In an article entitled “Unclean at Any Speed” in the journal IEEE Spectrum, researcher Ozzie Zehner says electric cars lead to hidden environmental and health damages and are likely more harmful than gasoline cars and other transportation options. From UPI.com:
Electric cars merely shift negative impacts from one place to another, he wrote, and “most electric-car assessments analyze only the charging of the car. This is an important factor indeed. But a more rigorous analysis would consider the environmental impact over the vehicle’s entire life cycle, from its construction through its operation and on to its eventual retirement at the junkyard.”
Political priorities and corporate influence have created a flawed impression that electric cars significantly reduce transportation impacts, he said.
“Upon closer consideration, moving from petroleum-fueled vehicles to electric cars starts to appear tantamount to shifting from one brand of cigarettes to another,” Zehner, a visiting scholar at the University of California, Berkeley, said.
This, of course, should come as no shock to anyone who has followed the similarly ridiculous (political) story of ethanol.
As is the case with the electric car, the idea of ethanol was (is – to politicians and environmentalists) appealing. We could reduce our dependence on oil – foreign oil in particular – and stop spewing megatons of carbon into the atmosphere. All by replacing oil with clean, home-grown, all-American corn! It all sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it? It is.
As reported in Popular Mechanics, corn farming isn’t cheap. In fact, it’s damn expensive.
It requires heavy inputs of nitrogen fertilizer (made with natural gas), applications of herbicides and other chemicals (made mostly from oil), heavy machinery (which runs on diesel fuel) and transportation (diesel fuel again). Converting the corn into fuel requires still more energy (gas, oil, diesel fuel). The ratio of how much energy is used to make ethanol versus how much it delivers is known as the energy balance, and calculating it is surprisingly complex.
The National Renewable Energy Laboratory states that, “Today, 1 Btu of fossil energy consumed in producing and delivering corn ethanol results in 1.3 Btu of usable energy in your fuel tank.” Even that modest payback may be overstated. Skeptics cite the research of Cornell University professor David Pimentel, who estimates that it takes approximately 1.3 gal. of oil to produce a single gallon of ethanol.
The pros and cons of both electric cars and ethanol will be debated for years. As will the pros and cons of wind and solar power. The question is, what should be the government’s role – if any – in the meantime?
Should the federal government mandate and support (prop up) specific technologies (See: Barack Obama: wind and solar energy) and spend (lose) billions of tax-payer dollars on those (politically-selected) technologies? Or, should it allow the free market to choose the best alternatives? (Let’s go with “B”, shall we?)
Perhaps the answer lies somewhere in between.
Read More: Independent Journal