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The planetary emergency we must avoid (spoiler alert: it’s not climate change)

The planetary emergency we must avoid (spoiler alert: it’s not climate change)

Rather than expanding our renewable electricity production and developing an EV fleet, a degrowth approach would be to initiate a massive energy conservation programme and investing in cities where we can live, work and play within 15 minutes’ walking or biking

Opinion: Purchasing an EV is something more people are doing to reduce the worst impacts of climate change. EVs are attractive and increasingly convenient.

But is this reaction to the climate crisis an example of the wrong solution to the wrong problem? Is climate change, as serious as it is, even the most important problem to address?

Climate change is certainly an existential threat and more needs to be done to mitigate its worst impacts. Yet even if we stopped emitting greenhouse gases today, we would still face a range of environmental existential threats.

Part of the problem is we haven’t defined the problem correctly. Rather than trying to deal with specific issues such as climate change, biodiversity loss, pollution and so on, there is an underlying cause that connects these threats. Understanding the cause could provide a new approach to dealing with many of these challenges.

First let’s step back and try to understand just what the threat is. As far as we know Earth is the only planet in the universe with complex living systems, with a biosphere covering its surface.

The biosphere is an intricately balanced network of living and non-living systems interacting with each other in a self-regulatory manner. This rare web of life provides for us physically, economically, aesthetically and spiritually.

…click on the above link to read the rest…

Rush to Mine Electric Vehicle Battery Elements Threatens People and Ecosystems

Much of the excitement over the Inflation Reduction Act, which became law this summer, focused on the boost it should give to the sales of electric vehicles. Sadly, though, manufacturing and driving tens of millions of individual electric passenger cars won’t get us far enough down the road to ending greenhouse-gas emissions and stanching the overheating of this planet. Worse yet, the coming global race to electrify the personal vehicle is likely to exacerbate ecological degradation, geopolitical tensions, and military conflict.

The batteries that power electric vehicles are likely to be the source of much international competition and the heart of the problem lies in two of the metallic elements used to make their electrodes: cobalt and lithium. Most deposits of those metals lie outside the borders of the United States and will leave manufacturers here (and elsewhere) relying heavily on foreign supplies to electrify road travel on the scale now being envisioned.

Adventurers and Opportunists

In the battery business, the Democratic Republic of Congo is referred to as “the Saudi Arabia of cobalt.” For two decades, its cobalt — 80% of the world’s known reserves — has been highly prized for its role in mobile-phone manufacturing. Such cobalt mining has already taken a terrible human and ecological toll.

Now, the pressure to increase Congo’s cobalt output is intensifying on a staggering scale. Whereas a phone contains just thousandths of a gram of cobalt, an electric vehicle battery has pounds of the metal, and a quarter-billion such batteries will have to be manufactured to fully electrify the American passenger car fleet as it now exists.

…click on the above link to read the rest…

Op-Ed: Think bigger. Switching to electric cars isn’t enough

Op-Ed: Think bigger. Switching to electric cars isn’t enough

Aerial view of crowded parking lot
A Tesla charging station in Santa Monica.
(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

It might feel like the easy solution — just replace your gas-guzzling SUV with an electric SUV, and if everyone does that, eventually we’ll solve climate change. You can see why California regulators decided last month that by 2035, all new cars sold in the state must be electric. After all, car exhaust is the single biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions in California, so surely switching gas-powered cars to electric ones will make a huge dent in fighting climate change.

Except it doesn’t. For starters, electric cars still pollute. They don’t have tailpipe emissions, but the process of producing and transporting them creates pollution. According to the International Energy Agency, the average gas-powered car will create 41.9 tons of CO2 emissions from the point it’s manufactured until it’s retired, in contrast to 21.1 tons of CO2 from an EV. In other words, while the average EV will pollute about 50% less compared with a gas-powered car, it’s still highly polluting.

There’s also pollution, and other harms, that come before the manufacturing stage, especially in the intensifying global competition to procure rare earth materials (concentrated in China) for EV batteries. In the past, we have often been dependent on the Middle East for oil. Do we want to create a future in which we’re again dependent on countries that may not be aligned with our values for required materials for our transportation system?

The second issue is power capacity. During the first week in September, California faced a historic heat wave, and alerts were issued asking EV owners to not charge their vehicles during peak times. And this is at a time when only 1.9% of cars operating in California are EVs….

