Electric vehicles have been a hot topic on the news headlines for the past years. With the increasing concerns of gas-powered vehicles, many major transportation companies (Nissan, Toyota, Audi, etc.) have included hybrid and all-electric models in their lineups. Some others, like Tesla, are entirely dedicated to electric. On the road, electric cars are undoubtedly a cleaner mode of transport than their gas-powered counterparts which directly pollute the atmosphere. However, the eco-friendly nature of electric vehicles is still contested.
At glance, it’s counterintuitive to challenge the ‘eco-friendliness’ of electric vehicles since they generate virtually no environmentally hazardous byproducts. But, a carbon-free automobile on the road is only half the story. When accounting manufacturing processes, the truth about these planet-saving vehicles becomes less appealing. Producing electric cars requires rare metals such as lithium (for battery cells) which entail intensive and often environmentally destructive mining. For a typical mine, “those rare earths amount 0.2 percent of what gets pulled out of the ground [and] the other 99.8 percent—now contaminated with toxic chemicals—is dumped back into the environment” (Wired).
Let’s disregard for a moment the production of battery-powered vehicles. After all, any type of manufacturing will, to some extent, have unwanted side effects which, in this case, will be offset by a carbon-free life cycle. Unfortunately, the latter reasoning would be correct only if the car’s owner draws power from a clean, renewable source of electricity. Otherwise, an electric car will still emit greenhouse gases. Indirectly. As Scientific American puts in, a “battery-powered vehicle is only as green as [its] electricity supplier”.
Given that electric vehicles are far from being a 100% carbon-free alternative as claimed by companies and hyped by the media, should we start accusing them of greenwashing and promote gas-powered vehicles? Certainly not.
Although imperfect, the benefits of electric cars outweigh their negative effects on the environment. Even if entirely relying on a coal power plant, an electric vehicle would be less polluting than a fuel-powered car. They don’t directly pollute cities and harm urban populations. As more cities become environmentally conscious and transition to cleaner power grids, electric cars will only become greener. Moreover, they have a number of other (and often overlooked) advantages such as reduced noise pollution and a low centre of gravity which makes them less likely to roll in case of an accident.
The bottom line is that electric cars are the best option for transportation—after walking and human-powered vehicles like bicycles. As we strive to lessen our environmental footprint, we should definitely pursue the electric future!
Written by Kelly Jean, Class of 2021