Heavy health cost of NZ’s love affair with cars So many reasons to electrify our fleet, now

18 July 2022 by Jason Quinn

It’s not just the climate that pays when fossil fuel is burned to transport people and goods. An update to the HAPINZ study on air pollution has, for the first time, measured pollution data from vehicles. The results are alarming:

“Social costs from human-made air pollution were $15.6 billion in 2016

In 2016, the social costs from human-made air pollution were $15.6 billion.  These social costs reflect the total cost of all air pollution impacts to New Zealand—not only in terms of direct costs incurred in the health system but also due to loss of life, lost quality of life and lost productivity.

The social costs were mainly from air pollution from motor vehicles ($10.5 billion).  Air pollution from domestic fires resulted in social costs of about $4.6 billion in 2016.”

Source: HAPINZ 3.0

You can drill down into the data using this interactive visual atlas.

Media reports on the study include this article from RNZ that focused on how car use kills thousands of New Zealanders every year. The whole article is worth reading but here’s the vital bit:

“The first-of-its-kind study has measured the health impacts of nitrogen dioxide, a toxic gas emitted by fossil fuel cars. It found 3300 people were dying yearly because of air pollution, and it was mostly because of cars. That meant as a whole, 10 percent of the people who died each year in the country were dying because of air pollution.

Exposure was also sending more than 13,000 people to hospital for respiratory and cardiac illnesses and giving the same number of children asthma. The social cost of these health impacts was estimated to be $15.6 billion.

The study, Health and Air Pollution in New Zealand, was conducted by New Zealand experts in air quality, health, and economics. It was the study’s third instalment since 2012, but for the first time, pollution data from vehicles was measured. The new numbers were more substantial than previous records of air pollution – making car pollution more harmful than the damage household fires caused.

Researchers said the extent of the nitrogen dioxide impacts were “unexpected” and “startling”. Nitrogen dioxide emission in New Zealand is almost exclusively from burning petrol and diesel. The country has almost 4.4 million motor vehicles and that figure is on an upwards trend.”

I did some quick sums. $10.5 billion in social costs (air pollution from cars), divided by  4.4 million motor vehicles on our roads equals $2386 per vehicle per year. Obviously that is a crude average, because a PHEV or BEV produces very little to no emissions and a six litre ute produces heaps.

That’s a heap of money that we can save once New Zealand switches to electric transport. There’s an added benefit: the money we spend to power our vehicles will stay in the country instead of heading offshore. It’s nuts to not electrify our transport infrastructure as fast as possible.


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