…click on the above link to read the rest…

Are Electric Cars the Solution?

Are Electric Cars the Solution?

Or do visions of ‘clean’ robots supplying mobile freedom steer us down the wrong road?

Fifty years ago, the French political ecologist André Gorz explained that cars masquerade as solutions to the very problems they create. “Since cars have killed the city, we need faster cars to escape on superhighways to suburbs that are even farther away. What an impeccable circular argument: give us more cars so that we can escape the destruction caused by cars.”

Today, cars powered by electricity rather than petroleum have become the promised solution to climate change.

According to Bloomberg, about half of the world’s transportation vehicle sales by 2035 will be electric. Many now assume this switchover is already ushering in a “green transition” to a better world. “Electric vehicles are not just the wave of the future, they are saving lives today,” gushes one environmentally-focused non-profit.

Now, for the record, I own a 22-year-old Toyota 4Runner designed after a Japanese military jeep. My car-savvy wife purchased the vehicle for $3,000 nearly eight years ago. I have never been fond of cars or their associated expenses, but I do appreciate a machine that can last more than 400,000 kilometres. Yet, as my books attest, I am no fan of internal combustion engines, or ICEs, let alone petro states.

However, neither am I an enthusiast for wishful thinking. People who regard the electric car as a significant solution for climate change don’t seem to understand the incredible scale of the problem. Nor do they see that the electric car “solution” accelerates other problematic trends in our technological society.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Used Car Battery Problems Take Shine Off China’s ‘Green’ New Energy Vehicles

Used Car Battery Problems Take Shine Off China’s ‘Green’ New Energy Vehicles

In the last decade, China has rapidly expanded its “green” new energy vehicle (NEV) industry but recycling and disposing of hundreds of thousands of tons of used car batteries has become a pressing issue due to environmental concerns.

Growth in China’s NEV industry took off in 2014 when nearly 78,500 NEVs were produced and some 75,000 were sold. As of September of this year, China’s NEV registration reached 6.78 million, of which 5.52 million are fully electric vehicles.

The NEV industry predicts that its production and sales growth rate will remain above 40 percent in the next five years prompting the question of how to best manage the growing numbers of discarded lithium batteries from the NEVs.

Industry data shows that the service life of lithium batteries used in electric vehicles is generally 5 to 8 years, and the service life under warranty is 4 to 6 years. That means, tens of thousands of electric car batteries will soon need to be discarded or recycled, and millions more down the road.

According to the latest data from China Automotive Technology and Research Center, the cumulative decommissioning of China’s electric car batteries reached 200,000 tons in 2020 and the figure is estimated to climb to 780,000 tons by 2025.

Presently, most end-of-life batteries are traded in the unregulated black market, raising serious environmental concerns. If such batteries are not handled properly, they could cause soil, air, and water pollution.

“A 20-gram cell phone battery can pollute a water body equivalent to three standard swimming pools. If it is buried in the ground, it can pollute 1 square kilometer (247 acres) of land for about 50 years,” Wu Feng, a professor at Beijing Institute of Technology, once publicly stated.

Electric car batteries are many times larger than cell phone batteries.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Deconstructing Electric Vehicles on the eve of Glasgow COP26

Deconstructing Electric Vehicles on the eve of Glasgow COP26

A lead human-interest story in the weekend Wheels section of a major Canadian newspaper is about a 2-car family’s transitioning from a hybrid to an EV as they “try to be more sustainable”. They upgrade their daily car every few years to seek “improvements in fuel efficiency, reliability and technology”. Electric vehicles (EVs) are feted by the automobile and ecojustice sectors as part of the “just transition” to a future “carbon-neutral”, happy, dignified quality of life. Another news item from the Wheels section was about the costs of home EV battery chargers costing about $2000; the chargers are plugged into electric outlets (electricity commonly supplied from fossil fuels or nuclear reactors), while the costs will be “quickly re-couped in government rebates” as public transportation subsidies continue their decline. So much for the climate emergency and for human justice, for morality and taking responsibility for mounting climate-caused human deaths and mass migration. Nothing in the newspaper about the indignation of ordinary, common people worldwide, especially among the young.

