Former Electric Vehicle Enthusiast Says EVs Are Among the Dirtiest Forms of Transportation Ever


Even assuming 2030 technology, damage from electric cars would still exceed the damage from conventional fueling options, says Zehner

Even assuming 2030 technology, damage from electric cars would still exceed the damage from conventional fueling options, says Zehner

These aren’t our words, but rather the opinion of the author of a report titled “Unclean at Any Speed.

Electric cars don't solve the automobile's environmental problems, says Zehner

Electric cars don’t solve the automobile’s environmental problems, says Zehner

The author, Ozzie Zehner, claims to have previously been an electric vehicle enthusiast, but is no longer.  Zehner was working for GM when it discontinued the EV1.

Zehner is a visiting scholar at the University of CaliforniaBerkeley and the author of Green Illusions.

Zehner isn’t kind when it comes to electric vehicles, so if you can’t stomach some constant negativity, then please look away.

Electric cars lead to hidden environmental and health damages and are likely more harmful than gasoline cars and other transportation options, according to the report by Zehner.

The report further suggests that the recent billions spent on subsidies for Tesla, Nissan and other makers of electric vehicles may actually be doing more harm than good after considering full electric vehicle lifecycles.  Zehner recommends shifting these subsidies toward more robust options backed by research, including emissions testing, bicycle infrastructure, smog reduction initiatives, and land-use changes.

Again, this is certainly not our stance on that matter and Zehner is what we’d call a flip-flopper, but the EPA did recently support some of his statements, so maybe there’s a hint of truth somewhere in here.

As Zehner says:

“Most electric-car assessments analyze only the charging of the car. This is an important factor indeed. But a more rigorous analysis would consider the environmental impacts over the vehicle’s entire life cycle, from its construction through its operation and on to its eventual retirement at the junkyard.”

Zehner closes his report with this statement:

“Upon closer consideration, moving from petroleum-fueled vehicles to electric cars begins to look more and more like shifting from one brand of cigarettes to another. We wouldn’t expect doctors to endorse such a thing. Should environmentally minded people really revere electric cars? Perhaps we should look beyond the shiny gadgets now being offered and revisit some less sexy but potent options—smog reduction, bike lanes, energy taxes, and land-use changes to start. Let’s not be seduced by high-tech illusions.”

Are electric vehicles high-tech illusions?  Certainly not.  Sure, the subsidies could be directed elsewhere, but that’s not by our choice.

Electric vehicles are here and they’re subsidize for now, but at least they’ve arrived.  Now let’s get the rest of the clean up work accomplished.

Zehner’s full report can be read by following the link below.

Source: IEEE Spectrum

Category: General

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21 responses to "Former Electric Vehicle Enthusiast Says EVs Are Among the Dirtiest Forms of Transportation Ever"
  1. The best response I’ve seen to this was from Sherry Boschert, one of the founders of Plug in America. Here’s what she said:

    “Correction: This is not a “report.” It’s an opinion piece. He did no original research to report on. He read widely and cherry-picked his references to others’ research and opinions to form an opinion that he pitches in this article.

    Here are some of the most obvious problems that I see with his article:

    1) He claims that “it’s very difficult to find researchers who are looking at the environmental merits of electric cars with a disinterested eye.” Not really. He conveniently ignores research by Argonne National Laboratory and the Natural Resources Defense Council and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and the Rocky Mountain Institute, among others. Why not talk to our public scientists about this?

    2) His first two examples of studies that he says are critical of EVs give very short-term scenarios that would not be expected to make a huge difference. Richard Pike of the Royal Society of Chemistry says EVs would reduce UK carbon dioxide by just 2% given current electricity sources. The U.S. Congressional Budget Office says EV subsidies will provide little or no decrease in total gas use and greenhouse gas emissions over the next several years. Well, duh. Cleaning up the power grid amplifies the benefits of EVs but takes time, as does penetration of EVs in the marketplace.

    3) He says, “The experts writing about them [EVs] all seem to be unquestioning car enthusiasts.” Not. See #1.

    4) He tries at one point to make renewable power sound dirtier than fossil-fuel power. Taking that preposterous statement at face value, is he proposing that we don’t move away from fossil fuels to renewable power? Or that we use no power at all? Absurd.

    5) One of the main studies he cites to make his argument is the National Academies study “Hidden Costs of Energy.” But he omits a key sentence in that study’s summary of its transportation section, where it says, “However, further legislative and economic initiatives to reduce emissions from the electricity grid could be expected to improve the relative damages from EVs substantially.” Notice that it doesn’t say technical initiative, it says legislative and economic initiatives. Translation: If our politicians act, EVs will be even cleaner.

