World Conservation Day Special: Rapid EV Adoption Could Save 10% of Worldwide Cropland Expansion

Humanity as a whole has come a long way from early men who used rudimentary stone tools. But in our efforts to industrialize, we have caused significant damage to the planet, pumping the atmosphere full of greenhouse gases and converting large swathes of nonagricultural land into agricultural land. Studies have found that cropland expansion is often associated with the exhaustion of critical ecosystem services, loss of biodiversity and higher carbon emissions.

Zero-emission vehicles, which are poised to play a significant role in the fight against climate change, may also be integral in limiting cropland expansion. According to a new paper by Ecological Economics, a faster transition to electric cars in America could cut down expected global cropland expansion by nearly 10% over the next three decades. The paper suggests that rather than cultivating corn to manufacture biofuel for cars in the United States, large parcels of land could be left bare as a means to absorb carbon dioxide.

Researchers believe that using land in this way could result in “substantial” carbon emissions savings on top of the benefits afforded by electrifying America’s road transport system. As it stands, about 25% of the 80,000,000 acres of American land used to produce corn is dedicated to ethanol production. With increasing food prices exacerbating fears of global hunger, campaigners and even some governments have begun calling for an end to the practice of using crops to develop biofuels.

Even though the nation is still a long way from mass electric vehicle adoption, the study indicates that Americans could essentially free up 10% of global corn production by ditching their traditional internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles for electric cars. A scientist who wasn’t affiliated with the study issued a statement to Carbon Brief saying that the study highlighted an understudied benefit of electrification: it will reduce demand for biofuels and limit the rate of global cropland expansion.

Given that the U.S. produces one-third of global corn supplies, with around 30% of this corn being used to develop ethanol, millions of acres of American land are dedicated to corn production. The resulting cropland expansion has caused significant changes in land use as farmers have cut down forests and grasslands and replaced them with corn farms. This reduces the overall number of plants absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as corn absorbs a lot less CO2.

The fact that the electric vehicles being developed by various companies such Lordstown Motors Corp. (NASDAQ: RIDE) can have such a beneficial effect on the planet we call home is a great reason why everything possible needs to be done to speed up the uptake of these vehicles.

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