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Electric cars are no cure for the climate crisis

Samantha Connolly

June 15, 2017

Bad news: Donald Trump is pulling the United States out of the Paris agreement, one of the largest icebergs is about to break off of Antarctica, and electric cars are just one more detour to climate catastrophe.

Carbon emissions

When electric cars leave the manufacturer, they are the cause of significantly more CO2 emissions than a gasoline powered car. This is due the production of the battery, which is essentially the gas tank of an electric car. These lithium-ion batteries often used in electric cars are energy intensive to produce. Additionally, the raw materials for these batteries are largely mined, causing the other ground and water pollution associated with mining. There is potential for recycling of these battery materials, though it is currently more expensive than mining new materials.

CO2 production by electric cars depends most on how the electricity it uses is produced. In areas where electricity is coal-based, electric cars are no better than gasoline powered cars. For Canada, the lifetime production of CO2 by electric cars is lower only in British Columbia, Manitoba, Ontario, and Quebec.

In addition to their higher production of CO2 in manufacturing, electric cars don't last as long as traditional cars. Most gasoline cars will last for 320 000km, whereas electric car batteries last half as long—or around 160 000km. Though the battery can be replaced, it is a major source of CO2 production.

In the best-case scenario, an electric car will produce half the CO2 emissions of a regular gasoline car. This is with the use of only electricity generated by renewable energy and when having the cars for comparable time. Even if every car on the road were fully electric, the vast majority of CO2 being released into the atmosphere would continue.

Mass transit

Electric cars are not a solution for the levels of CO2 production, not even in the transit industry. Mass transit produces far fewer emissions per person, per kilometer than electric cars. Currently, 75 per cent of Canadians commute using a personal vehicle, compared to the 12 per cent using public transportation. Personal vehicles, electric or not, cause many other environmental and socio-economic problems. Cars encourage sprawl, long-hour commutes, and social isolation.

Electric cars are one more thing to produce and market. The automobile industry is interested in expanding the market for new vehicles, not protecting the environment. We must demand free, comfortable, convenient, public transportation to significantly change our path from climate catastrophe. Building this mass, sustainable infrastructure is part of a just transition for workers and an essential step to stop the climate crisis.

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