As the world experiences yet another scorching hot summer, the hugely successful Barbie movie showcases a stunning pink ride with Barbie taking the wheel and sharing rides (unwillingly) with Ken.

However, what Barbie might not be aware of is the significant impact transport has on the global climate crisis. The International Energy Agency (IEA) makes it clear that transport is responsible for over 1/5th of direct CO2 emissions from fuel combustion, with passenger vehicles contributing the largest portion at 45%.

As a Barbie Girl living in a warming world, Barbie will have to rethink cars. Over the years, she’s had several chic and luxurious cars. But is driving really necessary for her daily activities?

Pink bicycle with flowers in the front basket
Alternatively, Barbie could also use a bike!
© Greenpeace

Most of the time, whether on the beach or in the neighborhood, Barbie prefers to walk or roller skate. While she occasionally needs a car, it might only be for long journeys, like venturing into the “real world.”

Studies show that across the world cars are parked 95% of the time, occupying vast amounts of space. In the US, private cars are often driven around with only 1.6 people on average. From this perspective, Barbie and Ken’s ride-sharing to the real world is an exception in the US, as most cars carry only one passenger, according to the US Department of Transportation.

One positive aspect of Barbie’s car evolution is her transition from driving fossil fuel-powered cars to an electric vehicle (EV). According to the International Council on Clean Transportation, the life-cycle emissions of battery electric vehicles registered in Europe, the United States, China, and India are approximately 67.5% (Europe), 64% (United States), 41% (China), and 26.5% (India) lower than comparable gasoline cars.

A big white and black SUV parked outside
Why is having a big SUV so important to Ken?
© Greenpeace

Notably, Barbie drives a small EV, while Ken is given an electric SUV, probably to match his traditionally masculine role. Studies in the US and Australia have highlighted the issue of excessive reliance on big cars. In 2022, the IEA finds that electric SUVs accounted for over half of electric car sales, breaking records. Bigger cars means bigger batteries and requires more critical minerals, as well as the carbon-intensive auto steel. In other words, what made Ken “cool” is not really “cool” for our planet.

As the planet warms, purchases of SUVs have experienced a significant surge, escalating from 20% of new car sales in 2012 to a staggering 46% of all cars sold in 2022, according to the IEA. If SUVs were a country, they would be the world’s 6th largest CO2 emitter. So when automakers think they’re helping the climate by switching to EVs, the truth is that the rise in SUV sales resulted in 70 million tons of additional carbon dioxide emissions in 2022, almost negating the 80 million tons reduced by transitioning to EVs.

Protest at Toyota's AGM Meeting in Japan. © Thomas Shagin / Greenpeace
Greenpeace activists unveil a banner urging Toyota to cease contributing to the climate crisis and phase out fossil fuel cars by 2030 during the Annual General Meeting in Japan. Transportation is responsible for 21% of global carbon emissions, and Toyota, one of the world’s largest automakers, has been one of the slowest to transition to zero-emission vehicles.
© Thomas Shagin / Greenpeace

For EVs to become a truly sustainable option, efforts in Barbie Land (and the real world) should focus on reducing car sizes while investing in solar and wind charging facilities. Additionally, holding automakers accountable for battery durability, energy efficiency, repairability, reuse, and recyclability will help minimize the use of virgin materials.

Ultimately, Barbie should have the option to access affordable and efficient public transport, such as buses, trains, or metros. Hiring an urban planner in Barbie Land to design multi-use roads with safe spaces for pedestrians and bicycles, along with low-emission zones that allow only zero-emission mobility services, would be a fantastic step towards a greener future! 

A pink bus against the background of blue sky and green trees
What if Barbie could ride a bus to the real world?
© Greenpeace

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Kelly Huang is the Digital Lead for Drive Change Campaign for Greenpeace East Asia.