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Need a New Car? Going “Green” Can Be A Wise Choice.

Need a New Car? Going “Green” Can Be A Wise Choice.

Allan Maynard, MSc. – May 2024

 

After 2 years of research, pondering and a degree of procrastination, I acquired a new car. I took my time. Firstly, I was totally satisfied with the car I had. It was a very comfortable ride and reasonably fuel efficient. Furthermore, being retired, I don’t routinely drive that much.

I became concerned about the age of my car (a 2006 small SUV), but the main reason for finally getting a new car was the desire to be environmentally responsible, especially given my hosting of a web site dealing with climate change and other environmental matters. As well – the trend to battery cars is inevitable. Canada will require all new automobiles to be “zero-emission” by 2035. Many other countries have introduced similar requirements.

As forests burn and cities drown, as crops wither and people die – there is no longer doubt that climate change is dangerously impacting societies the world over. In 2016, 196 nations signed the legally binding Paris Accord. The Agreement’s central aim is to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change by keeping a global temperature rise this century well below 2 degrees (preferably 1.5 degrees) Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

A typical passenger vehicle emits about 4.6 metric tons of CO2 per year (see first reference for how this is calculated). This means that about 20% of greenhouse gas emissions result from the use of personal vehicles. As such, electrifying transportation systems is a crucial component in reaching the global goals. A second significant benefit in electrifying transportation, is the reduction of air pollution (particles and oxides of nitrogen). Around the world, air pollution is responsible for over 7 million early deaths per year.

Fully electric vehicles (EVs) have no tailpipe emissions. It is well understood though, that EVs are not zero emissions as explained below. Hybrid vehicles and plug in hybrid vehicles provide significant reductions in emissions and are thus a good option when going fully EV may not be workable.

It is important to not be fooled by the misinformation circulating via social media and other outlets, such as the ridiculous claim that electric vehicles  (EVs) pollute more than gas cars due to battery manufacturing. These are false flags, and it only takes a bit of research time to expose these myths.

The car I decided on is in the last paragraph of this article. Please read on.

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FACTS AND MYTHS

There is a massive amount of information on battery operated cars. It is complex and nuanced. I will not go into a great deal of detail but have provided adequate references.

 

 

  1. Manufacturing – The manufacturing of a typical electric vehicle (EV) can create more carbon pollution than manufacturing a gasoline car because of the additional energy required to manufacture an EV’s battery. However, over the lifetime of the vehicle, total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions associated with manufacturing, charging, and driving an EV are much lower than the total GHGs associated with a gasoline car. See graph – figure 1

2. Operation – driving an EV produces zero carbon but the emissions ‘equivalent’ must take into consideration how the electricity for charging is produced. In many cases EVs need power from power plants that use fossil fuels. This has an overall impact, but even when the power grid is heavily dependent on ‘dirty’ fuel (oil and coal), an EV produces less greenhouse gas emission See graph 2.

3. Mining for minerals vs mining for fossil fuels – millions vs billions

There is no doubt that the extraction of precious minerals and lithium needed for EV batteries has an environmental impact. However, the extraction is significantly lower for electric cars compared to gas and diesel cars. Mining minerals for the clean-energy economy is measured in millions of tons per year (7 million tons in 2020). By contrast, the fossil fuel industry extracted the equivalent of 15 billion metric tons in 2019.

Moreover, the fossil fuel industry will need to extract this year after year to keep supplying energy. Clean-energy technology can use at least some of these materials for decades or in some cases, if recycled effectively, in perpetuity.

4. Range anxiety is real

For sure the concern for the range of EVs is real. However, for most uses, the EV range is not an issue at all. Firstly – the range of fully charged EVs has improved dramatically over the past 5 years with the average range now at 378KM (237 miles). Some are as high as 690 km (431 miles). The model S Tesla has a range of 500km (310 miles). Again – these are only guidelines as the range depends on many factors such as geography or temperature. By far most driving involves short trips – commuting, shopping, social, etc. The daily average in North America is around 50 km (30 miles) per day. Clearly the EV range is not an issue in such cases.

