent forest fires, he wasn’t talking about your carbon footprint.

Third, there are other issues that the state could credibly address – or at least more quickly than changing the trajectory of the planet’s temperatures. The state could roll back regulations that make it difficult for utility companies and property owners to thin out tinder.

In reality, banning the sales of gasoline cars decades in the future is not likely to have a measurable impact on climate change. America currently accounts for only 15 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions, and that percentage will fall as nations such as India and China become wealthier. California auto emissions represent a fraction of that fraction.

Replacing gasoline cars with electric vehicles depends on the willingness of consumers to prefer EVs to traditionally powered cars. If this doesn’t happen, consumers will respond to the ban by keeping their existing cars for longer, buying out of state, or pressuring future elected officials to loosen the ban. For Newsom, a ban that doesn’t take effect for 15 years provides the appearance of action but forces future leaders to deal with the consequences.

California’s private sector already is transitioning to an electric-vehicle future. Car manufacturers are addressing the main impediments to consumer acceptance – limited range and high costs – as they introduce better batteries and lower-cost vehicles. The governor needs to let the marketplace do its thing. He also should consider the impact of this decision on low-income Californians, who would be less able to afford pricier electric vehicles.

Instead of trying to ban their way to prosperity, California leaders should work on creating an environment where clean energy innovators can thrive. Tesla, one of the world’s biggest EV manufacturers, built its battery plant in Nevada and threatened to move its operations out of the state after conflicts with Alameda County officials.

Admittedly, that’s not as satisfying as thundering about climate change and signing executive orders, but it has a far greater chance of keeping the state from looking like a dystopia.

Neeley is the R Street Institute’s resident senior fellow for energy and is based in Austin. Greenhut is R Street’s Western region director and is based in Sacramento.

This article was originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily.


  1. The joke is hydrogen can power all internal combustion autos. Therefore the “ban” is nonsensical.

    Remember the “order” when read closely is an advisory paper, and only the entire legislature can make such a ban.

    They keep making it harder and harder for Joe six-pack to make a living. They continue to raise the price of energy at all levels that decreases the quality of life.

    “better batteries ” based upon what standard. What is the toxicity of lithium? What will be the environmental costs to recycle this toxic product? Two decades ago a smarty pants Ph.D. type told me you have no concept of the great batteries soon to be on the market.

    Here is a little dittie the Brown’s and Nesom’s of the world have not factored in………. As more people leave the Late State of Calif. more cars are sold out of the state reducing the cat birds seat they have in trying to force the rest of the nation to follow.

    • Hydrogen power has been around and working since the 60s but it will never be available to the general public because the oil companies will not be able to sell it to you because it is easy to make your own and the govt will not be able to tax it or regulate it. If you want it you have to smart enough to build the adapter and a hydrogen still yourself. If you can do that you never have to worry about the price of gas or polluting again.

      • Boris Badenov says

        The asinine thing is that it takes MORE energy (dreaded CO2 released) to make the Hydrogen than simply using refined hydrocarbons.

  2. Newsom promotes California to be the Vintage Car Capital -Encouraging re-registrations for those that cannot afford new vehicles. With Governor Newsom’s latest actions to phaseout the sale of gas-powered vehicles by 2035 it will most likely result in California looking like Cuba in the decades ahead with vintage gas-powered vehicles being continuously re-registered each year, that are less fuel efficient, and bigger emission polluters. The California population is 45 percent (a whopping 18 million) Hispanic and African American, and they may not be in a financial position to procure new vehicles.

  3. Sounds like cocaine speaking again for Governor Newsom. Today California can barely keep the power on during a hot day, how are they going to charge an additional 20 million electric cars? He needs to go back to rehab.

  4. There are several problem with electric cars. First when they are say they are non polluting they are not even non polluting in their use because the electricity has to come from power plants to charge the batteries every night. The real pollution comes from building the batteries that power them. the rare earths are mined in countries that have no safety for the minors that are often kids and at the other end when the batteries wear out they are toxic to dispose of. All in all they produce all most as much pollution as a gas car. The other problem is they are only useful if you own or rent a house. If you don’t where are you going to charge them? Most apartment have parking lots. Do you think the owners are going to put in charging stations at every parking space? I have seen only 2 public charging stations around where I live which means you would have to plug in your car and leave it on the street overnight and walk a mile or two to get home and in the morning back to get your car and if there are four EV in your area two of them will not get charged. What are they going to do if Newsom gets his way and everyone drives an EV where will they charge them all??

  5. Boris Badenov says

    “Temperatures likely will continue to rise as long as humanity keeps pumping heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere.”

    BULL PUCKY Real science shows that CO2, the dreaded ‘carbon’ DOES NOT RETAIN HEAT, it does NOT trap heat on the surface, or those few molecules floating around the atmosphere are way more powerful than imagined. Todays hint, moisture in the atmosphere does that.

    This little world heat spike isn’t a trend, talk to me about a trend in 100 years. Plus a few degrees one way or the other isn’t a big deal.

  6. Sebra Leaves says

    Temperature tests done on cities shows the dense highrise buildings trap the heat, whereas the low rise neighborhoods with back yards and trees are cooler. Suburbs are the best solution with solar powered houses. Where is the plan for that?

  7. Rottweiler says

    Hopefully another politician will come along and sign an executive order to eliminate his ban, similarly to his signing away the citizen’s vote on the death penalty, letting all of the nasty lifers (821 convicted murderers) out not to mention pedophiles, signing in the sanctuary city law and so many other progressively heinous and damaging laws to rot and decay the state further than than the previous Democratic politicians. After all it is a one party state and the KKK Democratic party of no tolerance can only blame themselves, so adept at finger pointing this hot mess is all theirs! He is a genuine Dictator, what a creep.

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