Electric Cars: Not So Clean Energy

Ryan Heshmati

October 7, 2022

Environmentalists tout electric vehicles as a way to help the planet. After all, fossil fuels, a widely accepted cause of climate change, are not involved in the electric vehicle world, right? The facts behind the industry may prove shocking to customers, whose main motivations may be the environment. Florian Knobloch of the Cambridge Centre For Environment, Energy, and Natural Resource Governance noted, “ Producing electric vehicles leads to significantly more emissions than producing petrol cars.” Of course, one may point out they make up for it with lifetime emissions. One must consider, however, that those who charge using the power grid, might be getting power from the industries they are trying to avoid supporting. The truth behind electric cars is not as simple as one might believe from advertisements and proponents.

Many often overlook that a factor of the EV production process is the battery, which requires cobalt. To make these batteries, as Forbes’ Tilak Doshi puts it, involves “Mining out of sight, out of mind.” He asserts that the mining occurring in faraway Africa contributes to the western world’s disinterest in its environmental effects. Additionally, in “The Dirty Secrets Of ‘Clean’ Electric Vehicles” he points to a UN report outlining where the vast majority of production occurs. There are concerns with the Democratic Republic of Congo, where the process has issues beyond the environmental effects, including child labor and dangerous working conditions. 

Not only does the production of electric cars have its own set of issues, but the power grid, which many electric car owners rely on to charge their vehicles, does not circumvent dirty energy. The U.S. Energy Information Administration released data that 80% of the energy generated at utility-scale facilities was not from renewables. 

Most experts, however, contend that as more of the shift towards renewable energy takes place, more benefits will be seen. CNBC’s Saheli Roy Choudhury, in “Are electric cars ‘green’? The answer is yes, but it’s complicated” points to research that found that even now, in 95% of places, EV has less of an environmental impact. 

Electric vehicles can be a part of the change the world makes in response to the environment, but going out and purchasing a new electric car may not be as beneficial as one might think. After considering the downsides of the current state of EVs, selling new and working gas-powered vehicles, which the EPA notes have between 98-99% fewer emissions than approximately 60 years ago, should be reconsidered.