Since the 1988 Congressional definitive testimony of James Hansen and other climate scientists, there is no discourse about “Stop”: elimination of fossil fuel emissions quickly morphed into adaptation and mitigation which is now replaced by “transition”. EVs is a representative example of focusing on one small part, conveniently deleting the whole. The whole EV picture must include externalities, life cycle analysis, consideration of non-essential production, impacts of its production on basic human needs, the urgent timeline due to non-linear climate processes, regional climate and sociopolitical processes and who EVs actually serve, EV’s effects on carbon sinks, pertinent facts about human and climate history, loss and damage obligations and debt to people totally impacted and totally innocent regarding the climate emergency, alternatives, elucidating who is served in a “just transition”.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

“Greening” Our Commutes

“Greening” Our Commutes

Is the revolution here? The cover of the October 2021 issue of National Geographic says it is. I agree, though we’re not talking about the same revolution. And what if that difference can make all the difference?

The magazine cover refers to two feature articles on “electric cars, hydrogen-powered planes, and the dream of a cleaner commute.” (emphasis added) Both articles are compelling, and worth reading, but I want to focus on the first: “The Big Bet on Clean Cars,” by Craig Welch.

In his article, Welch describes the massive transition underway from conventional petroleum-powered vehicles to all-electric and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (EVs). That transition is happening unevenly across the world. (The U.S., Europe, and China are leading the charge, so to speak, but there are interesting initiatives in other countries, as well.)

The transition is also unfolding across the entire auto manufacturing industry—from obscure startups developing cars with ranges that will top 500 miles or be powered by the sun, to the big companies with sprawling car lots on the outskirts of your town. Ford, for example, is investing $30 billion in EVs between now and 2025. General Motors is investing $35 billion through 2025, including $2 billion to redesign a Tennessee factory so it can manufacture an electric Cadillac, and another $2.3 billion on a battery plant. And Volkswagen announced last November that it plans to invest $86 billion in the development of EVs and other new technologies over the next five years.

Manufacturers aren’t the only ones betting big on electric vehicles. The current administration believes the future is electric (boogie woogie woogie), and President Biden’s original infrastructure plan included $174 billion to encourage the sale and manufacture of EVs. Wall Street is bullish on EVs, too…

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

This isn’t going to work

This isn’t going to work

If an energy policy sounds too good to be true, that is usually because it is.  Take, for example, just one of the jigsaw pieces in current policy for reaching net zero by 2050: electric car batteries.  Jillian Ambrose – who should know better – at the Guardian reports this weekend that:

“Ofgem plans to make it easier for electric vehicle drivers to sell the energy stored in their car batteries back to power grid as part of a move to help make the switch away from fossil fuel cars more affordable.

“Under the plan put forward by Great Britain’s energy regulator, electric vehicle drivers could earn money by effectively transforming their cars into mobile power plants by releasing power back to the energy network when demand on the electricity grid reaches a peak.

“If enough drivers take up the chance to make money from their car batteries by using vehicle-to-grid technology, the UK could avoid investing in new power plants with the equivalent generation capacity of up to 10 large nuclear power stations.”

This is wishful thinking on steroids.  While it is true that if all of the UK’s 37 million cars were replaced with battery electric cars, and assuming that all were fitted with a mid-range – 98KW -battery, they could provide 3,100GW of power to the grid – just shy of the 3,200GW from 10 nuclear plants – they could only do it for about an hour.  A battery is not a source of power, it is merely a storage medium.  For comparison, a recent report the Manhattan Institute finds that:

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Crisis hiding in plain sight

Crisis hiding in plain sight

Putting a positive gloss on the news is especially important as we attempt to recover from a pandemic.  And if that positive gloss is green in colour, so much the better. And so yesterday we were treated to the news that:

“More electric vehicles were registered than diesel cars for the second month in a row in July, according to car industry figures.  It is the third time battery electric vehicles have overtaken diesel in the past two years.”

That is surely great news.  But as is usually the case in matters green, we are starting from a very low position.  Much more will have to be done to raise the number of battery-only EVs from the current nine percent of registrations in 2021 to the planned 100 percent by 2035.  Moreover, the current nine percent is a share of a dramatically depressed new car market… which is the real headline news in this story.

