Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Electric cars are even less green than PragerU says.

Prager University has posted an analysis of whether electric cars really help the environment.

It's a thought-provoking argument, but it doesn't really cover all the bases for those who are really environmentally-conscious. For instance, I'm not sure that their analysis takes into account the production and refinement of gasoline. If we do that for coal, it's only fair to do the same for petrol. But the numbers won't change that much, really. As it turns out, petrol's pretty efficient. So much so that it's worth burning a little petrol to make vast quantities of petrol. Nevertheless, it's an expense.

PragerU definitely missed a few things which take into account the driving habits of those who are predisposed toward certain kinds of cars. I've discussed before with friend of mine who regularly leases hybrid cars to stay on the cutting edge. He dutifully turns in his car every 3 years or so for the latest and greatest and thus feels he's doing the best he can to support the "green initiative".

And that three-year lease is about typical. Given a 90,000 mile lifespan (as per PragerU's video) divided by the average number of miles driven per year of 16,550 miles (from the US Department of Transportation) we find that the average car has an expected lifespan of about five and a half years. So it's obvious that the term of a lease doesn't cover the life of the car. As my parents would say, he hasn't "gotten all the good out of it" before he turns it in.

I, on the other hand, until very recently drove a 1992 Toyota Camry, which got comfortably over 30mpg... about 34mpg on the highway. My friend's hybrid got 36mpg. But over my car's 20 year lifespan, my friend would have fired up a factory seven times.  Me: once. Of course, I had already owned the Camry or ten years before we met, so the actual score over our ten-year acquaintance has been him:3, me:0.  Even had I been turning in my car for a comparable one every three years as he did, the difference in mileage couldn't justify the increased expense and environmental damage done by mining the lithium and rare metals used in the construction of the hybrid.

Doubtless there will be some people reading this who will be sputtering and searching in vain for some math in which an electric or hybrid vehicle is more environmentally sound than driving a well-tuned economy car into the ground. And notice I said 'environmentally sound', not 'environmentally conscious'. Just being conscious of what you're doing doesn't make it a logical decision. For instance, my friend has fallen into the fallacy of valuing what feels good over that which does good, as have a great many others who "think green".  His driving habits compared to a driver content to stick with one economy car over the years have landed him in carbon debt to a degree which he could not pay back in multiple lifetimes.

After viewing a draft of the above, a friend noted that "having an electric car definitely reduces the amount of miles a person drives." He considered this to be a hole in my logic, as if driving fewer miles changes the equation per mile driven. It's the opposite. If your less-green-to-manufacture car is driven less, then it is far less green per mile than the equivalent internal combustion car. In addition, this is clear evidence that the utility value of an electric car is far less than that of a gas-powered vehicle. And while an internal combustion car may be the only vehicle owned by its driver, it's also typical for an electric vehicle to be a second car, supplemented by a gas-powered one.

My point is, There's nothing wrong with investing in electric in the hopes that it will someday become more green, but thinking that it is now is fallacious. If you want to be environmentally conscious, keep your vehicles in good repair, no matter what kind of vehicles you drive. Drive them well past their 'expected' lifespans, which are always woefully understated. Stop using so many electric appliances. You can cut food with a knife just fine. And not every damned thing in the Universe has to have an electronic chip in it, and those with chips aren't necessarily doing a better job.

But mostly, stop putting your feels in front of your logic. Think.

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