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The age of gas cars could be ending

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

When environmentalists called for the end of gas-powered cars, they used to get laughed at. Life without tailpipes was seen as, well, a pipe dream. But now the prospect of phasing out gas cars is being taken very seriously. NPR's Camila Domonoske takes a look at just how quickly the idea has gone mainstream.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GASOLINE, GASOLINE (THE WORLD'S AFLAME)")

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing) Gasoline, gasoline...

CAMILA DOMONOSKE, BYLINE: The advocacy group Coltura wants America to stop using gasoline. And just a few years ago, its main tools in that fight were things like break-up-themed music videos...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GASOLINE, GASOLINE (THE WORLD'S AFLAME)")

UNIDENTIFIED SINGER #1: (Singing) We had a good run, but now we're done.

DOMONOSKE: ...And performance art.

MATTHEW METZ: We did what's called the Ghosts of Gasoline - actors that were dressed up in their white bodysuits with hoses and nozzles.

DOMONOSKE: Matthew Metz is the co-executive director of Coltura, and he says art like this got people talking. But when Coltura tried to propose actual laws to end the sale of gas cars, people laughed.

They're not laughing anymore. Coltura helps write legislation now. Tesla is the world's most valuable automaker. Ford is making an electric F-150, and General Motors plans to go entirely electric. And around the world...

SANDRA WAPPELHORST: Iceland, United Kingdom, Sweden...

DOMONOSKE: Sandra Wappelhorst is with the International Council on Clean Transportation. They've been tracking which governments have set dates for ending the sale of new gas cars. And, yes, she's still going.

WAPPELHORST: ...Canada in two provinces - British Columbia and Quebec.

DOMONOSKE: The big climate talks that just ended last week included a call to phase out gas-powered cars worldwide by 2040. The European Union might mandate that change by 2035. In the U.S., the federal government wants to reduce the number of gas vehicles but hasn't embraced a total phaseout. Some states have, though. California, Massachusetts and New York all plan to end gas car sales within 15 years. And those state orders and laws haven't even been that controversial. Trina Saha lives in Queens, and she doesn't know anyone who got up in arms about New York's new law.

TRINA SAHA: Yeah, I think more people in New York were mad about soda limitations than they'd be about, like, gas-powered vehicles (laughter).

DOMONOSKE: Today, Saha fills her Toyota Corolla with gas, but she says a car's features are more important than how it's powered...

SAHA: I mean, if it gets you from A to B...

DOMONOSKE: ...And figures she'll probably get an electric vehicle eventually - no big deal. But the keyword there might be eventually. A gas car phaseout by 2030 or 2035 might still feel far away to most people, which could explain the lack of backlash. And it could also be a problem. Jasmine Sanders is with the group Our Climate. She says if states actually want to hit these targets, changes to industry and infrastructure need to happen immediately.

JASMINE SANDERS: We have to go ahead and start doing this now. We cannot wait until 2034 and then telling people, no, you can't buy that gas vehicle.

DOMONOSKE: And those changes are hard. Gas and diesel vehicles make up 97% of new car sales. Electric vehicles are a tiny, expensive slice of the market. If they explode in popularity, we'll need a ton more chargers and transmission lines, not to mention changes to factories and to consumer behavior.

In short, America has not broken up with gasoline yet, and it's got a long way to go. But the idea that the age of gas cars is ending - it's not a fringe proposal anymore. It's under serious consideration in the halls of power. In fact, that anti-gasoline music video a few years back...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GASOLINE, GASOLINE (THE WORLD'S AFLAME)")

UNIDENTIFIED SINGER #1: (Singing) I got a new love, an electric flame.

DOMONOSKE: ...It featured a cameo from a woman with a blonde bob, enthusiastically lip-syncing along about the urgent need to give up gasoline. That was Jennifer Granholm, better known today as the secretary of energy.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GASOLINE, GASOLINE (THE WORLD'S AFLAME)")

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing) Gasoline, gasoline, I got a new dream. Gasoline, gasoline, I'm going green.

DOMONOSKE: Camila Domonoske, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GASOLINE, GASOLINE (THE WORLD'S AFLAME)")

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing) We got to leave you in the ground.

UNIDENTIFIED SINGER #2: (Singing) I'm out of the door with my foot to the floor.

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing) We got to leave you in the ground. Gasoline, gasoline... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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