Researchers studying emissions from EVs versus gasoline-powered vehicles have become accustomed to the occasional flare up of the idea, often misframed, that EVs are bad because of emissions related to mining and car manufacturing. .
This idea received new attention on Saturday with the publication of an opinion piece in The Guardian by comedian and actor Rowan Atkinson, who wrote that he felt duped by promises that electric vehicles are better for the environment. His comments were then amplified by stories from Fox Business and the New York Post, among others.
Sadly, keeping your old gas-powered car might be better than buying an EV, he wrote. There are sound environmental reasons not to jump yet.
His conclusion is frustrating to people researching EVs and emissions because it’s a familiar trope of fossil-fuel-aligned groups that have a financial interest in slowing the transition to EVs, and it’s based on a misguided view of the data.
While it is correct to say that the production While an electric vehicle has higher emissions than an internal combustion engine vehicle, an electric vehicle compensates for this difference several times by having much lower emissions during its time on the road. EVs even have an edge in places like Poland, which rely heavily on fossil fuels to generate electricity.
A commonly cited 2020 study by Transport & Environment, a research and advocacy group, found that an electric vehicle’s lifecycle emissions are on average three times lower than those of a vehicle that runs on petrol or diesel in the United States. European Union. Lifecycle emissions are a calculation of total emissions over the life of a vehicle, from raw material production to landfill.
Here’s a sampling of other research on the topic:
- The International Council on Clean Transportation, a research and advocacy group, released a paper in 2021 showing that electric vehicles have 66% to 69% lower lifecycle emissions than those of comparable petrol-powered cars. And this difference will increase as power grids reduce their use of fossil fuels.
- Auke Hoekstra of Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands wrote a paper published in 2019 about the ways lifecycle emissions of electric vehicles are calculated and how these methods often underestimate the climate benefits of electric vehicles.
- A group of European researchers drafted a report for the European Commission in 2020 that looked in depth at life-cycle emissions and other environmental issues related to electric vehicles, concluding that new electric vehicles should have a significantly lower impact on the climate than to conventional vehicles vehicles with combustion engines.
Hoekstra has become a leading debunker of pieces like the one Atkinson wrote, and wrote a discussion on Twitter about the flaws in Atkinson’s reasoning.
I’m not entirely convinced Atkinson is being honest here, because he’s very specific about picking all the anti-EV tropes, Hoekstra said.
In an interview, Hoekstra said that the idea that electric vehicles are more harmful to the environment than internal combustion engines can do real damage to public perceptions of electric vehicles, which can undermine the drive to reduce emissions. transport emissions.
We’re trying to bring the world to a better place here, Hoekstra said. We’re really trying, and this kind of cranky nitwittery really makes it harder.
He said a good rule of thumb is that an EV has a net advantage in lifecycle emissions over a gasoline-powered vehicle after about 20,000 miles, and the advantage increases over time.
Inside Climate News reached out to Atkinson to address criticisms that he was gathering evidence to present a misleading conclusion.
Everyone chooses the evidence to support their case and I’m sure your scientists and experts will do the same, he said in an email. My main goal was to encourage debate, perhaps a more nuanced debate on the extremely complex issue of carbon emissions and the automobile than I’ve seen so far. The fact that you are arguing is great news for me.
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The actor is best known for his roles in the television series Mr. Bean and Blackadder. He said in the Guardian article that his first degree was in electrical and electronics engineering, and he later earned a master’s degree in control systems. He describes himself as an early adopter of electric vehicles, having purchased a hybrid 18 years ago and an all-electric model nine years ago.
Electric vehicles may be a little soulless, but they’re wonderful machines: fast, quiet and, until recently, very cheap to run, wrote Atkinson. But more and more I feel a little cheated. When you start digging into the facts, the electric car doesn’t appear to be quite the environmental panacea that it claims to be.
It said it was responding, in part, to a UK proposal to ban the sale of new petrol and diesel cars in 2030.
Hoekstra said it’s especially damning that the anti-EV message comes from a well-liked celebrity.
If he was a cranky old professor, in a way that’s easier to deal with, because then he becomes sort of scientists arguing about him or each other, he said.
But he’s used to seeing these same objections raised, part of what he calls the bullshit bingo of talking points that are often willfully misleading.
That said, there are legitimate concerns about the environmental damage of extracting materials to make batteries for electric vehicles and the high cost and heavy weight of the vehicles.
Hoekstra acknowledges these concerns. The mistake, he said, is taking these issues and taking the leap to say the world should stick with gasoline or slow down the transition to electric vehicles.
That’s because many of the problems with electric vehicles can be reduced with advances in batteries, improvements in battery recycling, and other ongoing efforts. But there is no substantial solution to the environmental damage from producing fossil fuels and burning those fuels in engines.
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