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A Sincere Accounting Of The Costs & Benefits Of Electric Vehicles, Part 1: What’s So Bad About EVs?

carbon negative road tripBrian Kent is a Nissan LEAF owner who is about to embark on a negative-carbon US road trip to all 48 contiguous states. (You can help fund the cause via that IndieGogo link.) He has written an excellent 4-part series for CleanTechnica and our sister sites EV Obsession and Gas2 on “going electric..” In this first piece, Brian discusses the initial sociopsychological hurdles that he faced just when considering whether or not to buy an electric car, ones that I think are far, far too common. Enjoy the article, and share it with friends!

By Brian Kent

I am an electric vehicle driver. I no longer drive ICE* cars unless I absolutely have to. Why would I have to?

This four-part series is intended to describe the efforts I took to change my transportation-related carbon strategy. Considerations that took some thought and some time, but what I’d describe as minimal effort. Life is certainly different now, but it sure isn’t worse. If you’re interested in giving electric vehicles a fair shot, please take the time to read through the steps I took to do it.

*ICE = internal combustion engine (e.g. gas, diesel, etc.)

nissan leaf electric car attractionsBefore I ever drove an electric vehicle, I drove a wide variety of gas cars and trucks. I have well over 300,000 miles of experience with ICE vehicles, and now 25,900 miles on an all-electric (a 2013 Nissan Leaf S). I think that’s enough laps around the block to form an objective opinion on both.

I’m sorry if this ruffles any feathers; I’m not at all suggesting you shouldn’t continue to love your gas car. Far from it. My father’s 1949 Dodge Wayfarer coupe and my brother’s wholly-rebuilt 1971 Chevelle SS with its 555-cubic-inch big block are both personal favorites of mine (even though they don’t typically ‘force’ me to drive them…). My dad also has a ’41 John Deere B he uses to plow and disc the garden and haul trailers full of wood [note: it’s a tractor]. Gas still does have its uses.

In short, I come from a family of auto enthusiasts, and I’m one myself. But mine is also a family of realists—if not conservationists—and if push came to shove, there’s no question where my loyalties would take me. I’m glad companies like Nissan and Tesla, in particular, are paving the way to ensure we don’t have to make that choice. And even now, we don’t. Not usually.

Sometimes, it’s still better to have a gas car. An ICE vehicle is still more effective sometimes. What’s frustrating is that EVs are still unfamiliar enough to people to not even be given a fair comparison. We overwhelmingly choose what’s familiar rather than learn more about EVs and simply let the better vehicle win. Where have we seen this before?

When it comes down to it, this isn’t much different than the silent prejudices people face in our society in general. It’s a stark comparison—the latter is a more severe and bitter kind of prejudice—but the point is that we aren’t even consistently fair when being fair is of immediate, critical, personal importance. In such an environment, can we expect rationality when it comes to seemingly ‘far off’ global consequences? Apparently, we still can’t.

We still can’t, and the proof that we can’t is the scores of people continuing to rule out the purchase of an EV based solely on the almost entirely irrelevant metric of ‘range on a tank.’ No, it’s not entirely irrelevant. It matters in that typically miniscule percentage of cases in which you not only have to go a long distance, but go a long distance fast. With your only vehicle. Through a deep, foreboding woods with no sources of electricity up a constant hill in the winter. Pardon the hyperbole—the temptation to fight combustive fire with fire was too great just that moment.

Why should anyone believe that people will eventually come to the point of measuring the car they drive—one of the most critical environmental decisions a person can make—by something other than “how far can it go without stopping for fuel?” Consumers already deny or blatantly ignore the economies provided by EVs—lower operating and maintenance costs which more than make up for modest differences in sticker price. The reality is we still aren’t even at the point of holding corporations accountable for carbon pollution—and individual consumers are far downstream from that. Some are still debating whether carbon pollution exists or even matters.

I had to make a paradigm shift. I had to try it and see for myself. And I was ultimately surprised by the results.

Usually, it’s better to drive an EV. Even now, in the relative infancy of EV development, plug-in vehicles can more effectively accomplish the lion’s share of use cases than can ICE vehicles—setting aside for a moment the fact that they generally do it more cheaply and with less environmental impact. Paradoxically, the effectiveness of EVs isn’t the real problem.

The problem is that, because EVs are unfamiliar to most people, most people cannot reasonably compare them based on their effectiveness. That leaves solely the limited experience they’ve had with them, which is sadly equivalent to judging a book by its cover, or a person by the color of his or her skin. It boils down to chicken-or-egg: people will accept them when they’re familiar with them, but they’ll only become familiar with them when they accept them. And until that happens, they can’t very well go based on anything but what they hear.

I would not have believed this before. I was pretty reluctant to ‘take a risk’ on an all-electric vehicle, and it was made even more difficult by the fact that I couldn’t find the precise one that I wanted near where I live, and by my normally progressive family encouraging me to take what they perceived to be a more conservative approach—“buy a hybrid.”

I didn’t, and despite that I’ve had some growing pains, I’m now glad I had the confidence in the technology and in myself. There wasn’t much effort up to this point, however. All I had to do was believe that an EV might work for me. In part 2, I’ll describe the efforts I made prior to purchase—the costs of considering an EV, a consideration that I now look at as one step I needed to take locally in order to sincerely think globally.

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Written By

I'm a pretty average guy—except that I'm bent on changing the world through those little ten-second choices that make all the difference. Things like: *choosing vegetarian foods *recycling/upcycling *saving power/water ... and driving electric. Which in reality is a choice that takes you about 8 seconds. Eight seconds to plug in when you get home. Eight more when you leave your driveway. Stop believing it's harder than it is. Oil doesn't make it easier to drive. It just makes it more costly.


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