I like to talk about electric cars. I spend a lot of time telling friends about my conversion project. Conversations are struck up at gas stations (where I only stop to buy coffee of course), at the gym and at work. Most people are interested to know all about the process of saving an old car from the crusher by giving it new life as an electric vehicle. Some of these people just want to chat, some of them however, make it their mission to inform me about just how flawed electric cars are, as though I don’t know. There’s one thing however, that comes up time and time again:
Electric cars pollute more than gasoline cars.
I want to address this. First off, I’m not an automotive or environmental engineer. I’m under no illusion that electric vehicle technology has it’s downfalls and is by no means the perfect solution to the issue of climate change. In some ways, I see how it could be argued that EVs (and hybrids) are actually a step in the wrong direction as they make people feel good about continuing to use a vehicle that burns fossil fuel, just to produce electricity, not directly propel their car. I suppose if the environment were really your number one concern, you ought to ride a bike or walk.
I didn’t build my electric car to save the world. I’m glad my car doesn’t produce exhaust but I don’t think that my humble commuter is going to have a measurable impact on climate change. That said, much of what people tell me about how terrible electric cars are for the environment is at best, not well researched.
Here’s what I hear most:
EV batteries are bad for the environment
This is true but misleading. Gasoline is bad for the environment. Production of glass, tin, plastic and rubber is bad for the environment. Farting is bad for the environment. Lead acid batteries, which are the most common in aftermarket conversions, are more than 95% recyclable. More than most household goods. Lithium batteries which are becoming more common in production electric cars, are also recyclable.
Electricity is made by burning coal so you’re just moving the emissions from your tailpipe to the power plant
This is also true, but isn’t the whole story. Much of North America’s power is produced by burning coal. Some is produced by hydro and nuclear plants but let’s just assume for a moment that 100% of our electricity comes from burning coal. Is it not simpler to regulate a single power production plant than hundreds of thousands of gasoline burning cars? There are many, many old cars on the road that are poorly maintained and polluting far more than they did new. Electricity is delivered to our houses via an existing infrastructure whereas gasoline and diesel have to be shipped all over the world by tankers, trains and trucks.
At the end of the day…I don’t think it matters much. Even if the environmental impact of switching from gas to electricity was equivalent to switching brands of cigarettes, I would still drive my EV. It’s simpler and more reliable. My car doesn’t have coolant, oil, an oil pump, water pump, belts, hoses etc. Forget for a moment that there’s an environmental cost to producing and recycling all of these things…it’s just simpler.
Do electric cars pollute more than gasoline cars? I don’t really know the answer, and it doesn’t matter much to me. I like my car because it’s low-maintenance and incredibly reliable. For me, that’s where the real value is.