Are Electric Cars Bad For The Environment? Here Are The Facts


Electrical cars are storming the market as part of many parts of the world’s push to “go green”. Electrical cars can seem very promising when it comes to concern for the well-being of the planet. There are those, however, who question the real benefit of these emerging vehicles. When it comes to any new technology, electric vehicles included, it can pay off to take a look at what really might be the effect on the environment. 

Are electric cars bad for the environment? In the short term, electric cars are not better for the environment when you consider mining, processing, and manufacturing of materials needed to create electric cars. On the other hand, the long-term impact electric cars can have is a profound positive effect on the environment and the health of the planet. 

Electric cars are one of those things that won’t change the health of the planet in a single month or even a year. To really see the positive effect of electric cars is going to take time. Right off the back, electric cars may seem like they are hurting the environment more than they are helping it. Change isn’t always easy though, often enough it takes time to really bring about a change but you have to be the one to decide if that change is worth waiting for or not. 

Are They Better For The Environment In The Short Term? 

The answer would have to be a flat-out no. Electric cars, particularly the manufacturing of electric vehicles, can be especially harmful to the environment. Creating an electric vehicle requires a lot more of something called rare earth metals than you would need to create your convention internal combustion-engined vehicles. Rare earth metals include metals like lithium, cobalt, and nickel. All of these metals are not easily found on the earth’s surface and therefore require mining to extract. 

Mining can cause a huge impact on the environment. Many mines are now using strip or pit mining which causes complete destruction of any vegetation or natural structures that are in that location. Mining can cause damage to the air (in the form of dust), water (as it is used in machinery and to create brines), and the earth because you are digging at up thousands and thousands of cubic yards of earth. 

Many different types of mining use large amounts of water to sort through materials as well as clean and cool machinery. There is shaft mining that is less destructive to the surface environment than pit or strip mining is, but this type of mining isn’t nearly as popular nowadays because it is usually more expensive and it can be much more dangerous for the miners. Mining is a big factor to consider seeing as it can affect the environment in so many ways.

Though mining can be destructive, a lot of federal regulations have been made to help lessen the environmental impact of mining. You do have to remember that most of the places where the mining for these metals takes place are not nearly as regulated as the United States. For example, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, mines for many of these metals and almost none of the mining operations have strict environmental regulations which cause massive damage and dangerous conditions for workers. 

Deposits of rare-earth metals, many of which are in China, most often contain radioactive substances, which through the mining process, can cause the release of radioactive dust or water. Once these radioactive particles are in the dust and water, they are nearly impossible to purify and take a long time before they become not harmful. I am sure that we can all agree that that isn’t necessarily good for the environment. 

Once you have mined out the materials you need to build the electric vehicle, you actually have to put it all together. According to the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICTT), in 2018, the negative environmental impact in manufacturing electric car batteries is even higher than the impact of extracting the metals to create the batteries. There are techniques that can be used to help reduce emissions when manufacturing the batteries, but not all countries that manufacture electric car batteries have adopted these techniques because it adds cost to the manufacturing of the batteries. 

The New York Times reports that manufacturing electric vehicles uses about 50% more water than does the manufacturing of internal combustion-engined vehicles. Most of this water usage comes from the production of batteries. The American West is facing a drought of the ages with the Colorado River, many of the West’s primary source of water, being lower than it has been in years without any signs of change at the moment. Lack of water can also lead to more environmentally harmful events like an increased chance of wildfires. 

Are They Better For The Environment In The Long Run? 

Well, you’ve probably heard plenty about why electric vehicles are bad for the environment but if that is so, then why are they made out to be some sort of environmental hero? Governments around the world are pushing for electric vehicles. Aren’t they supposed to help save the planet? Yes, they are and it looks like they can make a difference. To really see these positive effects, it will take looking at what will happen in the long run. 

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has put forth statements and data supporting the fact that in the long run electric vehicles actually have a lower carbon footprint than their gasoline or diesel counterparts. Even though electric vehicles may produce a huge amount of emissions during battery production and manufacturing, the fact that once the electric vehicle is driving, it gives out 0 emissions helps it leave a smaller carbon footprint than cars that are putting out emissions every day. 

Even though researchers at Argonne National Laboratory concluded that typically the manufacturing of electric vehicles produces almost double the amount of carbon dioxide as the production of gasoline cars produces, the electric car makes up for them by not giving out emissions to be driven. On average, throughout their lifetime, gasoline-fueled vehicles will produce 25 to 30 percent more carbon than an electric vehicle would of its same size. 

One of the major problems with the impact of electric vehicles is that there isn’t a way to effectively recycle electric vehicle batteries. This is part of the reason so much carbon dioxide is produced to make batteries because almost all of the batteries have to be made from completely new materials. This will not be as big as an impact in the future, however, because there are many groups actively researching how to better recycle electric vehicle batteries. The continued switch to renewable resources for the construction of electric grids will also cause the carbon emissions caused by electric vehicles to decrease even more.

 Researchers from the University of Cambridge concluded that in about 95% of the world, it will have a lesser impact on the environment to drive an electric car than it is to drive a gasoline-fueled vehicle. That 5% of the world where it wouldn’t be more environmentally friendly are going to be places and countries that use coal and fossil fuels to generate almost all of their electricity. I will discuss more the impact of how electricity is generated later in the article. 

Why Is The Media And World Governments Pushing Electric vs Traditional Vehicles?

