The iconoclast: To EV or not to EV? That is a far too simplistic question

Electric vehicles (EVs) are a hot topic of discussion today, sparking much controversy. But could they really be the future of driving?

Electric vehicles (EVs) are not a new phenomenon: the first practical electric car is thought to have been built way back in 1884. But today, they are in the limelight for one pressing reason: climate change.

We can be certain that ordinary cars have a significant impact on the environment, spanning all the way from the production of the vehicle, to the fuel costs and finally their destruction. And even when a vehicle reaches the end of the road, the mark it leaves on the environment lives on.

Throughout this process, there are concerns over the impact of air pollution on human health and how emissions are exacerbating climate change. As stated on GOV.UK for example, ‘Poor air quality remains the largest environmental risk to public health’.

So, are electric vehicles the solution? Is the electric car all it’s made out to be: A dreamy solution to harmful emissions or actually an overrated, lesser of two evils alternative? To EV or not to EV? I believe the issue should not be presented as so black and white: there is a huge grey area.

Let’s look at the action taken so far. The official government ‘Road to Zero’ initiative envisions and encourages a future where vehicle emissions are significantly reduced, and eventually eliminated.

The ultimate goal is described like this: ‘Our strategy is built around a core mission: to put the UK at the forefront of the design and manufacturing of zero emission vehicles and for all new cars and vans to be effectively zero emission by 2040’.

And progress is already been made, as the document states: ‘There are more than 150,000 ultra low emission vehicles and around 14,000 public chargepoints across the UK’.

The 2040 mission must stand for something, as the government is tapping into a huge contributor to climate change. Plus, a number of popular car companies are responding to the demand for this environmental investment.

But there are two sides to every coin. Whilst the electric car itself is silent, the debate surrounding them is generating a lot of noise. This includes widespread scepticism that electric vehicles are more trouble than they are worth.

Aside from the surface fears that charging an electric vehicle is an inconvenience and the price to buy one is extortionate, there are rumours to suggest that EVs are not even that much better for the environment, if at all.

What are people most worried about? How producing the battery and generating the power for an EV might impact the environment.

A study from 2014, conducted by North Carolina State University, claims electric vehicles in the U.S. According to the senior author of the research, Dr. Joseph DeCarolis, ‘We found that increasing the use of EDVs is not an effective way to produce large emissions reductions’.

This is not the only pessimistic opinion out there. A YouTube video titled ‘Are Electric Cars Really Green?’ shows environmental economist Bjorn Lomborg comparing electric and ordinary cars.

He concludes that ‘the electric car cuts almost no CO2 , costs tax payers a fortune and generates more air pollution than traditional gasoline’.

But the question ‘are electric cars really green?’ spreads a cynical attitude and invites viewers to not only challenge the benefits of EVs, but write them off all together. I am of the belief that this is a counter-productive way of building a more sustainable world.

Instead, we ought to ask: ‘how can electric cars become greener?’. For instance, how can we make sure the batteries are recycled?

Let’s face it, the reality is that the electric car is no utopia…at the moment. But nor are ordinary cars. There are implications for both continuing to circulate gasoline cars and for encouraging the emergence of electric ones.

Since it is undeniable that cars as they stand have countless negative outcomes on health and the environment, we should take responsibility and adapt our usual mode of transport.

In order to be more appealing, EV manufacturers will need to prioritise user practicality, as well as the planet. More charging points are needed, with increased awareness of where these are. As well as this, EVs could be more accessible by altering how affordable they are.

It is crucial to consider what we want the future to look like, rather than attempt to come to an immediate conclusion on the effectiveness of EVs. To write them off now would be impatient and impulsive. Similarly, to embrace them as they currently are might be too optimistic.

Whether to make the switch is not a straight-forward question, but it has caused much division. Whilst many people have reservations about the practical nature of EVs, others have placed a reservation on their favourite model and are keen to get on board the electric vehicle revolution.

We should not scrap the electric vehicle idea entirely. Instead we should look towards the future for progress. With some luck, the best is yet to come.


Image courtesy of iStockPhoto.com.

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