Nobody is actively covering this up; but they are playing it down.  According to the BBC piece which celebrates the rise in EV sales:

“However, new car registrations fell by almost a third…”

Insofar as the wellbeing or otherwise of the car industry has been a measure of the health of the wider economy throughout the oil age, a 29.5 percent collapse in new car sales ought to have been given far more prominence.  This is particularly true insofar as this year’s decline comes on the back of the massive lockdown-decline in 2020:

Instead we are treated to several implausible explanations for why this is nothing to worry about.  First, we are told, the decline is the result of people no longer wanting to buy diesel cars.  Certainly, there has been a collapse in demand for diesels in the wake of the Volkswagen scandal and government increases in tax on diesel vehicles…

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The World Will Run Out Of EV Batteries By 2025

The World Will Run Out Of EV Batteries By 2025

In many ways, the world is not ready for the EV revolution. While electric vehicles are an absolutely invaluable and essential component of the clean energy revolution and combating climate change and imperative which grows more urgent with each passing second, the world has been unable (or, in some cases, unwilling) to keep up with the necessary infrastructure installations and investments to prepare for the kind of wide-scale adoption which is both necessary and imminent.  For one thing, even in some of the most developed countries in the world, aging power grids are entirely unprepared to handle the onslaught of increased energy demand as more and more of the country leaves their gas guzzlers behind and plugin. This problem is far from insurmountable, and can indeed be all but completely solved by making our energy use and production more efficient, but it needs to be addressed in a big hurry in order to make the EV revolution viable.

And then there’s the issue of those pesky car batteries. While you can cut down your carbon footprint by a massive margin by switching over to an EV, you just can’t get away from using finite resources completely. EV batteries contain a litany of expensive and finite rare earth metals and minerals, most notably cobalt and lithium, which cause tricky negotiations with global supply chains and which are not without their negative environmental externalities thanks to sometimes messy mining operations.

The energy revolution’s dependence on rare earth metals, which is only set to intensify, has inadvertently put a huge amount of control into the hands of China, which controls around 90% of the market for some of these resources, and has shown that it is not afraid to use that power to sway international politics and diplomacy…

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Cramming cities full of electric vehicles means we’re still depending on cars — and that’s a huge problem

This week, the NSW government announced almost A$500 million towards boosting the uptake of electric vehicles. In its new electric vehicle strategy, the government will waive stamp duty for cars under $78,000, develop more charging infrastructure, offer rebates to 25,000 drivers, and more.

Given the transport sector is Australia’s second-largest polluter, it’s a good thing Australian governments are starting to plan for a transition to electric vehicles (EVs).

But transitioning from cities full of petrol-guzzling vehicles to cities full of electric ones won’t address all of the environmental and social problems associated with car dependence and mass manufacturing.

So, let’s look at these problems in more detail, and why public transport really is the best way forward.

EVs do have environmental advantages over conventional vehicles. In particular, they generate less carbon emissions during their lifetime. Of course, much of the emissions reductions will depend on how much electricity comes from renewable sources.

But carbon emissions are only one of the many problems associated with the dominance of private cars as a form of mobility in cities.

Let’s start with a few of the social issues. This includes the huge amount of space devoted to car driving and parking in our neighbourhoods. This can crowd out other forms of land use, including other more sustainable forms of mobility such as walking and cycling.

Men stand around a car

NSW Minister for Energy and Environment Matt Kean inspects an electric car following major budget announcements on electric vehicles. AAP Image/Joel Carrett

There are the financial and mental health costs of congestion, as well, with Australian city workers spending, on average, 66 minutes getting to and from work each day. Injuries and fatalities on roads are also increasing, and inactivity and isolation associated with driving can impact our physical health.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Electric cars: What will happen to all the dead batteries?

Electric cars: What will happen to all the dead batteries?

A worker with car batteries at a factory for Xinwangda Electric Vehicle Battery Co. Ltd, which makes lithium batteries for electric carsGETTY IMAGES
The world will have to work out what to do with millions of disused car batteries

“The rate at which we’re growing the industry is absolutely scary,” says Paul Anderson from University of Birmingham.

He’s talking about the market for electric cars in Europe.

By 2030, the EU hopes that there will be 30 million electric cars on European roads.

“It’s something that’s never really been done before at that rate of growth for a completely new product,” says Dr Anderson, who is also the co-director of the Birmingham Centre for Strategic Elements and Critical Materials.

While electric vehicles (EVs) may not emit any carbon dioxide during their working lives, he’s concerned about what happens when they run out of road – in particular what happens to the batteries.

“In 10 to 15 years when there are large numbers coming to the end of their life, it’s going to be very important that we have a recycling industry,” he points out.