    6) Another key study he cites is the Norwegian study, but this too uses a short-range scenario, and he ignores the fact that they mainly looked at greenhouse gas emissions, and declared EVs beneficial. From the abstract: On the present European electricity mix, EVs result in a 10%-24% decrease in global warming potential with a car lifetime of 150,000 km (even better if the car is in use longer).

    So, the studies he uses to support his argument can just as easily be used to argue against his point of view. The problem is, few people will take the time to read the original studies and form their own opinions.”

    1. Assaf says:

      Hear hear. D. Anair who lead-authored the Union of Concerned Scientist EV “State of the Charge” report, also wrote a talk-back comment right below Zehner’s article, a comment that is currently the most recommended one.

      He debunk’s Zehner’s claim that all assessments suffer from vested interests. The UCS, for sure, gets no money from auto industries (or any industries for that matter), and has the overall environmental footprint in mind rather than any sort of EV fetish.

      Thanks for pointing out that Zehner’s text is an op-ed rather than a “report”. As Martin T below me suggests, this is either a mid-life crisis, or someone making his virgin flight in shilling for the oil industry, right now flying stealth in order to confuse the opposition.

      The telltale sign is indeed the over-the-top narrative about vested interests in EV evaluation, while neglecting to see *any* sort of vested interests in “research” that comes from the oil lobby. In fact, as far as I remember the Norwegian study was at least partially funded by Norway’s oil industry.

      Similarly, lumping together the demand for “complete life-cycle analysis” of EVs, with the similarly dubious claims about solar-cell life-cycle, that have already been debunked but are still circulating online by global-warming deniers. Yet at the same time, not a single byte about the life-cycle footprint of gasoline, from regime change and perennial wars at the source countries through refineries, pipelines and the like.

      And of course, reframing the maintream narrative as if it is the EVs who enjoy the incumbency advantage and gas cars who are viewed negatively by the common media. Yeah, right.

      In short: after getting this article to pollute the debate for a while, we will learn sooner or later what Zehner’s motives are. Probably too late to undo the damage.

    2. Bonaire says:

      I think he should consider looking away from the dirty EV idea and look at the very dirty bicycle. In China, the economy is fostering a million new drivers a year. They are replacing bicycle riding for commuters with a desire for car driving. He should consider the “big noise” coming from overseas rather than this blather he’s spewing.

    3. ryan says:

      I read the Norwegian study and it appears pretty complete. I don’t know if all of there numbers are valid/reasonable. However, all the LCA studies seem to skip over improvement of the grid and secondary use of batteries. I guess we don’t really know how many will be used for grid storage, etc, but I would have to image that it will have some impact.

      1. ryan says:

        …their (not there) numbers… …imagine (not image) that …
        needs an edit feature.

      2. Dan5 says:

        Actually, the Norwegian study is very, very bad. That’s the danger of LCAs and how (unethical) people can use them to further a cause. They made up a fictitious EV when there were legitimate EVs available, they grossly overestimated the copper usage (copper mining is not very environmentally friendly), and they used 94,000 miles (150,000 km) as the cut off (when they cited the literature it said 150,000 km to 300,000 km).

        I would suggest that you read this to see the many issues with the Norwegian study.

  2. Martin T says:

    Odd report, if you consider say charging the EV from solar during the day – or using “waste” off peak night time electricity?

    Then the environmental impact of manufacturing batteries / motor windings over the life of the vehicle diminishes.

    I think the author has rubbery figures – ie too harsh on electricity – not realising the amount of electricity used to extract / manufacture and distribute gasoline ?

    If he’d done the total analysis properly on gasoline so intently – he would find that graph would jump through the roof – never mind the military costs and lives lost defending it (keeping it cheap) What IS the real total cost …….? mmm
    Zehners figures are now BS from that respect.

    Payed by the oil companies or a mid life crisis for the author?
    Sad really for him not to do a proper job of it.

    1. kdawg says:

      He’s definitely bitter about something. It seems GM has the ability to make people bitter when they get screwed over by them somehow. Would be interesting to find out the true story behind Ozzie Zehner. I feel somewhat sad that he is a fellow Kettering Alum.

      This section from his book is flawed:
      “And that’s because alternative energy technologies rely on fossil fuels through every stage of their life. They rely on fossil fuels for raw material extraction, for fabrication, for insulation and maintenance, and for decommissioning and disposal.

