Think twice about electric cars

cigarettes-and-carsOf course, you would expect me, writing at Car-Free Corvallis, to not be a fan of any motor vehicle technology.  Only part of my reasons for being car-free are environmental.  But even if I focus just on that aspect, I would still never advocate for electric cars.  My arguments have been based on life-cycle energy requirements (the energy to produce a car is about the same as is used by the car) and resource requirements (e.g. rare-earth metals, aluminium).  I was very happy to see that IEEE Spectrum Magazine, the magazine read by every professional and academic engineer that I know, ran a cover article titled “Unclean at Any Speed” by Ozzie Zehner and summarizes this and other reasons that electric cars should not be embraced by environmentalists as the solution to our transportation problems and suggests lower-tech solutions (biking, walking and mass transit).  Summarized beautifully at the end:

Upon closer consideration, moving from petroleum-fueled vehicles to electric cars begins to look more and more like shifting from one brand of cigarettes to another. We wouldn’t expect doctors to endorse such a thing. Should environmentally minded people really revere electric cars? Perhaps we should look beyond the shiny gadgets now being offered and revisit some less sexy but potent options—smog reduction, bike lanes, energy taxes, and land-use changes to start. Let’s not be seduced by high-tech illusions.

I highly recommend everyone read this article, whether you are pro- or anti- (or neutral) electric cars.