Electric cars aren't as green as they claim to be

  • 20 June 2018
  • NormanL

We are constantly told by those who believe humanity is responsible for the planet's ultimate doom that disaster can be avoided if we only give up those horrid fossil fuels and adopt "clean" alternatives. One of those alternatives is electric cars. We happen to think some electric cars look pretty neat -- Teslas are elegant pieces of design. But do these electric vehicles actually do anything to reduce pollution or greenhouse gas emissions? Not as much as the hype would have us believe:

“Broadbased adoption of ZEVs [electric vehicles] will increase air pollution and associated environmental costs relative to new internal combustion vehicles,” concludes a new study from the Manhattan Institute. Electric cars “will increase overall emissions of sulfur dioxide, oxides of nitrogen, and particulates, compared with the same number of new internal combustion vehicles, even after accounting for emissions from petroleum refineries.”

This appears to contradict Department of Energy claims that, “In general, EVs produce fewer emissions that contribute to climate change and smog than conventional vehicles.” However, “in general” does not mean “in particular.”

A study by several economists found that, in some parts of the country that rely mainly on hydroelectricity and other non-polluting electricity, electric cars are indeed cleaner than internal combustion cars. But, as reported by City Lab, in most of the country electric cars are dirtier than gasoline-powered cars, and in much of the rest of the country they are about the same (scroll down to “What They Found” in the City Lab article or to page 35 of the paper itself). Only in certain parts of the West are electric cars significantly cleaner than gasoline.

Greenhouse gas emissions is another story, and the Manhattan Institute study admits that electric cars produce fewer emissions even if the source of electricity is fossil fuels. However, the study found that the savings are so small that, even if all internal combustion vehicles were replaced with electric ones, total energy-related CO2 emissions would be reduced by just 0.3 percent; this “reduction will have no measurable impact on world climate and thus no economic value.”

Buy an electric car if you wish. Drive it, and enjoy it. But don't think that your choice is doing much, if anything at all, to save the planet.