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Monday, July 29, 2013

A Claim That Electric Cars Aren’t Green Fuels Firestorm

An electric charging station is seen on Tuesday, June 18, 2013 in Montpelier, Vt. (Toby Talbot/AP)

An electric charging station is seen on Tuesday, June 18, 2013 in Montpelier, Vt. (Toby Talbot/AP)

Plug-in electric cars have lower greenhouse gas emissions than the average gas-guzzling vehicle.

But conservationist Ozzie Zehner argues in a piece called “Unclean at Any Speed”that electric cars may be worse for the environment than traditional gas-powered cars.

Zehner, who is also author of the 2012 book “Green Illusions: The Dirty Secrets of Clean Energy and the Future of Environmentalism,” writes in IEEE Spectrum magazine:

When the National Academies researchers projected technology advancements and improvement to the U.S. electrical grid out to 2030, they still found no benefit to driving an electric vehicle. If those estimates are correct, the sorcery surrounding electric cars stands to worsen public health and the environment rather than the intended opposite. But even if the researchers are wrong, there is a more fundamental illusion at work on the electric-car stage.

Zehner’s claims have sparked a firestorm of disagreement. Don Anair, co-author of the Union of Concerned Scientists 2012 report “State of Charge” offered this response to Zehner’s article:

Powered by today’s electricity grid, operating an electric vehicle produces less global warming emissions than the average new compact gasoline vehicle (averaging 27 mpg) everywhere in the country. In regions with the cleanest electricity grids, electric vehicles out perform even the best hybrids. And factoring in estimates of global warming emissions from manufacturing reduces, but doesn’t negate the benefits of EVs, as I illustrate in the following blog post.

For Zehner, electric cars are illustrative of a larger discussion that he says environmentalists are not having.

“We associate certain technologies with being clean,” Zehner told Here & Now. “These technologies have become a part of the environmental movement, a part of what it means to be an environmentalist, and we’re finding now that there are some questions that we haven’t been asking.”

For example, Zehner argues that much of the research into electric cars is funded by members of the automotive industry.

“I’m not suggesting that the corporate sponsorship leads people to massage their research data, but it can shape findings in more subtle ways,” Zehner said. “It influences the questions that get asked, and companies are interested in directing their money to researchers who are asking the types of questions that stand to benefit their industry.”

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