A growing number of news articles and social media posts are questioning whether electric cars are good for the environment. So, let’s set the record straight.
We Are in a Heat Crisis
Twenty-five years ago, I first heard the term “global warming” while working in a refinery. I actually laughed, thinking the person telling me about global warming was pulling my leg. About fifteen years ago, after a decade of tracking the data, I became convinced that global warming was a real threat to our lives. At that time, we could have stopped global warming by eliminating coal fired power plants and driving hybrid vehicles. That window of opportunity is gone!
We are now in climate changing emissions overload. Both Seattle and Siberia have become poster children for global warming enhanced heat records.
Our last option is to massively adopt zero emissions and carbon capture technologies to slow the earth’s warming. Even with this highly disruptive change, the earth will continue to warm for about one hundred years, which is a strong indication of how much pollution we have pumped into our atmosphere. What mass adoption of all zero emissions and carbon capture technologies delivers is a chance to engineer ourselves out this life diminishing environmental crisis.
Electric Vehicles Are Part of the Solution
Electric vehicles (EVs) are absolutely a climate change technology solution.
Much of the press and social media questions regarding EVs’ environmental footprint is tied to its mining and processing of rare earth minerals for batteries. This mining process results in EV manufacturing generating a higher emissions footprint than fossil fueled vehicle manufacturing.
But, on a cradle to grave lifecycle, when EVs are fueled by 100% zero emissions electricity, they will surpass a fossil fueled vehicle’s life cycle emissions within about 8-15,000 miles of operations. If EVs are fueled through an electric grid that sources half its electricity from fossil fuels, then it is estimated that the EV will surpass the fossil fueled vehicle in terms of climate changing emissions at about 45,000 operating miles. If the electric grid is 100% fossil fueled the EV still delivers lower life cycle emissions after about 135,000 miles.
Importantly, this is based on today’s EV technology. Tesla is in pursuit of a million-mile battery and there is intense research on reducing/eliminating rare earth minerals in battery designs.
EVs Are Not Enough to Save Us
Saving ourselves from extreme heat will require a disruptive decarbonization of our economy and the world’s economy.
Just buying EVs is not enough to stop global warming. Climate change will only be stopped with the mass adoption of all zero emission and carbon capture technologies. It also means mass adoption of net zero emission lifestyle and business best practices, including closed loop systems for recycling and repurposing carbon.
Here’s the great news: Almost all the technologies required to achieve zero net emissions have been invented. Almost all the net zero emissions lifestyle and business best practices are designed.
The only barrier to a net zero emission economy is us!
Economics is not surprised that human decision making is the barrier to climate change. Economists view human decision making as decisions made to optimize an individual’s more immediate welfare. In other words, if there isn’t something immediately in it for us, then we tend not to do it.
But economics also says we can be bought! That is where “cost less, mean more” comes into play as a behavioral economics solution for climate change. We will mass adopt a net zero emission economy and lifestyle if it is cheaper, more fun and convenient.
As consumers, we now have a path to make cost less, mean more climate change consumption decisions. If you buy an EV today, it will have a lower operating cost than a fossil fueled vehicle. Solar is the least cost source of electricity generation. Digital connectivity, most notably during this pandemic, is decarbonizing our lives and business practices. (And the underlying data centers are massively investing in renewable energy because it saves money!)
Estimates are that EVs will achieve acquisition price parity with fossil fuel vehicles by 2024 and by at least 2030 they will cost less to buy and operate. They will also be faster, more fun to drive and will haul more.
But back to us and our divided nation. Will we buy into “cost less, mean more” in time to save the world from irreversible global warming? As heated as that question is, it will pale compared to what happens to us if we continue to drive earth’s temperature ever higher with our pollution.