Series (Science): Green Machines

Green Machines, Part 2: Driving Green

Welcome to the latest installation of a 5-part series about environmentally-friendly cars, entitled Green Machines. For the next post in this series, CLICK THIS LINK. To start at the beginning, CLICK THIS LINK. Thanks for reading!

Driving Green

We hear it all the time: Buying an electric vehicle will reduce your carbon footprint and help save the Earth from air pollution and global warming. And who wouldn’t want to save the Earth? We humans have been busy trying to save the Earth from ourselves for thousands of years. Perhaps driving green is a way of continuing this long tradition.

We often measure how green we are by how much we’ve reduced our carbon footprint. It’s a very effective way to virtue signal. For instance, I have chosen to have no children. In this way, I’ve reduced my carbon footprint exponentially, compared with the average person, and that makes me as green as a man from Mars. I’m so fucking virtuous. So there.

But does buying an electric vehicle actually reduce one’s carbon footprint, compared with buying a gas or diesel vehicle? What a stupid question. Everyone knows that electric cars don’t put out any air pollution at all, so the answer is obvious.

Or is it?

Can driving green save glaciers like this?

Well, maybe not. First, let’s look at how electric cars are made. Most are powered by lithium-ion batteries. These batteries require a tremendous amount of energy to produce. And this increases emissions to about 15% to 68% more than the air pollution caused by manufacturing a gas-powered car.

Okay, that ain’t good, but maybe that will be made up for down the road, in the reduction of emissions from driving an electric car. But the problem with this is that the electricity you’ll use to recharge your batteries has to come from somewhere. And that somewhere is the magical little three-holed outlet implanted in the wall of your garage. Just plug your car into it and, voila, you’ve saved the world!

Well shit, not so fast. Those little electrons pouring out of the magical outlet, originate from a power plant. And that power plant very likely burns coal or oil, belching tons of pollutants into the air.

I haven’t found an exact comparison from all the experts on the internet, but the gist I get is that it’s still slightly less polluting to drive an electric car than a gas-powered car, even when taking into consideration the dirty, smudge-producing smokestacks sticking up from the outskirts of town. But only slightly. This slight difference is probably not enough to make up for all the extra air pollution from producing the electric car.

But that’s alright, because we’re steadily working on developing clean energy, such as wind and solar, right? Well maybe, but I wouldn’t hold my breath. And renewable energy is very expensive, so if it ever becomes the prevalent source of our power, we can expect to pay one hell of a lot more in our utility bills.

We can always go nuclear. That’s damned clean, at least until your local nuclear power plant melts down. And of course there’s always the thorny issue of where to store the nuclear waste, that requires about 10,000 years to degrade. But if you don’t mind your children being born with three heads and five arms, then let’s go nuclear.

And then there’s my state of California, the land of fruits and nuts, and its attempt to push hydrogen fuel cell vehicles upon the populace. Technically these are electric vehicles, where a fuel cell converts hydrogen gas into electricity, that powers electric motors connected to the wheels.

When the hydrogen is converted to electricity, the emission coming out of the tailpipe is water. Nothing could be cleaner than that, right? So hydrogen provides the perception of reducing one’s carbon footprint. But in reality, most hydrogen these days is produced by burning fossil fuel. And more fossil fuel is required to make hydrogen, than is used to produce an equivalent amount of electricity at a power plant. This fact is hidden from environmentally-conscious consumers, through the shell game of carbon credits.

You can get deep subsidies when you purchase a hydrogen vehicle in California. But you’ll also receive an abundance of headaches, such as the extremely high cost of hydrogen (try spending $100 to drive 380 miles), and trying to find a fuel cell station that isn’t out of fuel. It’s a mare’s nest that’s turned into an expensive and ridiculous debacle, that is sustained only by the influence of big money upon our state legislators.

My take on this matter is, the best way to reduce the carbon footprint we produce from traveling, is to create more human footprints. By that I mean, we have to start walking everywhere we go. Because buying an electric car is not likely to make much of a difference in global warming.

