In a widely shared commentary for the Guardian, comedian Rowan Atkinson said he feels duped by the green claims about electric vehicles (EVs).

In support of his claim, however, Atkinson repeats a number of repeatedly debunked talking points often used by those seeking to delay action on the climate crisis.

It also suggests alternatives to EVs that aren’t widely available yet, would be less beneficial to the climate, and would certainly be more expensive.

Atkinson’s biggest mistake is his failure to recognize that electric vehicles already offer significant global environmental benefits, compared to combustion engine cars.

While electric vehicles won’t solve all the problems associated with car use, from traffic congestion to our increasingly sedentary lifestyles, they are an essential part of tackling the climate emergency.

In its latest report, for example, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) stated, with great confidence, that electric vehicles have lower greenhouse gas emissions than conventional cars. The IPCC said electric vehicles not only offer the greatest low-carbon potential for land transport, but using them would save money. (Despite high electricity prices, electric vehicles are still much cheaper to run than petrol cars in the UK.)

Indeed, without a widespread switch to electric vehicles, there is no plausible path to achieving the UK’s legally binding target of net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 and the same is true globally.

Contrary to Atkinsons’ article, electric vehicles reduce emissions in the bigger picture by taking into account the complete life cycles of vehicles, from drilling for oil or extracting lithium for batteries to actually driving the cars.

As Carbon Brief noted a few years ago, electric vehicles have already reduced global warming emissions by two thirds over their life cycle compared to combustion engine cars in the UK and the benefits are growing.

Atkinson cites data from Volvo that shows emissions from electric vehicle production are 70 percent higher. This is a wrong direction. While many details of the Volvo study have been investigated debunkedthe more important issue is that emissions from battery production, while significant, are rapidly being surpassed by CO22 emissions deriving from fueling petrol and diesel cars.

Atkinson is also wrong when he says that the UK government’s plan to ban the sale of new petrol and diesel cars from 2030 appears to be based on conclusions drawn from only one part of a car’s operational life: what comes out of the fuel pipe. I unload.

To begin with, the government’s cost-benefit analysis of its car policy plans details life-cycle emissions. Specifically, he mentions government-commissioned research demonstrating that electric vehicles offer a large and growing emissions benefit on a lifecycle basis.

Echoing Carbon Briefs findings, the analysis says: BEV [battery electric vehicles] they are expected to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 65% ​​compared to a petrol-powered car today, and this percentage will rise to 76% by 2030.

That same analysis answers Atkinson’s propaganda about hydrogen as an attractive alternative fuel to replace gasoline and diesel. Research shows that hydrogen vehicles would reduce emissions by just 39% today, compared to petrol engines, potentially rising to 56% by 2030.

Another answer is that there are still only 72,000 hydrogen-powered fuel cell vehicles on the planet, representing a small fraction of the approximately 1.5 billion cars on the road globally. By comparison, some 14 million electric vehicles are expected to be sold this year alone, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).

Even Toyota, the automaker most closely associated with the push for hydrogen vehicles and mentioned in Atkinsons’ article, has recently begun to follow the rest of the market in switching to electric vehicles.

Atkinson goes on to suggest hydrogen for trucks, inaccurately stating that electrification is a failure due to the weight of the batteries. Yet manufacturers sold 60,000 electric trucks last year and now have 220 heavy-duty vehicle models on the market, according to the IEA. Sales of electric trucks in Europe quadrupled in the first quarter of this year alone, according to Volvo.

Like Auke Hoekstra at Eindhoven University of Technology he had a fight, electric trucks won’t have a big weight disadvantage over diesels. More importantly, Hoekstra says, they will be cheaper own and manage.

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The main problem with hydrogen vehicles is the same as with the synthetic fuel that Atkinson also wants to promote. Specifically, both of these alternatives are incredibly inefficient, requiring much more energy to travel the same distance.

Data from the NGO Transport and Environment show that electric vehicles can be driven two to five times further on the same amount of energy as if using hydrogen or synthetic fuels. This thermodynamic disadvantage inevitably makes these alternatives much more expensive to operate than electric vehicles.

Some of Atkinson’s other claims are worth mentioning.

  • He says EV batteries only last about 10 years. However, according to Autocar, most modern lithium-ion units are likely to last the life of the car. Tesla batteries are designed to last longer than your vehicle.

  • He complains that new cars are only stored for three years before being sold. Yet he doesn’t mention the second-hand market and the fact that the British are keeping their cars longer than ever.

  • He says it is better to keep old petrol cars running than to replace them with electric vehicles. Yet a new electric vehicle would start to benefit the climate less than four yearsrelating to an older combustion engine.

Bottom line, Atkinson says people should hold the focus on EVs. This is related to the false premise that electric vehicles will one day be of real global environmental benefit, but that day has yet to dawn.

The alternatives it promotes are not yet widely available, are less beneficial to the environment and thermodynamically guaranteed to be much more expensive.

Conversely, and contrary to Atkinson’s central claim, electric vehicles already offer significant emissions savings and their widespread use is crucial to achieving UK and global climate goals.


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