Electric cars are meant to save the world. We’ve burned too much fossil fuel, things are getting too hot, and unless we massively reduce our carbon footprint, mankind is doomed.
Well meaning governments, well known for their egalitarian long term thinking, are all eager to save mankind. They are introducing legislation to outlaw the sale of petrol vehicles, birthing a world where people whizz along in clean electric vehicles.
It’s a great story, but it’s not really true. Electric cars might not be as great as we’ve been led to believe, and if you’ve got your eyes open, you know that governments don’t really give a damn about the long term.
Humans have all got one thing in common; we’re programmed to pursue short term profit. The idea of saving the planet is a lofty one, but if it’s going to cost us our jobs, or mean we make less money, or make us less popular, then the majority of humans would rather not. And the majority vote for people like themselves, which brings us back to the people in power…
Once you start looking at the people who make the legislation, and the timing of that legislation, you’ll probably start questioning their motivation. And if you think a little about electric vehicles, they might not seem so wonderful either.
Legislation for votes
In November last year, the UK government announced ‘world leading legislation’ to ‘supercharge the electric car revolution.’ Those words are taken straight from a press release on the government website, not a tabloid newspaper, where one might expect to see such bombastic sales spiel. The dramatic language is part and parcel of what I’ve come to expect from the Conservatives. Grand promises never delivered on. Exciting headlines to distract from the criminal conduct of the government, their latest disgrace, or the latest outright lie to have been unmasked. Boris Johnson will do anything to get and hang on to power. That much became clear when he suddenly became a Brexiteer, contrary to his position for years up until the moment he realised another bare arsed lie might get him the top job. And like they always do, people fell for it. Brexit has proved an absolute disaster, and will probably continue to do so. That it would, was obvious to anybody with even a rudimentary appreciation of trade agreements and the world economy. It was probably even obvious to some of the Tories who pushed for it. But that didn’t make a difference. The goal was to get and maintain power. And when things turn to shit, the well heeled can always just leave the sinking UK and take up residence somewhere in Europe; France for example, just like the Prime Minister’s father, Stanley Johnson.
Similar foresight and integrity were on display when the Tory government initially floated the idea of mandating the cessation of petrol and diesel car sales. The 2010 general election left no party with a clear majority for the first time since 1974. The result was a Liberal Democrat and Conservative coalition government, which lasted for five years. Looking to win over Green Party voters, the Conservatives announced that all new cars sold after 2030 would have to be electric. And just like that, the electric car revolution was born.
How clean are electric cars?
There is no doubt that something needs to be done to make our vehicles less polluting. 72% of all Co2 emissions come from road vehicles. Whilst electric cars seem cleaner than vehicles powered by combustion engines at first glance, it’s a little more complicated than that.
Firstly, electric cars need electricity to function. Unless that electricity is produced by renewable technology, it is coming from the burning of fossil fuels. That means that powering an electric vehicle is almost as polluting as driving a petrol or diesel vehicle. Electric vehicles will be less polluting only if the production of electricity stops relying on burning fossil fuels. In some Scandinavian countries where a large percentage of electricity is generated sustainably, electric cars make sense. But that’s not the case in the rest of the world.
Secondly, the production of electric vehicles produces more Co2 than the production of petrol and diesel cars. Producing the batteries for electric cars is especially polluting, and it relies on the sourcing of rare earth elements (REE’s) such as cobalt. Extracting rare earth elements overwhelmingly relies on child labour under extremely dangerous conditions, in places like Africa. The environmental and human cost of producing electric batteries is very high. Those batteries are rarely ever recycled. Due to the large amount of REE’s in electric car batteries, recycling them is not a commercially viable process. Over 90 percent of electric vehicle batteries are simply dumped into landfills.
Are electric cars really better than combustion engines?
For most of the world, right now, the idea that electric cars are significantly less polluting that combustion engines is still debatable. If the world moves over to clean electricity production, and if we can find ways to recycle the batteries of electric cars, the pay off in terms of lessening pollution might be worthwhile. There’s still a lot of progress that needs to be made before electric cars are as clean as we’ve been led to believe.
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