However, that’s when you take all driving into consideration. Electric cars tend to be much more efficient than gas cars for the kind of slow-speed, stop-and-go traffic encountered in cities. But at faster, highway travel, where speeds are more steady, the difference in energy efficiency between electric and gas tends to decline.

That makes an electric car a good choice for those who want to help the environment, and who plan to do most of their driving around town. Otherwise a hybrid car might be the better choice.

In the next post we’ll be learning more about electric cars. Then later, we’ll pivot to those mysterious hybrids.

Some of my sources:


51 replies »

  1. The Wall Street Journal did a big piece comparing the carbon footprint of gasoline powered cars to electric cars from raw material to junk yard. Electric cars had a much smaller foot print.

    Another hidden cost of gasoline cars is health impact. Tail pipe emissions do cause chronic health problems in people and you can’t get away from it.

    Generating electricity at a few power plants where it is easier to control emissions is less polluting than generating mechanical energy with 20 million gasoline and diesel power plants in various states of disrepair.

    It bugs me that we get all the energy we want for free everyday from a non-polluting source that requires no maintenance and doesn’t belong to anyone and will continue to operate for billions of years, but we mine oil and burn it instead.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Thanks for doing the research, it is interesting reading. It seems like no matter how good something may be, there always is a drawback. Nothing is perfect, but hopefully we can get closer to having the pie-in-the-sky!
    If the world would become all water we could just row everywhere.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. The fossil fuel industry and corporate-orientated governments can tell when a very large portion of the populace is too tired and worried about feeding/housing themselves or their family, and the devastation being left in COVID-19’s wake — all while on insufficient income — to criticize them for whatever environmental damage their policies cause/allow, particularly when not immediately observable. (Indeed, I have not heard Greta’s name in the mainstream corporate news-media since Covid-19 hit.)

    Without doubt, this helps keep the average consumer quiet, lest they feel like and/or be publicly deemed hypocritical. It must be convenient. Meanwhile, neo-liberals and conservatives everywhere appear overly preoccupied with vociferously criticizing one another for their relatively trivial politics and diverting attention away from some of the planet’s greatest polluters, where it should and needs to be sharply focused.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Love the idea for this series. But I would say that green energy is here and growing. California is already getting more than one/third of it’s power from green sources.

    And there’s so much solar power available in spring and fall, Arizona is thinking of turning it’s nuclear plant into creating hydrogen (both to power cars and gas-fired electrical plants).

    Rather than gov. policy, most of this change is going to be driven by cost. Solar and wind are getting cheaper than other sources, but we need to solve storage issues to make them fully viable. A strong electric car market would go a long way to figuring out how to make bigger, better, safer and cheaper batteries for all applications.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Well, that’s a third of the way to the goal, then. I agree that cost will be the biggest driver toward green vehicles. I don’t know of anyone in their right mind who’d rather drive a gas car than an electric car, except for the cost and limited range presented by our current electric cars.

      As to storage issues, one of my followers, Jason, pointed out that it appears solid-state battery technology may soon improve to the point of making them practical and affordable. But that’s a little down the road, so to speak.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes. Hard to predict the future. I bought into the lying nazi bullshit diesel as a “green” solution. I’ll wait for the self-driving electric flying ubers and then I won’t need to own a car.

        Liked by 1 person

        • I know, I’ve read your hilarious posts about it, and watched the Lewis Black routine.

          A lot so-called “green” is just greenwash. For example, for several years I worked as a letter carrier in Palm Springs. All the postal vehicles there had been converted so that they could run on either gasoline or natural gas. And they all had bumper stickers, proclaiming to the public, “Powered by clean, natural gas.” A lie. Never once did we use natural gas. We had our own gasoline pumping station at the post office, and we all pumped gasoline into the tanks, every day. But those bumper stickers were sure good for PR.

          Liked by 1 person

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