Lomborg: Electric Cars Get Dumber by the Day

Published April 5, 2013

Writing in the Wall Street Journal on March 11, Bjorn Lomborg, author of The Skeptical Environmentalist, documented that electric automobiles are not the least bit environmentally friendly. Lomborg may allow environmental activists to pull the wool over his eyes regarding assertions of a global warming crisis, but his understanding of the electric car swindle is spot on.

Failed ‘Green’ Promises
President Barack Obama champions electric automobiles as the transportation technology of the future, but the facts tell a different story, as Lomborg shows. Obama predicts there will be one million electric vehicles on the road by 2015, yet private citizens bought less than 50,000 of them in 2012 despite a $7,500 purchasing subsidy per vehicle.
Moving beyond the economics, Lomborg conducted some excellent research and determined electric automobiles fail to live up to their “green” promises and in fact cause more environmental harm than good. Lomborg would be among the last people to fudge such environmental facts, as he is still an environmental activist who believes humans are causing a global warming crisis. He infuriates the activist left by proposing free-market solutions to these fictitious environmental problems.

According to the Journal of Industrial Ecology, the manufacturing process for electric automobiles produces 30,000 pounds of carbon emissions versus only 14,000 pounds of such emissions for conventional automobiles, Lomborg reports. The primary reason for this is the production of lithium batteries, which are both resource- and energy-intensive. Despite decades of government-subsidized efforts to produce better lithium ion batteries, there has been little progress in this field.
It is true that electric vehicles such as the Nissan Leaf emit no carbon or pollutants into the air while being driven on the roads, but there is much more to carbon emissions and pollution than the actual driving process. The Nissan Leaf, for example, requires an electric recharge every 75 miles (actually closer to 55 miles after the batteries have been used for 50,000 miles), and the electricity generation necessary to recharge the Leaf’s battery creates carbon emissions and air pollution of its own.

As Lomborg notes, by the time we have driven an electric car 90,000 miles, we have emitted more carbon than from conventional petroleum-powered cars.
Just Six Miles Per Hour
My favorite fact that Lomborg uncovered was an attempt by the British Broadcasting Corporation to test-drive an electric car on a long-distance trip. After factoring in the time necessary to recharge the car’s electric battery every 75 miles, the driver achieved an average speed of just six miles per hour for the journey. Putting this in perspective, Lomborg notes this is about the speed of the average jogger. (Lomborg apparently has never jogged with my wife, who is much faster than that.)

As reported in the April issue of Environment & Climate News, New York Times columnist John Broder underwent a similarly dreadful experience test-driving a new Tesla electric sedan. Attempting to drive the Tesla from Washington DC to Boston, the electric sedan delivered far fewer miles per charge than advertised, required constant recharging, and eventually left Broder stranded by the side of the road.

All of this could be considered amusing stupidity provided at the expense of electric automobile manufacturers were it not for the fact the U.S. government is forcing taxpayers to fund these electric automobile follies. There would be no electric automobiles on the roads, now or in the foreseeable future, were it not for the $5.5 billion dollars of your money that the federal government has invested in this amazing boondoggle. Given the poor performance of electric vehicles, it is unlikely there will be many electric vehicles on the road in the foreseeable future even with billions of government dollars propping up the electric vehicle market. The lack of electric vehicles on the roads is a good thing given their poor environmental performance.

President Obama, despite our tremendous budget deficit, would like to ramp up the amount of taxpayer dollars spent on electric vehicles even more. Lomborg shows this would be economically foolish and environmentally counterproductive.

Jay Lehr, Ph.D. ([email protected]) is science director of The Heartland Institute.