In Praise Of EV - And Response (3)

Sunday, November 28, 2021

Roy, sometimes I think I envy your uncanny ability to compartmentalize, draw bright lines and to simply conclude that thing one is good and thing two is bad.

No electric vehicle for you. In Roy’s universe:  Batteries are bad. Gasoline is good.

My 30+ years of practicing environmental law and addressing legacy environmental impacts have proved otherwise.

As the Eagles so beautifully sing: “Every form of refuge has its price.”

Whether the energy source is petroleum, natural gas, nuclear, electric/battery, wind, waves (you get the point) the extraction, production, storage, consumption - and the leftovers - manifest current and future impacts which have to be accounted for.

…and, as the Eagles have also told you, don’t believe your lyin’ eyes.

Michael Mallen

* * * 

I was somewhat confused by Mr. Mallen’s comments “In Praise of EV” other than he disagreed with Roy Exum’s negative opinion about the benefit of electric vehicles. 

I am not at all opposed to electric vehicles but I believe that there are legitimate questions about the overall environmental benefits of EV’s.  There are questions about the environmental harm caused by the mining of the materials that go into the production of EV batteries.  There is even greater concern about the environmental harm due to the disposal of EV batteries that apparently cannot be recycled at this time. 

Let’s not be blind to these issues.  They remind me of the questions now being raised as to the overall benefits of curbside recycling which have been outlined by Louise Mann in several opinion pieces submitted to this publication. 

While EV’s and recycling efforts have a their place, they can also have negative consequences unless dealt with properly.

Ron Owens

* * * 

Mr. Mallen, 

Regarding Roy Exum’s reference to the real costs of EVs: your rebuttal had no data to counter the dire assertions that, I fear may be true.  Assertions that going to EVs will decimate the environment, frustrate billions of people that will have very limited transportation, energy for home and work, agriculture or manufacturing, let alone providing healthcare. All of which require reliable and available energy.   

Yes, EVs for the richest 2 percent won't be bad, but I'm worried about scaling to the 8 billion people on the planet. What is wrong with the major assertion that the embedded costs of EVs far exceed the operating costs, which are the only costs mentioned by the ‘environmentalists’?  What is your estimate of the scale of the mining and manufacturing of batteries using rare earths, and the building of new vehicles out of metals and plastics (maybe a billion to replace the current billion plus worldwide)?  

The Exum article also indicated immense embedded costs in building solar cell farms and wind turbines.  Don't these have huge environmental and dollar costs? True/false?  

The mining of all the above-mentioned materials makes me shudder, since I picture the days of coal strip mining replaced by strip mining of lithium, whatever, with untold amounts of water being contaminated, and unbelievable amounts of power being needed.  

And then, what about the assertion that batteries are just storage devices: the energy to ‘store’ in the batteries has to come from somewhere, and be distributed everywhere.  Again I see astronomical costs in real money and environmental damage.  

Mr. Mallen, I saw no concrete ‘facts’ in your comments denying the ‘facts’ in Exum’s article. 

(Footnote:  I’ve volunteered for a major Chattanooga conservation group, have some solar cell power thanks to EPB’s wonderful SolarShare program, and drive, frugally, a PZEV car. Thus I see a dilemma: if we continue with massive use of fossil fuel, we'll continue to have huge problems, but, please, EVs are not close to the perfect solution either.) 

Robert Dreyer

* * *

Electric automobiles’ virtues, however few or many they may be, are not to be denied, but neither should they be magnified and praised beyond reality and reason.  One detail that is often ignored is EVs are still essentially automobiles – regular automobiles that happen to have relatively unusual powerplants.  A Prius weighs the same as a Corolla or Civic or Accord or Jetta or PT Cruiser, meaning it contains the same amount of materials as those other more ordinary cars – and, mostly, that’s the same amount of the same materials.  So all of the good, bad, and indifferent factors that are involved in the production and maintenance of ordinary automobiles (and all of their component parts) are included in the production and maintenance of electric automobiles, except for certain powerplant details.  And for hybrid cars, of course, you have both a standard engine and an electric motor.  There may be bragging rights for engineering ingenuity, but not necessarily for environmental correctness.

That powerplant difference has its own good and bad points.  Yes, electric motors have certain advantages over internal combustion engines in certain applications.  An electric motor is just an electric motor, and we certainly know how to make those efficiently, but the copper involved in an electric motor’s manufacture is way more rare and costly than the iron and aluminum in most internal combustion engines, and copper mining and production has its own special problems and environmental negatives; copper is just as ‘dirty’ as iron, in many ways.  

