Leaf Charging under Solar Panels

Answer anti- electric car articles with truth and pride – truth outshines all distortions

Another anti-electric-vehicle article has made it into the mainstream press, so it’s time for everyone to freak out and think the sky is falling.  I’m talking about an opinion piece in USA Today, Electric car benefits? Just myths, by well-known distorter of facts Bjørn Lomborg.  He has the ability to string together what looks like well reasoned fact filled arguments with citations at the bottom of the page and everything, but the stuff he presents is highly distorted.  According to ThinkProgress, Lomborg rakes in dough from the Koch network for his efforts.  There is even a whole website devoted to exposing Lomborg’s Errors.

He should be proud the people behind that site have devoted so much energy to his work 😉

Those were what I found with a quick yahoogle search on his name.  I don’t want to focus on the topic of saying someone else is bad or wrong or anything.  It doesn’t serve any of us to focus on such a negative attitude.  What I prefer is to focus on truth, the truths about electric vehicles we should all be proud of.

Unfortunately there are lots of people who share some of the opinions he wrote in that Op-Ed piece.  That makes it necessary to address those ideas with truth – because the truth about electric cars is being distorted out of recognition.

As a result, I’ve been spending quite a bit of time the last few weeks working on a set of articles that are meant to be an “EV Buyers Guide”.  It seems important to me to focus on addressing the kind of ideas Lomborg wrote in his article, so of course those articles I’ve written already answer a lot of what he said.

Electric cars cost a fortune” …  It is true that the MSRP of today’s electric cars are quite a bit higher than the MSRP of equivalent gasoline cars.  But MSRP isn’t the right comparison to make.  Total Cost of Ownership is, and on that measure electric cars make a lot of financial sense.  Fuel cost savings, maintenance savings, tax credits, and time savings are the main ways that electric car ownership pays for itself.

Electric car global warming benefits are small” … It is true that quite a lot of electricity comes from coal-fired power plants.  What’s also true is that electric cars, on the U.S. electricity grid, are cleaner than equivalent gas cars even when the electricity comes from burning coal.


Generally speaking, electricity is as clean as the electricity source.  In China or India where electricity predominantly comes from extra-dirty coal power plants, electric cars are indeed dirtier than equivalent gasoline cars.  But other forms of electricity production are lots cleaner.  Follow the link above and you’ll see a chart showing just how much cleaner solar or wind power is than even natural gas.  In the U.S. electricity system, the states that predominantly get electricity from natural gas or hydro are lots cleaner than coal-fired states, and the electric cars in those states are lots cleaner than gassers.

It’s quite possible for a typical home-owner to put enough solar panels on their roof to generate enough electricity to power both their home and their electric cars.  Can’t do that with gasoline powered cars.  Even if you grew Corn to make Ethanol, it would take 2.75 acres of ground to produce enough Ethanol for the typical gasoline powered car, and you’d also need processing equipment and storage tanks to hold the fuel.  If the entire US vehicle fleet were to run on ethanol, it would take 370 million acres just for the corn fields.

Electric cars shift emissions to electricity production plants” … This idea ignores the long tail pipe of gasoline production.  It’s fine and proper to complain about dirty electricity production methods.  But that also means you must complain about dirty toxic methods to produce gasoline, that consume huge amounts of resources.

The EPA labels on electric and gasoline cars measure emissions at the tailpipe for a reason.  Doing so greatly simplifies the debate.  EPA labels say electric cars emit 0 grams of CO2 or anything else, while gasoline cars emit quite a bit more than that.  This leaves the door open to the criticism about coal fired electricity, sure.  But the reality that gasoline production is highly toxic deserves lots of attention.

Those are the main three points in Lomborg’s Op-Ed piece.  The rest of it simply rehashes one of those points.  For example he talks about the number of people “killed” by air pollution, saying that electric cars will kill more than gasoline cars.  But as we just discussed, he’s using flawed reasoning in determining which kind of car is dirtier than the other.


About David Herron

David Herron is a writer and software engineer living in Silicon Valley. He primarily writes about electric vehicles, clean energy systems, climate change, peak oil and related issues. When not writing he indulges in software projects and is sometimes employed as a software engineer. David has written for sites like PlugInCars and TorqueNews, and worked for companies like Sun Microsystems and Yahoo.
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