Electric Cars and the Climate

February 16, 2023

An EV charging at a shopping center in California

Replacing all gasoline-powered cars with electric vehicles won’t be enough to prevent the world from overheating, says a new U. of California reportThe report offers a look at the environmental and economic sacrifices needed to meet net-zero climate goals,” writes The Wall Street Journal (Feb. 13, 2023).

The study notes three problems:

Problem No. 1: Electric-vehicle batteries require loads of minerals such as lithium, cobalt and nickel, which must be extracted from the ground like fossil fuels. If today’s demand for EVs is projected to 2050, the lithium requirements of the US EV market alone would require triple the amount of lithium currently produced for the entire global market. Unlike fossil fuels, these minerals are mostly found in undeveloped areas that have abundant natural fauna and are often inhabited by indigenous people. Mining can be done safely, but in poor countries it often isn’t.

Problem No. 2: Mining requires huge amounts of energy and water, and the process of refining minerals requires even more. Mining accounts for 4% to 7% of global greenhouse-gas emissions. Auto makers have made a priority of manufacturing electric pick-up trucks and SUVs because drivers like them, but they require much bigger batteries and more minerals. More mining to make more EVs will increase CO2 emissions. It will also destroy tropical forests and deserts that currently suck CO2 out of the atmosphere, the report says.

Problem No. 3: Producing EVs is an energy- and emissions-intensive process with high levels of embodied carbon. Electrification of the US transportation system will massively increase the demand for electricity while the transition to a decarbonized electricity grid is still underway.

The report concludes that the auto sector’s “current dominant strategy,” which involves replacing gasoline-powered vehicles with EVs without decreasing car ownership and use, “is likely incompatible” with climate activists’ goal to keep the planet from warming by more than 1.5 degrees Celsius compared with preindustrial times. Instead, the report recommends government policies that promote walking, cycling and mass transit.

This post provided courtesy of Jay and Barry’s OM Blog at www.heizerrenderom.wordpress.comProfessors Jay Heizer and Barry Render are authors of Operations Management , the world’s top selling textbook in its field, published by Pearson.

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