To prevent the devastating climate change forecast in the next century we must make transport greener.  In the last decade we’ve seen more and more electric cars on the road, yet are these cars all equally green? And is electric always better?

It’s true that in the United States, an electric car produces less than half the CO2 of it’s conventional counterpart.  But not all electric cars are equally green. Nor are electric cars always better than a petrol powered alternative. 

While electric cars are marketed on the notion of having ‘zero emissions’ the reality is they often carry a heavy carbon toll.  In fact, the Tesla Model S, in its lifecycle, produces 61,115kg of carbon dioxide. While this is far better than a similarly sized petrol alternative, like the BMW 7 Series (producing 103,851kg over its lifetime) it is worse than the smaller Mitsubishi Mirage.  Electric is not always better, and it certainly is not ‘zero emissions’.

In the EU and the US the regulatory environment recognises all electric vehicles as ‘zero emission’. The drive toward electric vehicles, while disregarding the production emissions of these vehicles, neglects disparity between them and the vast environmental impact of their production.  Some manufacturers are trying to address this. BMW’s i3, the greenest car available in terms of lifecycle emissions, is made from carbon fibre produced using hydroelectric power.  It is assembled at a plant powered by wind and fitted with seats made from recycled bottles. The dye is made from olive leaves and the door panels are made from sustainably sourced plants. Even the keys are made from kastor beans. And while this has produced the most green electric car on the market, all the emission savings pale in comparison to those produced by the battery. 

Electric cars rely on massive lithium batters. By 2025 it’s expected these will double in capacity from 20 to 40 kilowatt hours. Good for range, but bad for the environment. They depend on two rare elements, Cobalt and Lithium, that must be mined more and more to keep up with demand. 60% of Cobalt comes from the DRC where mines have contributed to land degradation, deforestation and pollution.

As governments rightly drive manufacturers toward a greener future, consumers are left to compare which ‘zero emission’ car is closest to the claim.

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