      Aside from the physical lifespan, they also rely on fossil fuels for their financing. They rely on an economy whose growth is driven by fossil fuels. The kind of financing that you need for renewables requires that. You need concurrent fossil fuel plants running alongside solar cells and wind turbines at all times.”

      Ozzie doesn’t consider the fact that fossil fuels (everything about them) can also rely on electricity and possibly from renewable sources. And why does alternative energies need to keep using fossil fuels? What happens when they don’t? Same scenario regarding the energy economy.

      IMO, he has realized that controversy sells books, so sell the controversy.

      1. kdawg says:

        Also this comment is so hypocritical:

        “London’s mayor, Boris Johnson, vibrated to the press over his born-again electric conversion after driving a Tesla Roadster”

        So Ozzie pokes fun at the mayor calling him “born-again”, but in the opening of his book, says this:

        “I was once an electric car enthusiast. I even built one!”

        Then Ozzie “vibrates” out an anti EV book. So who’s the born-again person?

      2. Anderlan says:

        “Fossil fuels came first, they will have bootstrapped the renewable economy, therefore they will always be dependent on fossil fuels, therefore do not ever bother bootstrapping renewables or leaving fossils.”

        Blithering idiocy.

  3. kdawg says:

    Some info about Ozzie.

    He’s 37 years old. He grew up in Kalamazoo and earned a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Flint’s Kettering University. While at Kettering, Zehner spent time working at General Motors through the university’s co-op program. After graduating in 1997, he worked for a company in Germany before earning post-graduate degrees in science and technology studies at the University of Amsterdam.

    So he never really worked at GM full-time. IIRC GM basically canned most of their Kettering co-ops in 1997. Very few got hired into the company, and only some as contractors.

    1. Bonaire says:

      Hack job by a hack “professor”.

      Nothing is perfect and if people really want to “save the planet”, then they need to have zero children. That will happen naturally as cheap resources run-down.

      Let’s see how many cars are bought and used by the offspring of families like The Duggars (19-and-counting tv family).

      If an EV can run for 300K miles due to lack of engine breakdown – or a cheaply-made ICE car runs for 150K then goes to the junk-yard, one EV could actually be driven for more miles and perhaps replace a 2nd car waiting in line. Quite green indeed.

      1. Jeff Durham says:

        Consider also the possibility of, after 300k, you swap out the old battery for a new one and drive your EV another 300k. You also recycle the old battery or repurpose it for a new job, also helping the environment.

  4. zilm says:

    Blah blah blah!

  5. Mark H says:

    Take time to read the links in this article. The number that his opinion piece is searching for is 15%. It is broken over three areas 1) mining of raw materials 2) manufacturing 3) disposal.
    It still does not make the EV dirtier. Nice try big oil….

  6. Paul says:

    “bicycle infrastructure” lol this guy suggests we all ride pushbikes..

    He’s obviously a fringe loon and not worth the time to read his ranting!

    1. David Stone says:

      What’s wrong with bike infrastructure and where does he suggest pushbikes?

      The bicycle is the most efficient form of human powered transportation and effective way of combining healthy excercise with a useful outcome.

      I love driving, but do so as little as possible to avoid pollution and stay healthy.
      The only thing that would make me bike less would be an affordable ev.

  7. Aaron says:

    We already have emissions testing. What more does he want us to test? Bicycle infrastructure? Sure, when you get us fat Americans to put down the triple-cheeseburger long enough to ride a bike, let me know. Smog reduction initiatives? They’re in place now, courtesy of Obama. Land-use changes? Oh, that won’t cost anything or cause any pollution.

    This guy is a hack, short and sweet.

  8. vdiv says:

    Smear after smear after smear. Words don’t matter if no one is reading them.

    There is a more practical approach. Gather the nay-sayers and lock them in a garage with an EV “running” for a few hours. Then if they haven’t changed their mind, lock them in the same garage with an ICE car running.

    Problem solved.

  9. Suprise Cat says:

    Typical green terrorist, who just defines imaginary reasons to complete ban any individual transportation and create a dictatorship of bans and state controlled lifes.

  10. BrainKnot says:

    Let;s make a simple experiment in an enclosed garage.

    1. A regular car
    2. An electrical vehicle.

    Run until tank / battery is empty.

    Which friver will survive?

    I’d rather live in a city with EV’s spewing, what – nothing? Than in any city with gas cars making the air we breathe dirtier.

    So how many people a year die from breathing the pollutants of driving EV cars vs.gas cars?