The media and world governments are heavily pushing for the advancement of electric vehicles. Why is the government supporting electric vehicles? In the long term, electric vehicles are really going to make a difference in the environmental impact we as humans create and will continue to create. If eventually everyone can be driving electric vehicles powered by 100% renewable energy, then the number of carbon emissions produced by humans will be greatly reduced.

There are incentives to consider for the media and world governments. For one, it makes them look good. Global warming and environmental concerns are hot topics in the media and get a lot of people’s attention because it is something that a lot of people care about. Supporting electric vehicles can help politicians get votes from voters. Money can also be an incentive for many governments. The electric vehicle industry is pretty new and has the potential to produce a lot of jobs and bring in income for many countries. 

Of course, it is important to remember that another reason the media and world governments are pushing electric vehicles so much is that they might actually care about the planet. Countries that are historically active in conservation and environmentally safe practices, like the Netherlands and Israel, are planning to ban fossil fuel vehicles in 2030. Norway is banning fossil-fuel vehicles starting in 2025. 

This transition will produce fewer carbon emissions in countries and can help improve the overall health of the people in the country as well as improve the landscape of the country, which can lead to an increase in industries like tourism and farming. The overall quality of life can also improve thanks to this transition which could be especially important in countries where pollution is a major problem like India, China, or Taiwan. 

Where Does The Power For Electric Cars Come From? 

It is common knowledge that electric vehicles run on electricity, but where does that electricity come from? This is a super important factor to consider when trying to figure out how much your electric vehicle is impacting the environment. The absolute ideal situation is that if all your electricity could come from renewable resources like solar, wind, hydrogenated electricity, but sadly this isn’t the reality. The truth is that even though many countries, especially the United States, are making a push to change to completely renewable resources to produce their electricity, most of the electricity is still produced through fossil fuels. 

Fossil fuels are used to generate 60.6% of electricity on the grid in America, according to the Energy Information Administration. 19.3% of fossil fuels used is coal, which produces a lot of pollution. Even with a push the past few years to start incorporating more renewable resources into the energy we use, there are still many places that use very few renewable resources. If the energy you are using to power your electric vehicle was completely generated from coal-fired power plants, then you are going to be creating a greater amount of car emissions from the electricity you use to fill up your battery. Even more than a gasoline-fueled car would create by filling a tank of gas. 

Many states in the US are strongly pushing to clean up where they get their energy from and are moving towards renewable resources to power their electrical grid. States in the northern midwest and the western US are some of the highest producers and users of renewable energy. So if you live in these parts, you can know that your electricity is most likely coming from a good source. States in places like the southern United States still produce a grand majority of their electricity through the burning of fossil fuels; which is something to consider when driving an electric car in these places. 

How Long Until EVs Could Be Powered By Wind, Solar Or Nuclear Power?

Models of electric vehicles are already being designed to incorporate solar panels into the vehicle to help charge the battery, but even with solar panels over the entire vehicle, there isn’t nearly enough energy generated to power an electric vehicle non-stop. That means that to have electric vehicles be 100% powered by renewable resources then the electrical grid has to be 100% renewable energy. 

No one can say for sure when the United States is going to produce 100% of its energy from renewable resources but there are a few guesses. A Standford professor has estimated that it could be possible by 2050. To accomplish this, 80% of the energy on the electrical grid would need to be renewable energy by the year 2030. This transition will require major infrastructure adjustments and a lot of cooperation by states and electrical producers. 

As for nuclear power, there are many people that are nervous about nuclear power. Nuclear power produces radioactive nuclear waste which is pretty much the worst type of waste you can produce. Looking at nuclear power from a positive standpoint, it produces a lot of energy with very little waste. The process of producing nuclear power is very efficient but with other options like solar, hydro, or wind turbines, many people want to just avoid nuclear waste in the very unlikely event of a nuclear meltdown. With all of this in mind, I would say it is unlikely that nuclear power will play a major role in powering electric vehicles. 

Why Electric Car Batteries Are Bad For The Environment

Electric car batteries are the main reason that electric vehicles have any negative effects on the environment whatsoever. I have already talked about extensively the pollutants and environmental damages caused by the production of electric car batteries, but you also have to consider the damage these batteries can do after they are no longer usable.

 In the United States 99% of lead-acid batteries are recycled, and due to the EPA, the rate for recycling lithium-ion batteries that the electric vehicles use. That means that currently, almost no lithium-ion batteries are recycled. While there isn’t an effective way to recycle electric car batteries, there are many companies and researchers that are exploring ways to do so. So most likely in the future, the negative impact of disposing of electric car batteries will be reduced. 

Batteries do not decompose very well at all. The components of the batteries can take thousands and thousands of years to decompose and can be very harmful to the environment. Science.org says that industry analysts predict that there will be nearly 145 million electric batteries produced in the next decade and there has to be a way of disposing of electric car batteries when they are at the end of their life. That leaves us with the dilemma of what to do with 145 million no longer useful lithium-ion batteries.

An electric car battery will last for about 5 to 8 years, maybe a little longer if you have a Tesla. Electric car batteries are usually the reason the electric cars have to be replaced and once they don’t effectively hold a charge anymore, there really isn’t much they are good for. How do you dispose of electric car batteries? Electric car batteries need to be disposed of safely because if punctured or cut in the wrong place electric vehicle batteries can produce harmful fumes and leak heavy metals and other dangerous toxins into the ground. 

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