Evidence-based analysis of sustainability initiatives - Part 1: Ungreen at any speed

Much has been made about reducing greenhouse gas emissions and pollution through the production and use of hybrid and/or electrical vehicles. Many companies and governmental jurisdictions are rushing to buy such vehicles, and/or to construct charging stations. However, if one considers the life-cycle of carbon emissions, it turns out that H/EVs are more damaging than conventional gas vehicles to the environment and to human health. Please review the chapter on Transportation in a study by the National Academy of Sciences, entitled "The Hidden Costs of Energy." http://www.nap.edu/openbook.php?record_id=12794&page=1. Downloads are free after registering, which is also free. This site is an amazing source of comprehensive, unbiased, evidence-based analyses of multiple topics of interest to government.

Basically, this is the case because more electrical energy - all of it from fossil fuels - is used in the production of the cars, their special batteries, recharging, and disposal, than for conventional gas powered vehicles. The more use of electricity - almost all of it from fossil fuels - the more damage. The decrease in operating emissions is more than negated by the emissions created in their manufacture and disposal. It is predicted that this will not change until most of our electrical energy is derived from renewable energy sources, which will probably not occur until 2030 at the earliest.

Buyers trying to do right to the environment by purchasing these vehicles are scammed in three ways. First, the manufacture and disposal of the vehicles is more damaging to the environment and humans than gas power vehicles. Second, the electricity for recharging also comes from fossil fuel production. Utilities love the concept of recharging, since almost all of the electricity would come from their own fossil-fuel power plants. Both of these facts more than negates the decreased emissions from vehicle operations. Third, the retail cost of the vehicles is at a significant premium to conventional vehicles, making them not cost-effective for most purchasers, including municipalities, over most anticipated lifetimes of the cars. The shorter the lifetime, the less chance of recouping costs from not using gasoline.

It brings to mind the well known, ill-advised rush/fiasco to subsidize ethanol production from corn.

We would be better off at this time by putting our limited financial resources into evidenced-based, more cost-effective methods for reducing GHGs and pollution.

More on evidence-based analysis in future blogs.

William F. Goetz, MD
[email protected]

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