A recent executive order by California Governor Gavin Newsom mandates that all vehicles be zero emission by 2035. While it does not specifically state that all vehicles must be electric, right now hybrid and electric vehicles are the most viable of all alternative fuel types on the market. While California’s “enlightened energy” policies are among some progressive policies that may have reduced emissions, they have also resulted in rolling blackouts, increasingly rising taxes, and a mass exodus of businesses and individuals over the past ten years. While solar power and wind work well during the day and in favorable weather conditions, they do not offer a consistent power supply, which can lead to shortfalls during high demand or inclement weather. Not surprisingly, public disgruntlement about a multitude of oppressive policies has reached a head, and a record number of signatures demanding his removal from office.
It is worth noting that fully electric vehicles, although considered to be “zero emission” are not without environmental costs. The mining of lithium, cobalt, and related chemicals used in car batteries have resulted in environmental hazards such as the contamination of hundreds of thousands of gallons of water, fish kills, and mining using child and unskilled labor in places like Congo, Africa. These chemicals, upon entry into the water supply, travel hundreds and even thousands of miles into the surrounding areas.
The story of environmental destruction does not end with battery production, since batteries have a limited lifespan and must be replaced periodically. According to an article in Wired Magazine, currently, very few lithium ion batteries used in cellular phones, radios, and other household appliances are recycled, and the ones that do find their way into a proper disposal facility are smelted. Smelting amounts to burning in an incinerator similar to that used for metal productions. It produces a fair amount of poisonous, carcinogenic emissions, and very little of the remaining material can actually be reused, however, it does prevent the batteries from contaminating landfills and fouling the water supply. According to the same article, while it is possible to recycle batteries in a method which would allow more of the materials to be reused, the process is expensive and time consuming.
While it is definitely true that hybrid and electric cars produce fewer emissions, simply measuring emissions cannot account for the complete environmental impact of these classes of vehicles. In fact, some critics speculate that due to the production costs and impacts, the true environmental savings from a hybrid car come after five or six years of operation, since the carbon costs of creating a hybrid car is actually initially higher than a gas or diesel car, due to battery production. And depending upon the source of the electricity used to charge the vehicles, the carbon savings might be even less than originally imagined.
Comparisons show that while hybrid cars really excel in city driving conditions, on the highway diesel vehicles get comparable gas mileage, and diesel vehicles have excellent torque at low speeds, which makes them extremely useful for hauling heavy loads, and for use as work vehicles. In the 1970s, before the EPA began regulating diesel fuel, it was a common sight to see black, sooty smoke belching from the tail pipe of diesel trucks, however Modern Ultra Low Sulfur Diesel technologies, including reduced amount of sulfur present in the fuel, Exhaust Gas Recirculation devices (EGR,) and catalytic converters significantly reduce the total emissions from a diesel. According to EPA.gov, modern regulations and standards have resulted in a 90% reduction in harmful emissions compared to older style diesels.
While hybrid cars are known to clock over 200,000 miles with one or two battery change outs, diesel trucks, known for their longevity, regularly approach 400,000 miles with routine maintenance, which means diesels are extremely cost efficient for fleet owners. It is easy to refuel them anywhere at market prices, and fleet owners do not need to factor in the cost of extremely large, expensive drive battery replacement. Diesels equipped with fuel heaters outperform electrics at temperatures below freezing. Because of the increased weight of battery packs required to do heavy pulling compared the the relatively light weight of fuel to do the same work, cargo loads for trucks might be significantly reduced by thousands of pounds, which hurts the bottom line for trucking companies.
As the former owner of a Euro model hybrid car, I can say that there were many things I loved about the car. I got excellent gas mileage, close to 50 mpg for city driving! Amazing torque helped me pull away from the stoplight before anyone else, and due to the regenerative braking feature, my Bosch brake pads still looked brand new after five years, even in spite of my tendency towards aggressive driving and occasional hard braking. However, the honeymoon was over when the car hit the 75,000 mile marker, and I began to price out replacement drive batteries. To my horror, the price had risen three fold from the time when I had bought the car, to over $10,000! After doing the cost benefit analysis, and taking into account my genuine love for the car, I realized that it did not make financial sense to hold on to it when I could buy a newer car for the price of the replacement battery. I speculated upon the reason for the rise in price, which might have been the increasing demand for lithium batteries for automotive use, supply issues, tariffs placed on raw materials from China, but ultimately, the reasons for the high price did not matter. I bought a certified pre-owned diesel car which had passed California emissions, gets 43 highway mpg, and which allows me to do more of my own maintenance. I’m quite happy with it!
Which brings me to a final point, which is that huge, monocultures in any industry are not good for either the environment or the consumer. It is known that large, single crop farms are plagued by pests and deplete the soil from nutrients that are normally replenished with crop rotation style farming. Similarly, production of only electric vehicles might crowd out newer technologies, such as hydrogen cars, CNG vehicles, and ultra low emission diesels and gasoline cars which might provide similar environmental benefits at a lower cost to the consumer, and without large scale environmental ravages. It also stifles competitive market forces which continually drive further innovation and change, resulting in safer, better products at lower prices. It may lead to supply issues in California, if the diesel trucks which are standard currently are not allowed into the state to deliver products, and it will most definitely lead to higher cost of goods. I believe that electric cars have their place, and in many circumstances, might be preferable to combustion cars, as in use for short city drives and civic vehicles which remain in town, and I admire the accomplishments of innovative companies like Tesla, however, restrictive and draconian government restrictions will only lead to other types of environmental problems and economic hazards.
Click here for a good clip about the costs/benefits of combustion vs electric cars: https://youtu.be/oJL9MasBFvM