Electric cars are still cars

Cars cause a whole bunch of problems but some people seem to have the idea that switching to electric cars solves those problems.

But it doesn’t. Electric cars are still cars and still cause a whole slew of problems. Or at least that’s the message from a recent post from StreetsBlog that explores the exaggerated benefits of electric cars:

Once you take into account the full life cycle of the vehicles and environmental costs in addition to carbon emissions, electric cars look a lot less green. Zehner refers to a life cycle analysis by the National Academies that considered the full environment costs of electric cars, including the manufacture and disposal of their batteries, which found no benefit compared to conventional cars.

The post goes on to point out that tax credits for electric cars are regressive because they go to the rich, such as Volt drivers who earn an average $170,000 a year.

The post also points out that focus on electric cars can distract from other strategies:

[…] comparing electric cars to gasoline-powered cars gives short shrift to other strategies to reduce the environmental impact of transportation and land use, like transit and walkable communities, which provide additional social benefits[…]

I think that’s the key; electric cars may or may not be better than traditional cars, but they’re certainly inferior to simply designing cities that require less driving generally.

And that’s just looking at the environmental issues. There are also a lot of other quality of life factors to consider. Electric cars and gas-powered cars both require parking lots, for example, which have numerous negative impacts on both the environment and things like walkability. A speeding electric car can still kill a cyclist or pedestrian, just like a gas car. And an electric car still requires massive, inefficient public investment in things like freeways.

And of course, cars have have produced some of the ugliest built environments in the world — things like strip malls and huge garage door/driveway housing. Electric cars will likely not change any of that.

In other words, electric cars may be a baby step in the right direction but ultimately we’re going to need much more substantial solutions. Until that happens, we might need to temper our expectations for environmental, livability and aesthetic improvement.

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