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Are electric cars really the future of environmentally friendly vehicles?

press06 model x rear three quarter with accessory carrier
© Tesla

Governments around the world are banning diesel and petrol cars in an attempt to curb CO2 emissions and to slow down the effects of climate change. The alternative proposed by many are electric cars. Yet, are they as environmentally-friendly as you have been led to believe?

The first important fact, which few electric car manufacturers like to admit, is that electric cars still pollute the air with particles from wearing tires, road surfaces and brakes. Of course, they are still better than petrol vehicles but they are not fully clean and green, as many in the general public believe.

Less than green sources

Another thing to consider is where the electricity powering your car comes from. For example, in 2017 only 10% of electricity generated in the US was derived from 'truly' green sources, such as solar and wind. Natural gas, on the other hand, makes up 32%, followed closely by coal at 27%. The statistics might be better in other regions such as Europe, but the conclusion remains the same - if the electricity powering your new Tesla is coming from your local coal plant, it's not an environmentally-friendly vehicle. 

hero 08
Using an electric car - great for the environment in theory. / © Tesla

However, even if we presume that the electricity source is clean, electric cars are yet to see wider adoption. There currently are only 3.2 million of them on the road - worldwide. Many models have a high price that is beyond the reach of middle or working class people - lowering your carbon footprint is expensive. In the US, there's also the issue of too few charging stations at great distances from each other.

Furthermore, the materials used to make electric car batteries are finite and not renewable. Recycling of lithium-ion batteries in an environmentally-safe manner is not possible at the moment either. Before all of these factors change the use of electric cars is beneficial, but meaningless in the grand scheme of things.

Sharing is caring.. for the environment

So what can be done differently to make a positive change for both the environment and people? Wider use of electric public transport is a common and reasonable suggestion for green mobility. According to a study performed by ITDP and UC Davis, it is the best scenario for both the environment and for urban living.

Infographic itdp 3r
CO2 emmisions in different scenarios. / © UC Davis, ITDP

The study says that: "The 3R scenario would also dramatically reduce the number of passenger vehicles on the road by almost one third, from 764 million currently to approximately 535 million in 2050. This is only one quarter of the business-as-usual and 2R scenarios which both result in 2.1 billion vehicles by 2050. Fewer vehicles, coupled with less vehicle travel, lessens the need for roadways, parking garages, and related infrastructure, opening up cities for more infrastructure that supports pedestrians and bicyclists."

This means that common use of public transport and ride-sharing will have the greatest overall impact on lowering CO2 emissions. It will help countries meet their Paris agreement targets, which in turn is expected to prevent global temperature from rising so rapidly.

Another benefit of the proposed scenario would be less traffic jams. In this respect electric cars are no different than petrol ones - they all take up space on the road. With the global population rising and urbanization more trendy than ever, that's a significant factor to consider. I would rather spend 20 min in relatively-crowded public transport, than 2 hours in a traffic jam.

Finally, in the long-term, less cars being on the road might mean different urban design and living. Right now roads are the lifeblood of every major city, especially in the US. However, without so many of them there will be more space for pedestrian areas, parks, etc - improving the general quality of life.

What do you think? Are electric cars the future of green mobility? Are you planning on buying one? Let us know in the comments below.

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  • Simone Costi 21
    Simone Costi Dec 9, 2018 Link to comment

    I would never use public transports, if I could. I want to get the driving licence as soon as I can because, here in Italy, public transports are quite inefficient and sometimes also higly crowded. Rural and mountain areas have old infrastructures and, since they aren't highly populated, there aren't so much public transport vehicles going in there. Also, there are some possibilities of being robbed on buses and other public transport vehicles or at their stops.

