Monday, November 21, 2011

The Electric Car- A Miracle Cure or Mirage?

A confession? I have an un-eco obsession with gas guzzling cars/trucks. Although speed is great, it's not lamborginis or Ferraris that do it, but those ridiculously large, duel-y diesel engine, quad cab pick-up trucks that make me drool. I want to drive one. I park my little fuel efficient jelly-bean of a car next to them. I have spent years mourning the loss of ever owning one (the Planet isn't worth it).
an example of my dream truck. I am a rural girl at heart.

Initially, like many environmentally conscious peeps, I was quite excited by the prospect that our second vehicle (once the Yaris goes caput in, say, another 5 years) will be electric. Nova Scotia is *so* car dependent that it's difficult to function outside of university without a car. Recently, it appears like perhaps the electric car is doing the whole "Phoenix from ashes", with governments and eco-organizations touting this rise as the miracle cure to all our carbon spewing woes.

(Nissan LEAF)
You don't have to give up your car-dependancy lifestyle- just plug 'er in! Guilt and carbon-free!

Except... is it really that simple?

According to Ecoholic, the average car produces between 10,000 and 12,000 pounds of climate-changing carbon dioxide every year. Along with carbon monoxide, nitrous oxides and hydrocarbons this toxic mess contribute in a big way to "smog" (which kills thousands a year in large cities).

The Nissan LEAF (recently introduced in Canada) has a grand total of ZERO emissions while operating. If we switched the majority of cars to electric vehicles we'd be saving our lungs from breathing in thousands upon thousands of pounds of toxins.

Beyond all the logistical "arguments" that I've heard (cost and lifespan of lithium battery, charging stations and infrastructure) which all have fabulous answers (at the end of the lifespan of the battery, 8-10 years, batteries will be cheaper, customer demand will result in infrastructure plus you can charge the car in a 120 voltage outlet anyway), there are some pretty serious *big picture* issues that need to be honestly addressed.

We are much too dependant on single occupant vehicle transportation. Despite all the progress with electric vehicles, the industry still needs quite a bit of research (longer lasting, more easily accessible and cheaper batteries, infrastructure etc) and lets be honest; the industry will take a good 10 years to make a significant switch. Do we really have 10 years to keep on our merry, polluting way?

It's concerning that so much energy be placed on the electric car as our climate change saviour- but at some distant future. Instead, our government could be encouraging use and improving public transportation and/or bicycle lanes. If the average driver travels less than 60 km a day, than a public transportation system that was efficient, clean and reliable would do just the trick.

Finally... we do conveniently forget where that electricity comes from. In Nova Scotia, most of the electricity is generated from coal plants. Although other provinces have better track records (New Brunswick actually has a few nuclear, zero emission, plants), we're far from "clean" energy.

(for a fantastic discussion on this topic, head over to radio-canada's Christiane Charette with Pierre Olivier-Pineau, professor at HEC and expert in energy politics as well as co-founder of Quebec's Green Party, Daniel Breton. The catch? It's in French...)

I am not anti-electric car by a long shot. I'm looking forward to the day when Andrew and I will have a single vehicle family electric car. However, the tempting lure of a miracle pill that would allow my lazy bum to continue driving, continue consuming is too misleading. A mirage in our floundering climate desert.

Start bicycling, start walking.

article copyright of EcoYogini at


  1. Exactly...a car driven w coal or oil? But cities can be designed (and redesigned) to be less car dependent - and people can choose to live places that are focused on this and take jobs that dont require cars...people tend to forget they are choosing their lifestyles then blame others - its like bitching about government then not voting!

  2. Good points, all of them, I reckon!

    Yep, I'm a country girl too. I never met a machine I didn't like, and yes, I drool over minidiggers and tractor catalogues ;-)

    But we have to change. Electric cars are just as unsustainable as petrol driven cars, simply because they're created from the same mindset of "we can have it all" that produced our problems in the first place.

    And that's before you get into the whole energy used to create the things, the problems of disposing of batteries, and the coal which will probably be burned to create the electricity to run them.

    Our generation is more mobile than any before it, and I think we need to relocalise. Globalisation is rubbish thinking, in every respect.

    I guess what I'm saying is maybe it's time to return to a small world, and learn to love our own place and time, instead of always rushing about in an attempt to be someplace else. Who knows - we may even grow to like it!

    (BTW, I also wrote about the pitfalls of electric cars back in 2008 - Save us from the electric car!)

  3. An interesting post, to be sure! I live in rural Ontario, and I am one of the few who doesn't drive a big old truck, just like in your picture. Sometimes I get to ride in one, because my dad and brother-in-law both drive trucks because of the nature of the business that they are in. It satisfies the craving.

    And interestingly, because my parents are thrifty and think it's wasteful to replace a car that is still running, my dad's truck is a cleaner, greener alternative to my mom's aging car.

    We looked at going with the Honda hybrid when we were buying our smaller car. But once the research was in, we decided that it wasn't actually as great for the planet as advertised. And my hubby works at Honda.

    The real solution lies in moving to a society that doesn`t rely on cars, trucks and other modes of transportation. Sadly, where I live, without a car I am literally stranded. Sometimes I think the Mennonite population where I live has the right idea--horse and buggy. But then I`d have to examine the many unfriendly practices for the environment that are prevalent in their community.

  4. @EcoGrrl: that's it! Although, I'll be the first to say in the economically depressed working environment, that sometimes we don't have a lot of choice in jobs.

    @Leanne: It's the SOUND of the diesel engines that gets me. sigh.
    Thanks for the link- I think I read it, but I'm on my way back for a refresher :)

    @Nicole: yep- sometimes I get to ride in my brother or dad's trucks (fishermen)- same! I agree, my little yaris hatchback is much more fuel efficient than the toyota prius.
    I think electric cars can be a viable alternative for those of us who do live rurally.

  5. Also- just as an aside- there is some discussion that the LEAF will be able to (at some point) be charged by home solar panels. Except- if you charged the car overnight (as most do) you'd need to have energy stored and kept waiting in the solar panels from the day to do it.

    definitely not a perfect solution, but interesting.


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