BERKELEY, Calif., – Hybrid and electric cars are neither clean nor green according to a new environmental book, Green Illusions (June 2012, University of Nebraska Press), written by University of California – Berkeley visiting scholar Ozzie Zehner. Green Illusions exposes numerous hidden side effects of new hybrid and electric cars, such as the Tesla, Leaf, Fisker Karma, and Prius. The analysis considers mining impacts, toxins, energy use, suburban sprawl and carbon footprints of production. From an environmental perspective, Zehner argues that hybrids and electric cars are no better than gasoline vehicles, a conclusion backed by a National Academy of Sciences report.

“Shifting from gasoline to electric vehicles is like switching a smoking habit from cloves to menthols,” asserts Zehner. “It isn’t acceptable for doctors to promote menthol cigarettes — should environmentally minded people promote alternative fuel cars?”

In a California radio interview yesterday, Zehner pointed out that the higher cost of electric cars reflects the greater quantities of fossil fuels used to build them. He argued that electric cars do not eliminate the negative side effects of vehicular travel. They merely shift the problems elsewhere.

Most electric vehicle studies compare traditional gasoline fuel to electric car charging, which relies primarily on coal, natural gas and nuclear power. However, fueling activities represent only a portion of a car’s total environmental impact. Zehner points out that the larger impact comes from manufacturing the car. The added copper, aluminum, rare earth metals and other materials necessary for electric car production offset any benefit achieved during the entire charging lifecycle.

Even if mining companies clean up their operations and engineers increase battery storage capacity there is still a bigger problem looming on the horizon, argues Zehner. “Alternative-fuel vehicles stand to define and spread patterns of ‘sustainable living’ that cannot be easily sustained without cars. Suburban infrastructure maintenance and road construction induce ecological consequences beyond the side effects of the vehicle itself.”

Instead of subsidizing electric cars, Zehner advocates for lawmakers to support smarter urban design policies that focus on walking, bicycling and public transit. In a recent Grist article, Zehner points out that Congress is threatening to eliminate dedicated funds for bicycle infrastructure even in the face of a national bicycling boom – not to save money, but to direct more funding toward highway and road construction.

He remarks, “If the U.S. Congress is serious about cutting costs, it may eventually have to stand up to thirsty car-culture lobbies and back infrastructure that pays durable dividends.”


Source: PRNewswire / University of Nebraska Press

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