  • Jerry's W. 20
    Jerry's W. Nov 25, 2018 Link to comment

    hhow about this: it takes MORE energy to build one than it ever will consume in its lifetime , and how about exchanging a more than 25.000 dollar battery pack after a few years? Or is that the time we say the car is useless and needs to be recycled which costs a huge amount of energy again....
    The CO2 amount going on in the lifetime (starting in the factory when first parts are brought together ) and recycle of the car does not make me say that electric cars are "better" for our environment.

  • Jerry's W. 20
    Jerry's W. Nov 7, 2018 Link to comment

    i just love my Tesla <3

  • 8
    W Jerald Cole Nov 6, 2018 Link to comment

    You seem to have left out hydrogen fuel cell technology.

    • 16
      Deactivated Account Nov 7, 2018 Link to comment

      this tech is still smoke and mirrors thanks to companies plugging it as green energy. has potential but no one with any sense uses it because it's much too inefficient.

      • 4
        Loki666 Nov 9, 2018 Link to comment

        The vehicles are quite efficient. It's the production of hydrogen that's not.

  • Dean L. 34
    Dean L. Nov 6, 2018 Link to comment

    I researched hybrid cars and although they use less fossil fuel, the biggie for me was what do you do with the batteries when they are depleted. It's a eco nightmare. And an all electric is worse IMO. And I was happy to see the article address where the electricity comes from to charge the battery for the plug ins and the all electrics. A hybrid still uses fossil fuel to charge the battery, and yes I am aware they try to capture energy from braking to. Personally I feel I have been doing my part since the mid 90's by using public transportation to commute to work.

    SorinSuzana Dalul

    • 16
      Deactivated Account Nov 7, 2018 Link to comment

      not to mention you're hauling two motors around, rather than one. added weight.

  • 16
    Deactivated Account Nov 6, 2018 Link to comment

    Thank you so much for this article. The cult of Elon has gone way too far. Electric cars don't solve any actual problems. So far from what I can see, the only "problem" Elon has solved is how to reuse a rocket properly. Electric cars, much like hybrid cars, are just farts in the wind.

    SorinSuzana DalulDean L.

  • Albin Foro 30
    Albin Foro Nov 5, 2018 Link to comment

    FWIW, I'm still puzzling over the stalled evolution of work-from-home with maybe two days instead of five for "facetime" at stupid, uncomfortable offices (where men are wearing conformist vests instead of neckties and jackets to beat the energy intensive A/C), wasting two hours commuting no matter how or in what. That, 30 hour workweeks, and industrial robots to do the heavy lifting are more important than power sources. (The last great efficiency crackdown on work-from-home was ... hold on to your hat ... Yahoo! HoHoHo.)

    I also get a chuckle at the "ecological" justification for wind or solar farms polluting thousands of square miles of landscape (and murdering millions of birds and bats) with giant fields of mechanical claptrap that last half as long as grinnningly advertised - do the math comparing how many 3.5MW wind turbines over how big a land area are needed to replace a four unit nuclear station the size of a shopping mall, putting out 3500MW. The "ecological" alternatives destroy more land right out of the box than any nuclear meltdown potential of a badly managed Japanese tsunami.

    SorinDean L.Gavin Runeblade

    • Suzana Dalul 14
      Suzana Dalul Nov 6, 2018 Link to comment

      I agree that working from home should be becoming the norm for most office jobs. Nowadays, most people have more powerful PCs at home anyway. Also good point on the space wind turbines and solar 'farms' take up. However, they're still better for the environment compared to coal or natural gas. Whether nuclear energy is green is another matter. I know many who agree, but there are still those who reject it completely. I'm not an expect on the topic, so more research is order before I can form an opinion about it.

      Mana GotSorin

      • 4
        Loki666 Nov 9, 2018 Link to comment

        I'm going to go out on a limb here and wager that Albin is a proponent of nuke power, but only if it's not in his town.

  • 49
    storm Nov 5, 2018 Link to comment

    For the short haul consumer travel probably. For recreational travel, it gets trickier, particularly for back country travel.

    SorinDean L.Gavin Runeblade

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