However, it is an issue for longer trips. Currently there are not enough EV charging stations in North America. For a driver needing to travel more than 200 km, a charging plan would be required.

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Figure 1 – from Yale Climate Connections – 2022. Note – in Canada we use liters per 100 km – to convert – divide 235.2 by the miles per US gallon. Thus – in the chart above – 79 miles per gallon is 2.98 liters per 100 km.

5. Battery Life and Maintenance

EV batteries aren’t cheap. The battery is typically the most expensive component of an electric car and can cost as much as $20,000, which means replacement can be a pricey proposition. So, how long do EV batteries last? Most last between 10 and 20 years; for context, the average car on American roads is 12.5 years old. The battery life can vary slightly or significantly depending on certain factors.

Another factor to consider – EVs typically require significantly less maintenance than conventional vehicles because the battery, motor, and associated electronics require little to no regular maintenance. There are fewer fluids, such as engine oil, that require regular maintenance.

6. Cost outlay

For many consumers, the most significant obstacle is the initial capital outlay. EVs generally cost more, and it is straightforward to carry out cost comparisons among similar models. There are also many references available that allow calculations to determine the break-even point – at which the savings in operating an EV offset the capital outlay. The last reference below calculates a savings of over 7000 dollars over 7 years of operations – but the calculations are complex and depend on may factors.

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SO — WHAT DID I CHOOSE?

From my research, it became abundantly clear that an electric vehicle is much better for the environment under all circumstances, and especially so in British Columbia with abundant hydroelectricity. As well, I felt reassured concerning battery life. If this purchase had been for a household of 2 cars, I certainly would have selected a full EV. However, since this will be my only car, I did have a concern for the range in that I do anticipate a few longer trips.

As such, I decided on a plug-in hybrid or PHEV (Mitsubishi Outlander). On an overnight charge I have a range of about 60km (40 miles) and thus almost all (more than 85%) of my drives will be on electricity. So far, I have driven over 2500 km and only had to fill my gas tank once. Even when I am using the gasoline engine, the fuel efficiency is double the efficiency of an equivalent gasoline vehicle.

SUMMARY COMMENTS

There are so many factors in assessing whether to acquire an EV. The references below will provide greater detail for those wishing to consider this choice.

Will 2023 be the year that was or merely a prelude of the years to come?

Will 2023 be the year that was or merely a prelude of the years to come?

A helicopter battles the McDougall Creek wildfire as it burns in the hills of West Kelowna, British Columbia, on Aug. 17. (Darren Hull/AFP/Getty Images)

Will 2023 be the year that was or merely a prelude of the years to come?

It is likely that 2023 will be remembered as the point at which humanity’s inability to deal with a climate crisis of its own making the was finally and fully exposed.  Will 2023 be also remembered as an inflection upon which the science is truly accepted by society thereby driving radical and rapid change?  Or will the heat anomaly and catastrophes of 2023 be looked back upon as one of the cooler, more stable years in people’s lives.

2023 WAS A YEAR OF EXTREMES

This past year has now been confirmed as the hottest year in recorded history – a record surpassed by a large margin and much sooner than predicted.  Scientists repeatedly expressed shock as successive heat records fell, and warned the world is moving dangerously close to the 1.5-degree limit that nearly 200 countries sought to avoid in the Paris Agreement in 2015.

Deaths from heat stroke are at an all-time high around the world. Millions around the globe are now stranded in inhospitable conditions by global heating. The graph shows some of the many records broken – these from the global measurements just prior to the year end. There were countless local records also surpassed.

global atmospheric temperatures

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In addition to global atmospheric temperatures – many other records were were smashed in 2023 including:

  • levels of heat absorbed by Earth’s oceans, which have been warming year-on-year for the past decade
  • loss of sea ice in the Arctic and Antarctic,
  • extent and duration of ‘heat domes’ (such as in Phoenix Arizona with over 30 days above 43 degrees C / or 110 F),
  • extent of rainfall (especially in China) and flooding (with the flood in eastern Libya considered the worst disaster of the 21st century)
  • extent and duration of droughts with associated food insecurity,
  • total hectares lost from wildfires (especially in Canada – see chart).

