It’s no secret that the cost of gasoline can often be prohibitively expensive for people living in low-and-middle income nations. As a result, many drivers end up driving older, less efficient vehicles to save money, but this also increases their carbon footprint and makes them more likely to suffer from respiratory problems because of poor air quality.

The Low-Income Problem

The cost of gas, maintenance, and automobile purchases can be a serious burden for low-income individuals. For example, it takes almost twice as long to save up enough money to buy a new car in countries like Mexico or Uganda compared to those living in countries like Canada or Germany. Furthermore, when income is low energy costs make up a larger percentage of monthly expenses. This means that with each additional dollar spent on energy we are taking away food, school fees, basic needs (i.e. clothes), etc.

The Environmental Problem

An alarming number of people around the world remain mired in poverty. According to statistics from World Bank, roughly half of all humans live on less than $2 a day. More alarming, perhaps, is that 17 percent of humanity subsists on less than $1.25 a day — which means that 3.5 billion people lack enough money to buy adequate food or gain access to safe drinking water every day.

A Not So Green Alternative – Fuels From Agriculture

Although touted as an environmentally-friendly alternative to burning fossil fuels, electric vehicles still use energy to produce, charge, and recycle batteries. This electricity is most often generated by burning fossil fuels like coal or natural gas—fossil fuels that are likely sourced from countries with severe inequality and human rights issues such as Venezuela or China. If we truly want a green solution for transportation, then we should look towards greener alternatives that don’t exacerbate global inequality.

Advantages of Electric Vehicles

EVs can help solve multiple problems plaguing low-and-middle income countries: toxic air pollution, major public health issues, limited access to transportation infrastructure and vehicle ownership. To illustrate how EV use might be able to address these issues, here are just a few examples from across Africa, Asia and Latin America.

Charging Infrastructure is Limited But Growing Fast

As of early 2018, there were more than 20,000 charging stations globally—up from just 1,700 in 2011. More than half of those stations are located in China. The good news is that many low-and-middle income nations (including Argentina, Brazil, Costa Rica, Kenya, Mexico and others) are home to sizable charging markets. These two trends help ensure that global electric vehicle sales will continue to grow at a healthy clip over coming years.

Next Steps Are Crucial

Can electric vehicles actually help solve some of these challenges? It’s unclear, but it is certainly possible. A good next step would be to ask other low-and-middle income nations about their progress on reducing poverty, inequality, and urbanization through electric vehicle adoption. This could generate valuable discussions that improve our understanding of how to meet each country’s unique challenges. So far, conversations on electric vehicles have been largely confined to high-income countries.


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