Last month, David Biello wrote an article in Scientific American entitled “Electric Cars Are Not Necessarily Clean.”
Biello found that electric vehicles (EVs) “are only as good as the electricity that charges them” and concluded that their environmental benefit is modest at best. Unfortunately, he entirely missed the true beauty and importance of EVs.
We need to move to a transportation system that approaches zero carbon. EVs are the only way to do this. It is great news that our existing fleet of gas-powered cars is getting more efficient, due to hybrid technology and other innovations. In the short-run, this is significantly cutting our carbon emissions from transportation. But in the long-run, it is not enough. We cannot solve climate change while our vehicles still run on fossil fuel, no matter how efficient. Only electricity can get us there.
A car that runs on electricity gets cleaner every year. Our grid is steadily becoming lower carbon. Coal power is being replaced by wind, solar and gas. EVs capture this benefit. My Nissan LEAF is a little lower carbon this year than it was last year. And it will be even cleaner next year.
EVs are a critical piece of the long-term solution to climate change. We can’t get there without them. Are they truly zero emission today in a world where we still burn plenty of coal for power? No, obviously. EVs are just one piece of a two-part package, along with clean energy, that we need to pursue.
But it is surprisingly short-sighted to argue that, since we don’t have perfectly clean energy today, we should not be pursuing EVs as an essential and unavoidable part of our climate change solution.