EVs: the Pros and Cons and Pros and Cons
by Gabriel Cross
It’s complicated. Cars are complicated. First, we want to stop burning fossil fuels, and for most of us the gasoline going into our tank is the only fuel that we actually come into contact with directly. You can look at a light bulb glowing and think abstractly about coal burning in a far off plant, but when you refuel your car you can smell it. So most of us have a visceral feeling about how our cars use fossil fuels that is somewhat disproportional to the actual carbon emissions they generate. Cars get vilified more than A/C units, even though cooling big office buildings generates much more pollution. Not to downplay the carbon emissions from cars, transportation (as a whole) is still among the top 3 sources of green house gasses. The result, however, is that we tend to feel worse about our cars than anything else.
Still, most of us can’t get around without a car. In other words: we want to be better, but we feel like we can’t. Enter the electric vehicle, drive all you want and never deal with gasoline again. The trouble is, you haven’t actually solved the problem. Now your car is just one more light bulb, you plug it in and it juices itself up, but you are really just burning the fuel somewhere else. All you have done is stopped smelling it.
So we’re back to feeling like there is nothing we can do, right? Well… maybe. There is one thing that electric cars can do which conventional cars cannot, and never will. They can get their energy from anywhere. Most places in the US coal is the only option for energy generation, so that point can seem moot, but it isn’t. Where I live in the Pacific North West for example, a substantial percentage of the power comes from hydroelectric plants, so driving an electric car up here is really vastly more sustainable than an internal combustion vehicle.
In many states like California, the legislature has made a commitment (and appears to be keeping it against all odds) to steadily increase the percentage of energy production from renewable sources. So if you buy an EV in CA, it will get greener every year. That is a really big deal when you think about the fact that the sustainability movement is gaining steam. If more states commit to green energy, than EVs are suddenly a really great alternative.
However, when you really think about, why does transportation require any energy at all? Sure, it is just about impossible to imagine getting across the country without burning fuel, but why is it that most of us can’t imagine getting to the grocery store and back without driving a car? Or to work? Or just out to a restaurant? Have we forgotten how to walk? Does anyone own a bike anymore and use it to get places, not just to exercise? Have middle class white people forgotten how to ride buses? It certainly seems so.
Of course this is not true. Some of us still use the bus. Some of us bike Some of us, even in LA, walk (I did when I lived there). Some people do it just because it is convenient, or they even enjoy it. Some people walk into town without even thinking about the fact that they are saving the planet, maybe without even believing in global warming. The fact is, once you get out of your car, you realize that life is more fun when you’re not driving.
Every time you walk instead of driving, you are choosing not to burn that fuel at all, which is much better than burning it somewhere else. In other words, the simplest solution is avoiding cars and the complications that they bring entirely.