In an August 2021 column, Al Diamon scoffed about electric vehicles (Politics & Other Mistakes: Shock treatment), with the usual folksy, “here’s-the-actual-story” approach. Ha ha, we get it. He concludes that EVs are not the answer to climate change. Wait, didn’t the clouds part and the angels begin to sing with the unveiling of the Ford F-150 Lightning? BumMER.
His reasons: batteries are pollution; electricity relies on fossil fuels; EVs are elitist; all these EV’s cheat the highway funding system; the rebates and tax incentives aren’t fair; charging stations foster deadbeat behavior. OK, so, one by one:
1. Batteries are full of hazardous materials and will pose a major disposal problem. OK, Yes – Batteries produce waste. So do gas powered cars. As time goes on, most of these materials will be recycled. Old batteries themselves can and will be repurposed (for example as energy storage). More importantly though, if you compare the entire life cycle waste stream of an EV to a gasoline powered car the EV wins by miles (as it were). A few hundred pounds more of solid waste will come from the EV, but the gas car will additionally use 10,000 gallons (70,000 pounds) of fuel and produce 100 tons of CO2 in its life. The electric car will also require far fewer repairs and will probably last longer, thus further reducing its impact and its lifetime cost.
Battery technology is rapidly developing. Experts believe that both the cost and the weight of the batteries could be cut in half in the next ten years, while internal combustion engines are close to their peak theoretical limit and the energy content of gasoline is fixed.
2. EV’s require electricity which might be generated using fossil fuels, thus defeating the whole purpose. Come on.
The whole point is to reduce our CO2 output, right? So it depends on how the electricity is generated. The gasoline powered F-150 averages around 20 mpg. This generates about 1 lb of CO2 for every mile it’s driven. Here in Maine, if the electric F-150 were charged from the typical mix of electricity sources, it would emit less than a quarter of the CO2, or about ¼ lb per mile. If charged from solar alone, it would produce about one twentieth the CO2 of the gas version, or less than an ounce per mile. This includes all the downstream CO2 from the production and disposal of the solar cells. Even in a region where electricity is generated primarily by coal, the CO2 output of an EV is still slightly less than that of a gasoline powered car.
3. Electric vehicles are too expensive for the average person. Yes, and so were high-definition televisions when they were introduced. There are already used EV’s available on the market and prices are coming down. Actually the F-150 Lightning is expected to start out at a price comparable to the mid-level gasoline 4WD F-150. Al worries about the guy driving a 15-year-old pickup—he won’t be able to buy a new, expensive electric vehicle. Nope, but his next old pick-up might be a used Ford F150 “Lightning” electric.
4. Electric vehicles pay no fuel taxes and thus are not paying their fair share to use the roads. OK, so change the funding system, maybe? Maybe with your annual car registration you would pay based on miles driven and the weight of your vehicle. Maybe we could actually make the funding system MORE equitable and logical if we started over! It’s an opportunity! And wouldn’t it seem a little bit silly to let the planet go to hell because we can’t figure out a better way to fund roads? Honestly!
THINGS WE CAN ALMOST AGREE WITH AL ABOUT:
After taking as much advantage as possible of the best targets for his wit, Al actually allowed as to there being some merit to EV’s, flaws and all, so we know we have common ground somewhere beneath all the fodder.
1. Rebates and tax credits benefit the wealthier households. True. However, there is an arguably valid reason for such a policy—these are temporary incentives to give the EV’s an initial market foothold, and will gradually be phased out. For example, it’s stupid that you have to owe $7500 in taxes to get the non-refundable federal tax credit—so a lower or middle income person who saves up for, or gets a loan for the EV will not get the full benefit. They should fix that.
2. The charging station scene needs to evolve. We do agree with Al that there are issues with who pays for what, and free charging is subject to abuse by unevolved EV owners – yup, humans are creating problems, again. But again, humans can also solve problems!
3. We also agree with Al that part of the solution needs to be much better public transportation.
Finally, Al is correct that electric vehicles are not THE answer to climate change! We agree! However, they are unquestionably PART OF the long—and yes, complicated—answer to climate change, so let’s get at least a little serious.
Paul Stancioff, PhD., is a retired professor of physics at the University of Maine Farmington who dabbles in energy economics on the side. Cynthia Stancioff advocates for climate action and looks for edible mushrooms. Their emails are [email protected] and [email protected] . Previous columns can be found at https ://paulandcynthiaenergymatters.blogspot.com/.

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