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EV misinformation
DALL.E creation by Carolyn Fortuna/ CleanTechnica


Essential Missing Elements In EV Misinformation Campaigns

Media should be a source of relevant information, should increase awareness of policies, and should shift perceptions about EVs for the good of all. However, as long as there is profit to be made from critiquing transportation electrification, we’re going to continue to see headlines questioning decisions to switch to EVs.

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It’s clear that social media has triggered an increase in fake news about different aspects of contemporary life, society, politics, and change. While frequently silly or inconsequential, the echo effect of social media messages can influence consumer trust. Fossil fuel industry insiders and allies have pounced on social media algorithmic repetition to spread EV misinformation, even as the mass ramp-up to their adoption is taking place.

Continued and coordinated efforts through op-eds and paid posts mirror and perpetuate EV mythology. Let’s look at a couple of recent examples of EV misinformation from climate entrepreneurs and debunk them.

How Does Discourse Work to Trigger EV Misinformation?

Widespread acknowledgement of explanations and justifications for how things are and how things are done is a common media rhetorical practice. Such legitimization springs from the law, in which modern societies regulate behaviors through procedural and formal justice. Social media outlets frequently try to mimic older, venerable institutions like courts by adopting legal symbolism. As they do so, they rationalize that have every right to exert power over the public sphere.

“Heavy Electric Vehicles Jeopardize Climate Action and Public Safety, Experts Warn”

The controversy about heavy EVs started when a structural engineer generally noted, “If a vehicle is heavier than the car park was originally designed for, the effects could be catastrophic.” Within a couple of weeks, a media frenzy had taken place, extending the premise to accuse heavy EVs of jeopardizing public safety. What wasn’t mentioned — in what’s known as a “false equivalency” — is that most contemporary vehicles exceed the weight maximums for parking garages constructed in the 1970s — that includes both ICE vehicle and EVs. These same media outlets failed to discuss other salient points about heavy EVs, such as:

  • Research has shown that heavier vehicles, whether gas or electric, can be more dangerous in a crash for those outside of the vehicle, including drivers of smaller cars and pedestrians, cyclists, and wheelchair users.
  • Bigger EVs have more embedded carbon emissions than smaller ones, mainly because of the battery manufacturing process. But they’re also cheaper over the life of the vehicle, with lower fuel costs, reduced maintenance costs, better efficiency, regenerative braking, and no need to comply with emissions regulations.
  • Recycling and reusing EV batteries can help reduce the environmental impact of their production, while also providing valuable materials for new batteries. For example, to address the challenge of material traceability, particularly in battery pack production for the Volvo EX30, blockchain technology has been implemented to help track critical raw materials, which now include lithium, manganese, cobalt, graphite, and nickel.
  • The number of electric vehicle models available on the market is increasing every year and those vehicles are increasingly able to travel greater distances between charges and to perform more of the tasks city and state governments require of fleet vehicles. Transitioning to electric fleets as fossil fuel vehicles retire, state and local governments could save a total of nearly $11 billion in lifetime expenses. It would take purchasing EVs as opposed to gasoline-powered vehicles for their light-duty fleets over the next 10 years.

“Attorneys General Warn EPA’s Electric Vehicle Push Is an ‘Attack on Rural America’: ‘Going to Get Bludgeoned'”

This Faux News headline (to borrow a phrase from colleague Steve Hanley) chronicles the claim that rural Americans who are “working really hard to make ends meet who are going to get bludgeoned” by the Biden administration and “various Democratic-led states” that are pushing to manufacture more EVs. A letter rife with EV misinformation sent to the feds states in part that “mandating fast and extreme transformations before supply chains, national security, or consumer confidence have any hope of keeping up” is unfair to rural consumers. Such existential assumptions — assumptions that, once stated, are taken to be (“exist”) without question — fail to recognize a fuller picture of the consequences of EVs on rural communities.

