the false promise of EVs

Electric vehicles (EVs) are touted as being the solution to many of our climate change problems. Most of the money being spent on climate change current is going to EV subsidies and to creating widespread charging networks. They also dominate the conversations about climate change, pushing other issues and solutions to the margin. I’m sick of this (I’m tired of the electric vehicle conversation), and become more sick by the day. They are only a small part of the actions we need, and they should not be receiving the bulk of the funding.

The hype and commitment to electric motor vehicles also pushes out the real climate solution (and livability solution), electric bikes, whether privately owned or bike share systems. Entities from the city to the county to the state to the federal government claim that there isn’t enough money to really support the transition to elective bikes. Why? Because almost all of it going to EVs.

If we depend on EVs to solve our environmental or social problems, we’ll will end up with exactly what we have today, which is world dominated by motor vehicles and traffic violence. Except it will be worse, because we’ve put all our eggs in one basket.

Paris Marx in Road to Nowhere: What Silicon Valley Gets Wrong about the Future of Transportation, addresses the boosterism in Chapter 3: Greenwashing the Electric Vehicle (ISBN 978-1-83976-588-9). Conservative magazine Forbes offers The Expensive And Harmful Truth About Electric Vehicles. Volt Rush: The Winners and Losers in the Race to Go Green (ISBN 978-0861543755) covers the mining and battery manufacturing side of electric vehicle production. If you search the Internet, you will find articles and sources ranging from ‘EVs are the single solution to everything’ to ‘EVs will be the end of us all’. The truth, is of course, somewhere in between. It is early enough in EV adoption that we really don’t know that much about overall and long-term effects. Nor is there an effective battery recycling industry yet (though it is not hard to find dead Teslas, with their batteries waiting to be recycled).

Much of the Inflation Reduction Act and Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, as well as other federal investments, is going to subsidizing the purchase of electric vehicles, and creating charging networks. As is well known, almost all the existing EV subsidies at the federal and state levels have gone to high income individuals. Little in the current and planned programs will change that. Though there is work to make subsidies more equitable, every proposal has met with significant blowback. The rich want to preserve their perquisites.

I suppose the thing that most irritates me personally is the ‘more environmental than you’ attitude of Tesla owners. They live, though not speak, as though their purchase of a Tesla has absolved them of all other environmental harms. Tesla owners are part of the ‘I’m richer than you, so I can do anything I want, and I can drive in any way I want’ crowd. For more on Tesla the real instead of Tesla the hype, see Ludicrous: The Unvarnished Story of Tesla Motors, Edward Niedermeyer, ISBN 978-1948836128.

My greatest concerns about EVs are:

  • all cities and counties can do is provide charging, all other aspects of the transition are largely beyond their control; this sends the locus of control to a higher level of government, further from people
  • the transition will be slow, and there will be fossil fuel vehicles on the road long after net-zero is intended
  • it turns out EVs are not the environmental panacea claimed, with battery manufacture, rare earth mining, and battery recycling (or lack thereof, turns out almost no batteries are being recycled)
  • EVs are not and will probably never be affordable to low income people, and nearly all the subsidies so far have gone exclusively to high income individuals
  • EVs have the same or worse pollution potential as fossil fuel because the main health impacts of motor vehicles are not tailpipe emissions, but road dust, tire dust, and brake dust, which are all exacerbated by the higher weights of EVs
  • EVs kill pedestrians and bicyclists just as effectively, if not more (higher weight), than fossil fueled cars

Why this topic today? Because I’m about to get to some posts on the City of Sacramento Climate Action and Adaptation Plan. The plan prioritizes EVs in its solutions to GHG reduction. Ack!

3 thoughts on “the false promise of EVs

  1. Yes! Driving individual vehicles is antisocial and just changing to EVs does nothing to recreate our cities as healthy, vibrant places where people and nature are connected.


  2. You are right that EVs can’t be the sole answer to fighting climate change, but you are underestimating the positive effect it will have. Cars are the source of
    70% of carbon emissions in California. No, an EV is not carbon free, but considering “cradle to grave” (from sourcing materials and manufacturing to the junk pile),it emits 75% fewer GHG emissions than a gas car. And the most important thing we can do to slow down global warming is to reduce greenhouse gases. That doesn’t mean other things aren’t important, but this has to be our focus. (It would be great if we eliminated air travel immediately.) So, if you want to have the fastest most dramatic reduction in GHG, move to electric cars. . Counties and cities can help by transitioning their fleets more quickly, providing charging stations at work and in underserved neighborhoods, offering incentives to their employees, and generally providing educational info to its citizens (similar to what they do to encourage us to save water, or recycle correctly.) And with the federal incentives EVs are affordable for most people. My friend just got a used EV for $5,000 and got the $4,000 federal tax credit. I’m trying to get the Nissan Leaf, that with the $7500 incentive is $19,500. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do the other thing you suggest. Hopefully we can walk and chew gum at the same time


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