While most EV components are much the same as those of conventional cars, the big difference is the battery. While traditional lead-acid batteries are widely recycled, the same can’t be said for the lithium-ion versions used in electric cars.

EV batteries are larger and heavier than those in regular cars and are made up of several hundred individual lithium-ion cells, all of which need dismantling. They contain hazardous materials, and have an inconvenient tendency to explode if disassembled incorrectly.

“Currently, globally, it’s very hard to get detailed figures for what percentage of lithium-ion batteries are recycled, but the value everyone quotes is about 5%,” says Dr Anderson. “In some parts of the world it’s considerably less.”

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Are EVs good for the environment? – Mostly Not!

Are EVs good for the environment? – Mostly Not!

EVs Still Charged By Electricity From Fossil Fuel

The idea Electric vehicles are less damaging to the environment has been broadly accepted by many people as fact. The notion EVs are good for the planet is a key factor for many of those deciding to buy an electric car. This debate has become rather political with a recent article in Barron’s pointing out that some of the research damning electric cars has been funded by Saudi oil interest. Part of the argument flowing out of this centers on the idea that policies incentivizing electric-car production will lead to the creation of more carbon emissions during coming years than if we were to instead encourage the use of efficient gasoline engines.

It is not surprising that people are going to try and shape conclusions and public opinion to serve their strategic interests. The direction society takes is a high-stakes game since the EU, Japan, Korea, and 110 other countries have pledged carbon neutrality by 2050. This is why countries such as China have extended $100 billion thus far in EV subsidies, the fact is China wants to make many of these vehicles. This is the main reason shares in Chinese EV manufacturers such as NIO and Xpeng have followed Tesla stock higher in recent months.

Adding to claims of agenda “propaganda” is the fact that a lengthy and detailed EV study by the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), published in the scientific journal “Nature Communications,” was paid for by oil giant Saudi Aramco, which counts China as its largest customer. This indicates how little transparency exists around private companies’ financial or other involvement in the U.S. Department of Energy’s research. Some analysts say that Aramco’s role in producing the research is a potential conflict of interest and that the relationship between Aramco and ORNL highlights a broader concern about how some companies fund scientific research only to directly support their business interests.  

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

2020 Will Be A Crucial Year For Oil

2020 Will Be A Crucial Year For Oil

Oil

It’s the start of a new year and a new decade, and the oil market is as unpredictable as ever.

Will OPEC+ extend its cuts? Will U.S. shale finally grind to a halt? Is this the “year of the electric vehicle”? Here are 10 stories to watch in 2020.

Shale debt, shale slowdown. The debt-fueled shale drilling boom is facing a reckoning. Around 200 North American oil and gas companies have declared bankruptcy since 2015, but the mountain of debt taken out a few years ago is finally coming due. Roughly $41 billion in debt matures in 2020, which ensures more bankruptcies will be announced this year. The wave of debt may also force the industry to slam on the breaks as companies scramble to come up with cash to pay off creditors.

Year of the EV. Some analysts say that 2020 will be the “year of the EV” because of the dozens of new EV models set to hit the market. In Europe, available EV models will rise from 100 to 175. The pace of sales slowed at the end of last year, but the entire global auto market contracted. EVs may struggle to keep the pace of growth going, but EVs are capturing a growing portion of a shrinking pie.

Climate change. 2020 starts off with hellish images from the out-of-control Australian bushfires. 2019 was one of the warmest years on record and the 2010s was the warmest decade on record. As temperatures rise and disasters multiply, pressure will continue to mount on the oil and gas industry. As Bloomberg Opinion points out, climate change has surged as a point of concern for publicly-listed companies. Oil executives are betting against climate action, but they are surely aware of the rising investment risk. In the past two months, the European Investment Bank is ending financing for oil, gas and coal, and Goldman Sachs cut out financing for coal and Arctic oil. More announcements like this are inevitable.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Visualizing How Much Oil Is In An Electric Vehicle?

Visualizing How Much Oil Is In An Electric Vehicle?

When most people think about oil and natural gas, the first thing that comes to mind is the gas in the tank of their car. But, as Visual Capitalist’s Nicholas LePan notes, there is actually much more to oil’s role, than meets the eye…

Oil, along with natural gas, has hundreds of different uses in a modern vehicle through petrochemicals.

Today’s infographic comes to us from American Fuel & Petrochemicals Manufacturers, and covers why oil is a critical material in making the EV revolution possible.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

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