  • The EV Acceleration Challenge commitments, part of President Biden’s Investing in America agenda, spur domestic manufacturing, strengthen supply chains, boost US competitiveness, and create good-paying jobs — all of which help rural communities.
  • EVs and the charging infrastructure that supports them offer benefits to rural communities. The US DOT lists economic development opportunities from offering people a place to charge their vehicles, workforce development, health benefits from improved air quality, and lower greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions as rural community benefits.
  • Rural areas are often the places where new technologies are tested, challenges first appear, and new policy approaches are put to trial.
  • The presence of a large number of actors in the EV industry enriches the learning fabric of the region. As actors become more specialized and accumulate skills in the new industry, their capacity to join in the thinking community and innovate is enhanced.
  • Small and medium-sized enterprises are active in finding business niches as well as clients and valuable suppliers. Even when the basic technology is imported from outside the region, local actors often adapt it to local needs and potentials.
  • Several rural regions have developed specific institutions, organisms, and authorities to deal with EVs in reaction to large investment and top-down national policies.

Revealed: How US Transition to Electric Cars Threatens Environmental Havoc

Although hyperbole, truth lies within this attention-grabbing headline. The problem cited here is critical mineral extraction, lithium particularly, which is depicted as the culprit in “needless water shortages, Indigenous land grabs, and ecosystem destruction inside and outside its borders.” Without reducing US personal car usage, the mass transition to lithium battery-powered EVs by 2050 “will deepen global environmental and social inequalities linked to mining – and may even jeopardize the 1.5C global heating target.” Critical minerals mining can create economic value, improve livelihoods, and generate tax revenue. However, it can also entail harmful environmental consequences other than emissions, including biodiversity loss and social disruption due to land-use change, water depletion and pollution, waste, and air pollution. Securing supplies of critical minerals and bulk materials produced with substantially lower emissions are key areas to produce a more environmentally efficient solution.

  • The increase in battery demand definitely has driven the demand for critical materials. In 2022, lithium demand exceeded supply (as in 2021) despite the 180% increase in production since 2017. In 2022, about 60% of lithium, 30% of cobalt and 10% of nickel demand was for EV batteries. Making a 55 kWh battery and associated systems for a small electric car typically requires over 200 kg of critical minerals, including copper, lithium, nickel, manganese, cobalt and graphite, compared with just 35 kg of copper for the powertrain of a comparable ICE.
  • The extraction and processing of critical minerals typically relies on fossil fuels. Higher energy costs have driven up the cost of producing critical minerals, the extraction and processing of which are particularly energy-intensive. Opportunities to reduce emissions from the processing of critical minerals through best available technologies include increased electrification and fuel switching in the near term.
  • The supply of critical minerals is more geographically concentrated than that of oil, gas and coal. Anticipated investments in the mining of critical minerals point to an overall modest improvement in the geographical diversity of production in the coming years.
  • Important progress is projected in decarbonizing the mining of critical minerals over the rest of the current decade in the NZE Scenario — the normative IEA scenario that shows a pathway for the global energy sector to achieve net zero CO2 emissions by 2050. Deeper decarbonization of these processes, which require high-temperature heat, would require technology developments geared towards adapting existing processes to alternative fuels such as hydrogen and different types of biofuels, integrating CCUS more easily, and adding viable direct electrification options.
  • Material substitution also plays an important role. This can involve substituting lower-emission materials, lighter materials, or alternative materials to lower the dependence on critical minerals that are vulnerable to disruptions or are in short supply. Examples include alternative chemistries for making EV batteries, switching to different electrolyzer designs, and using innovative superconducting magnets that don’t rely on rare earth elements for wind turbines and EV motors.
  • While alternatives are being developed for Li-ion batteries, innovation in net zero compatible production routes needs to accelerate to provide viable alternatives for all the other critical materials.

These are just a few of the many EV misinformation media messages that interrupt full adoption of transportation electrification. Strategies that integrate innovation and equity include prioritizing communication and marketing, revisiting assumptions and biases about early adopters, and designing government programs to increase demand and maximize universal benefits. Having an active media channel like CleanTechnica that debunks EV misinformation helps, too. 🙂

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Written By

Carolyn Fortuna (they, them), Ph.D., is a writer, researcher, and educator with a lifelong dedication to ecojustice. Carolyn has won awards from the Anti-Defamation League, The International Literacy Association, and The Leavy Foundation. Carolyn is a small-time investor in Tesla and an owner of a Model Y as well as a Chevy Bolt. Please follow Carolyn on Twitter and Facebook.


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