The cleanness of refueling is considered a great plus for electric automobiles.  Plug it in and walk away. There are no locally noxious fumes involved as with gasoline, there is no perceptible local danger of explosion as with gasoline at the corner station, and the immediate personal out-of-pocket cost per mile may be less than for many gasoline-powered vehicles.  It’s all such a neat and clean and affordable process.  It’s so nice.

But stop, wait a minute: The same argument could be applied to buying food in any modern grocery store, as opposed to growing-your-own food on a farm.  Grocery stores are (by law) neat and tidy; working farms are (by nature) generally pretty messy places.  Yes, picking up a bare-naked turkey or ham at the store and cooking it at home is extremely neat and clean – and generally affordable for most of us.  Milk, eggs, cheese; fresh, frozen, or canned vegetables; even bread, cake, and pies, or the flour, sugar, etc. required to bake your own at home – all of those are simply and neatly available nearly everywhere, and are relatively affordable.

There is, though, the other side, the dark side, the other end of that food-providing process that is easy to ignore.  Farming is hard, dirty, messy work.  There’s a reason farmers are often seen wearing knee-high rubber boots – and it ain’t for comfort or style.  Pigs have the worst reputation for being dirty animals, but they’re easily matched by cows in any wet season.  That kind of dirt is just from simply walking around in wet farm soil.  Then there’s the excrement problem – which is so neatly sidestepped by buying your beef and pork from the cooler section of the grocery store.  The dirty side of the food process is simply not your problem – the same as with driving an EV.

And chickens and turkeys?  Oh, good grief; you haven’t smelled bad until you’ve been amongst a few thousand of those foul fowls – and the odor isn’t even the worst of it.  Dust, droppings, loose feathers fill the air, and all contribute to the filth and foulness of food production.  Even those pretty, pristine eggs you buy in tough plastic cartons – trust me, they’ve been washed and sanitized long before you pick them up from the cooler shelves.  Chickens themselves are not tidy creatures.

Even grains and greens – wheat, oats, corn, soybeans, cabbage, carrots, whatever – those have a similar background of hard and dirty work.  Fuel for tractors is costly and ‘dirty’ to make, the machinery itself has the standard industrial history, and then there’s the actual labor required – it’s all a dirty, dusty, air-fouling and foul air process at nearly every step.  But as long as you buy your flour, bread, and so forth in an air-conditioned supermarket, that ugly side of your food procurement cycle can be conveniently ignored.  It’s easily ignored, just as the production of the sophisticated electric ‘fuel’ for your EV is ignored.

Your precious, pristine, locally-non-polluting electric automobile has its own nasty, filthy, dirty ‘industrial’ history, a secret that is no way any prettier than the background of the biggest gas-guzzling hot rod, pickup truck, or limousine on the road.  Yes, EVs involve some relatively few differences in their design and gestation, but they contain just about as much iron, aluminum, glass, and plastic, etc. as any other vehicles on the road – plus their added consumption of increasingly rare and costly copper and other even rarer elements that are used in the motor, battery, and control system.

Electric automobiles in America are, as far as I can tell so far, a part of a technology that is considered affordable to most folks only because of federal subsidies.  The same is true of solar and wind power – take away the massive grants given to those daring ‘entrepreneurs’ in sun and wind power and they’ll soon find something else to pursue, some other presently cool venture to dabble in at other people’s expense.  Very few smart folks seem to be investing their own money in solar and wind power, however dependable and beneficial those technologies may eventually become.  And you should look into the mess left behind when a wind turbine disintegrates or wears out and must be replaced; it’s not pretty, and the worthless remains are not even as recyclable as our most awful old-fashioned cars and trucks.

Hey, here’s a detail that’s been conveniently ignored by the popular press for at least a decade now: Way back in 2011 or so, it was determined that new American production cars with all of their pollution controls, when driven on the streets of a typical dirty-air American big city, were ‘spewing out’ exhaust gas that was actually cleaner than the ‘air’ they were inhaling.  That’s right, U.S. production cars have been urban air cleaners for ten years!  And that detail is of the right-here, right-now kind, as opposed to the imagined cleanness of electric vehicles that actually have their own ugly trail of pollution; that ugliness is just not visible right where the vehicles are being sold and operated.

Remember the old adage concerning love, ‘Out of sight, out of mind’?  That applies to other situations, too – including the dirty side of automotive design and production.  Take it from an old engineer who has experience both on farms and in the automotive industry: It can all be very dirty, and an electric automobile doesn’t really come with a golden halo for the buyer.  Not yet, anyway.

Larry Cloud

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