Today I read "Electric Vehicles Are Not Necessarily Clean" by Scientific America reprinted as "Why Charging An Electric Car At Night Is Worse For The Environment" on PBS. And it was a bit upsetting to see this type of sensationalism in headlines from two sources for which I have a great deal respect.
During any major technological shift there is bound to be confusion, doubt, fear. Often, these are well founded, but sometimes they are not. Taking a step forward is always risky, and sometimes the doubts we have are only understood decades later. Take this note for example:
"A new source of power... called gasoline has been produced by a Boston engineer. Instead of burning the fuel under a boiler, it is exploded inside the cylinder of an engine.
The dangers are obvious. Stores of gasoline in the hands of people interested primarily in profit would constitute a fire and explosive hazard of the first rank. Horseless carriages propelled by gasoline might attain speeds of 14 or even 20 miles per hour. The menace to our people of vehicles of this type hurtling through our streets and along our roads and poisoning the atmosphere would call for prompt legislative action even if the military and economic implications were not so overwhelming... [T]he cost of producing [gasoline] is far beyond the financial capacity of private industry... In addition the development of this new power may displace the use of horses, which would wreck our agriculture."
- U. S. Congressional Record, 1875.
Today, this poisoning of our atmosphere can literally be seen from outside of our cities in the form of smog. See the image below from Lianyungang, China in 2013. According to the Ministry of Transportation of Ontario in 2014 there were 9,704,044 drivers licensed in the province. In the same year there were 64,202 drivers involved in collisions involving a fatality or personal injury. This is largely the result of speeds in excess of 20 miles per hour. But, the damage to the agricultural industry didn't really happen, one example being US average corn grain yields (bushels per acre) remained constant from around 1870 to 1940, at which point it yields dramatically increased.
So what's my point? I believe publishers have a responsibility to educate the public and not add to the confusion that already exists. Life cycle analysis by UCSUSA and UCLA shows that battery electric vehicles use less energy and emit less total greenhouse gases (measured in tons) than internal combustion engine vehicles. And in fact if you read the article from Scientific America, they aren't really saying anything negative about electric vehicles. The problem is, that today, people often only read headlines and not the whole story and their perceptions are warped by the misleading bits of information they consume. Of course, there are legitimate issues with EVs. But with EVs promising a brighter future, lets stick with the facts.