Electric Cars: Not So Environmentally Friendly After All?


Is that electric car in the driveway — yes, that one with the long cord tethering it to the inside of the garage — a sign of deep environmental concern and human goodness?

Or is it an indication that someone has been duped?

A growing body of evidence shows that electric cars are more harmful to the environment than comparable fossil-fuel burners. The latest is a study — “Environmental Benefits From Driving Electric Vehicles?” — out this month from the National Bureau of Economic Research.

The study’s authors — economics and business professors — say that “rather than simply accepting the assertion of environmental benefits from electric vehicle use,” they conducted “a rigorous comparison of the environmental consequences of gasoline and electric powered vehicles, specifically by quantifying the externalities (both greenhouse gases and local air pollution) generated by driving these vehicles.”

This rigorous comparison determined that electric cars, despite the hype, aren’t as environmentally clean as gasoline-powered cars.

This shouldn’t be a complete surprise, given that much of the electricity used to charge electric cars is generated by coal plants, which produce 39% of the nation’s electricity. The next biggest producer is natural gas, another fossil fuel, which churns out 27% of our power.

Nor is this the first time electric cars’ dirty little secret has been uncovered.

In March, we wrote about a University of Toronto civil engineering professor who said that, depending on which Canadian province the vehicle is driven, an electric car can pump out more carbon dioxide than a gasoline-powered car.

Last year, we argued that “a nation full of electric cars powered will make no ecological difference,” and backed it up with a North Carolina State University study. We also cited work from a Norwegian university that estimated “the manufacture of electric vehicles creates about twice the emissions that gasoline car production does.”

In that same editorial we mentioned that University of Tennessee researchers discovered “electric cars in China have an overall impact on pollution that could be more harmful to health than gasoline vehicles.”

Aside from the unwarranted taxpayer subsidies that buyers receive, we have no problem with people purchasing electric cars. This is America. We have choices. But don’t try to convince us that driving an electric car is an indication of higher morality. Try a little humility for a change.