Nissan advertises the Leaf as being a “100% electric” vehicle that generates “zero emissions.” So, electric cars must therefore be “green” vehicles, right? Well, not really, according to Bjorn Lomborg, writing in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal.
Consider these facts about green cars from Bjorn’s article:
1. A 2012 comprehensive life-cycle analysis in the Journal of Industrial Ecology shows that almost half the lifetime carbon-dioxide emissions from an electric car come from the energy used to produce the car, especially the battery. The mining of lithium, for instance, is a less than green activity. When an electric car rolls off the production line, it has already been responsible for 30,000 pounds of carbon-dioxide emission.
2. By contrast, the manufacture of a gas-powered car accounts for 17% of its lifetime carbon-dioxide emissions. The amount for making a conventional car: 14,000 pounds.
3. The life-cycle analysis shows that for every mile driven, the average electric car indirectly emits about six ounces of carbon-dioxide. This is still a lot better than a similar-size conventional car, which emits about 12 ounces per mile. But remember, the production of the electric car has already resulted in sizeable emissions—the equivalent of 80,000 miles of travel in the vehicle.
4. If a typical electric car is driven 50,000 miles over its lifetime, the huge initial emissions from its manufacture means the car will actually have put more carbon-dioxide in the atmosphere than a similar-size gasoline-powered car driven the same number of miles. Similarly, if the energy used to recharge the electric car comes mostly from coal-fired power plants, it will be responsible for the emission of almost 15 ounces of carbon-dioxide for every one of the 50,000 miles it is driven—three ounces more than a similar gas-powered car.
5. Even if the electric car is driven for 90,000 miles and the owner stays away from coal-powered electricity, the car will cause just 24% less carbon-dioxide emission than its gas-powered cousin. This is a far cry from “zero emissions.” Over its entire lifetime, the electric car will be responsible for 8.7 tons of carbon dioxide less than the average conventional car.
6. Those 8.7 tons may sound like a considerable amount, but it’s not. The current best estimate of the global warming damage of an extra ton of carbon-dioxide is about $5. This means an optimistic assessment of the avoided carbon-dioxide associated with an electric car will allow the owner to spare the world about $44 in climate damage. On the European emissions market, credit for 8.7 tons of carbon-dioxide costs $48.
7. Yet the U.S. federal government essentially subsidizes electric-car buyers with up to $7,500. In addition, more than $5.5 billion in federal grants and loans go directly to battery and electric-car manufacturers. This is a very poor deal for taxpayers.