It’s clear that partially or completely electrifying our automobile fleet would be a great way to reduce our output of carbon emissions. An electric car is cleaner than a gas-powered one, even if the electricity is produced by a coal-fired power plant. All the same, electrifying the automobile fleet is not nearly as good a solution as electrifying and reducing the size of our automobile fleet, by developing substitutes for cars–walking, biking, and mass transit.
Given our incredible dependence on cars and coal, a world in which all automobiles are electrified would still be one where the United States is the largest polluter per capita. Electrifying our cars also does nothing to solve congestion problems (which are costly in their own right, and which ensure that a great deal of energy is wasted stopping and starting) or low-density sprawl (which ensures that all the trips we take are longer than they ought to be).
In other words, electrification is good, but it isn’t enough. We also need to pursue carbon pricing for electricity generation, so that drivers have incentives to make better locational decisions, and we should improve funding for mass transit, so that drivers who wish to substitute away from automobiles have the opportunity to do so. As long as we’re taking big steps to reduce carbon emissions, we may as well kill a few other birds at the same time.