As the UK fuel crisis inspires more than ever to think about going electric, are they really the answer for our planet?
Hands up if you too have been caught with your proverbial pants down by the Great Fuel Crisis of 2021.
Yes, we’re all trying to use our cars less, and walk/cycle/ride unicorns* to work more. But honestly, most of us still need our car to do the school run and get to work. Not to mention those critical hospital appointments and caring commitments. Especially if you live in Cornwall (other rural areas are available), where public transport is…well let’s call it fashionably minimalist.
Whether it’s the fault of the government, the media, the panic buyers or the fuel industry, the fact is that if you drive a car and it takes petrol or diesel, you’re probably checking your fuel tank anxiously. Or wondering how hard it actually would be to siphon some out of Terry next door’s Mondeo in the middle of the night. (We’re absolutely not condoning this.)
And if your car is electric, well, you’re probably feeling just a tiny bit smug.
So, is it time for us to finally start thinking properly about electric cars? Or are all cars inherently so bad for the environment that we should all be getting on our bikes instead and giving up journeys that we’re not willing to walk?
Consider this your official 2 Minute lowdown on the pros and cons of electric vehicles.
Are electric cars better for the environment?
Yes. Definitely. If you’re comparing them to diesel and petrol cars they absolutely are. We really need to be moving away from fossil fuels. And they don’t generate harmful CO2 emissions. They’re also quieter than diesel and petrol vehicles (as anyone who’s been surprised/crept up on by a stealthy electric Uber will know), so noise pollution-wise, it’s a yes.
They sound brilliant! Let’s make more of them!
Well hold your horses, they’re not perfect. They may not make emissions on the road, but the production process certainly does. Those batteries take a lot of work to create. One study puts CO2 emissions during production at 59% more than traditional combustion engines.
There’s also the fact that most car batteries are currently made in China, South Korea and Japan, where the use of carbon in electricity production is high compared to other parts of the world. In other words, they’re being manufactured on some seriously polluting grids.
Oh, that doesn’t sound too good
It’s not. BUT if these countries adopt more renewable energy going forward, these emissions will drop significantly. In China this is expected to rise sharply between now and 2025. So that figure will hopefully come down by a lot.
What about the materials used to make the batteries?
Yeah, honestly, right now, that’s not a great situation. Batteries rely on lithium as well as copper, iron and aluminium. All of these rely on carbon and water-intensive means of extraction. And there are human rights issues here as well as environmental, with conflict between international mining companies and indigenous communities and biodiversity habitat loss.
On top of that, there’s no clear plan for recycling the massively increasing number of car batteries, which we reeeaaally don’t want to see as yet more waste.
So what’s the skinny?
Electric cars are better for the environment than petrol or diesel cars, that’s for sure. But there are some major issues in their production when it comes to the planet. We’ll need to see a huge swing to renewable energy in production, and a clear plan for recycling batteries before they come close to being the green dream. Better regulation of relationships with local communities as well as an obligation to protect habitats and sensitive ecosystems and watersheds would ideally be in place too.
We like how Thea Riofrancos, associate professor of political science at Providence College, Rhode Island puts it:
“A transportation system based on individual electric vehicles, for example, with landscapes dominated by highways and suburban sprawl, is much more resource- and energy-intensive than one that favours mass transit and alternatives such as walking and cycling.”
In other words, hopping on your bike, the bus, the train or your own two feet is going to be a heck of a lot greener than driving anywhere in your electric car.
And right now, doing any of those things is going to stop us being part of the problem, and free up some fuel for those who really need it. Win win!
*If anyone has a spare unicorn, can we borrow it for the school run plz?