2023 WAS ALSO A YEAR FOR SOME HOPE

The climate extremes of 2023 were impossible to ignore thus raising overall awareness about the extent of the climate emergency. There were some positive signs of movement in the right direction.  

  • The COP 28 (Conference of the Parties) at least mentioned the ‘elephant in the room’ – that being fossil fuels. The final compromise agreement stated the need to transition “away from fossil fuels in energy systems in a just, orderly and equitable manner, accelerating action in this critical decade, so as to achieve net zero by 2050 in keeping with the science”. It was considered a victory of sorts given the fact that this is the first COP where the words ‘fossil fuels’ are actually included in the draft decision. More about this below.

 

  • Over the year, global renewable energy capacity grew by the fastest pace ever recorded, which could put the world within reach of meeting a key climate target by the end of the decade, according to the International Energy Agency. Moreover, the cost of renewables is improving significantly – see chart.
2023 WAS ALSO A YEAR FOR SOME HOPE
global atmospheric temperatures

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  • Policy initiatives in many countries (USA, Canada, much of Europe and even China) are driving the increased uptake of electric vehicles and the building of energy efficient buildings.

 

  • Governments, fossil fuel firms and airlines are increasingly being met with climate lawsuits. According to data bases run by the Columbia University’s Sabin Center for Climate Change Law, there are more than 2,500 lawsuits recorded globally, and this shows no sign of stopping any time soon. Why? – because it is highly effective.

LOOKING AHEAD TO 2024

According to most predictions, 2024 will be as hot or hotter than 2023. Vast areas of Earth’s oceans were record-warm for most of 2023, and it will take many months for that heat to be released. Moreover, an intense episode of the planet-warming El Niño climate pattern is nearing its peak, and the last time that happened, it pushed the planet to record warmth (in 2016).

It is also likely that the momentum that has been building towards the transition away from fossil fuels, will continue. Afterall, the awareness about the climate emergency within the public is higher than it has ever been. Any kind of denial about the reality climate change has been burned to a crisp.

As well, many scientists are increasingly optimistic about the power of technology to change the world, and in terms of our fight against climate change it’s one of the strongest levers that we have.

Massive forms of activism though, would be an even stronger lever. Political will depends on the mood of voters. What worries me is the trend towards extreme right-wing politics along with disinformation tactics that can easily work towards pushing the stop button on progress and even take us backwards. As I wrote in a previous article, capital has an outsized influence on politics thus sowing decades of division while the situation has worsened. In fact – Capital is rewarded by governments around the world, with subsidies estimated by the World Bank to be 23 million dollars per minute.

Indeed, capital (or big money) had an outsized influence on the last COP conference with oil industry lobbyists outnumbering the delegates of many developed countries –   hence a weakened commitment. Many from the science community feel that the text included language to placate fossil fuel interests and thus fell far short of what was needed on emissions reductions and finance to help the most vulnerable cope with worsening extreme weather and heat. The statement should, as a minimum, have stated the need to “phase out” of instead of “a transition away” from fossil fuels. In instances like these – words do matter.

Where does all this leave us? My conclusion is the same as for my last article. Short of donating to environmental organizations, or initiating our own forms of advocacy, the most important action we can individually do is to vote for our future and convince others to do the same. Politics matter – especially this year with so many critical elections taking place.  Any politician that does not acknowledge the crises the planet is facing and endorse a legitimate set of plans to deal with climate change and planetary destruction is not fit for office. We all have the power to ensure this happens and to advocate for change.