There’s quite a lot of misinformation and disinformation — deliberate misinformation — about electric vehicles online. One of the key bits of disinformation is the false notion that EVs aren’t that green because there are carbon emissions generated by mining for the materials in their batteries and manufacturing them. The false claim is that an EV owner would have to drive about 49,000 miles to offset the carbon emissions from manufacturing the battery and vehicle. The claim was based on a study that eventually was debunked.
The true figure was about 16,000 miles, after which an EV would be ‘greener’ than a gas- or diesel-powered vehicle. The word greener is in quotes because gas and diesel-powered vehicles are not at all green. They have been dirty ever since they were invented, and at no point could ever be considered green.
There’s also something disingenuous — read ‘fake’ — about the concern over an EV battery’s carbon emissions from materials mining and manufacturing, because the people who express it had no regard whatsoever for vehicle mining emissions before EVs came on the scene. That is, for decades before electric vehicles began to appear they never said a word about internal combustion engine or diesel-powered vehicle mining emissions, including their own. Additionally, fossil fuel mining is far worse.
“Every year, about 15 billion tons of fossil fuels are mined and extracted. That’s about 535 times more mining than a clean energy economy would require in 2040. [Author’s note: I added the bold to the original text to make it more scannable.]
“Part of the reason for this massive difference in mining requirements is the fact that fossil fuel infrastructure is much less energy efficient than clean energy technology. Gas-powered cars are three times less efficient than electric vehicles. Gas furnaces are three to four times less efficient than heat pumps. Coal, oil, and gas all need to be transported long distances from mine or well to the source of combustion.”
Damaging emissions from the oil and gas supply chain also occur before gasoline and diesel fuels are used in vehicles with internal combustion engines, not only from direct vehicle emissions. Petroleum drilling, pumping, storage, flaring, processing and transporting all happen before there is a finished fossil fuel product people use to fill up their ICE vehicles.
“Air pollution from U.S. oil and natural gas production causes roughly $77 billion in health impacts nationwide every year, while also contributing to thousands of early deaths and health flare-ups, a new study finds.
“The pollutants nitrogen oxide, fine particulate matter and ozone from U.S. oil and gas production contributed to 7,500 excess deaths, 410,000 asthma attacks, and 2,200 new cases of childhood asthma across the U.S. in 2016, per the study published Monday in the journal Environmental Research: Health.”
What is also often overlooked is the fact that gas and oil equipment left at field sites that are no longer used or are abandoned continue to leak damaging climate change emissions other than CO2 as well.
“The U.S. figures are sobering: More than 3.2 million abandoned oil and gas wells together emitted 281 kilotons of methane in 2018, according to the data, which was included in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s most recent report on April 14 to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.”
Methane contributes to climate change 25 times more than CO2.
How long have the millions of abandoned oil and gas wells contributed to climate change and how will they continue to do so? Methane emissions are not counted by many people in relation to fossil-fuel vehicles because they are unaware of them and because of the overemphasis on CO2. The climate change emissions connected with ICE vehicles goes far beyond their CO2 output, however.
Another greenhouse gas emitted by fossil fuel vehicles is nitrous oxide, which is more potent than CO2.
“Nitrous Oxide (N2O) has a GWP 273 times that of CO2 for a 100-year timescale. N2O emitted today remains in the atmosphere for more than 100 years, on average.” GWP here means Global Warming Potential.
The EV critics and anti-EV trolls never mention methane and nitrous oxide emissions associated with and created by gas and diesel-powered vehicles and the gas and oil industry, in the context of climate change. “Nitrogen and oxygen are present in the ambient air, which means they’re present in the air-fuel mixture combusted in all gasoline and diesel engines. During combustion, these elements combine to form NOx. It’s not possible to design an internal combustion engine that does not produce NOx when it burns fuel.”
Again, these emissions do more damage than only at the climate change level. They also harm human health and have been doing so for a long time. (Click on the section, How NOx happens, and why you should care, to see the stats.)
“NOx reacts with atmospheric chemicals to form secondary fine particulate matter (PM2.5), or soot. Exposure to PM2.5 can cause stroke, ischemic heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, lung cancer, and lower respiratory infections. PM2.5 caused 4.2 million premature deaths worldwide in 2015. When combined with volatile organic compounds and sunlight, NOx helps form ground-level ozone, a major component of smog. Ozone can cause or exacerbate chronic lung diseases like asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or emphysema, especially among vulnerable populations like children and the elderly, for whom it may prove deadly. Researchers attribute 254,000 premature deaths to ozone pollution in 2015.” (The bolding of the disease names was added by the author for easier scanning of the dense text.)
Air pollution research in Europe has produced an even larger deaths figure, “According to EEA (2019a), in Europe, about 400,000 premature deaths per year are attributable to PM2.5 concentrations long-term exposure.” That’s 400,000 premature deaths per year.
To summarize just some of the harmful effects of fossil fuel use and internal combustion engine emissions:
- Chronic Obstructive pulmonary disease
- Ischemic heart disease
- Lung cancer
- Respiratory infections
- Premature deaths
Benzene is another toxin released by oil and gas wells.
“Our study is the first to thoroughly identify that there is a benzene hazard associated with abandoned wells,” said the lead author, Seth Shonkoff, the executive editor of the research institute, PSE Healthy Energy.
Many were releasing benzene, a well-established cause of cancer, along with compounds that damage the nervous, immune and respiratory systems, the researchers reported. They found air concentrations as high as 250 parts per million—250,000 times the California safety threshold of 0.001 parts per million, which public health experts use as a gold standard because it tends to protect the most vulnerable populations, such as children.”
Oil refineries also release benzene. Hopefully you don’t live near one. Unfortunately, some people do.
“Four Louisiana refineries are among a dozen nationwide that last year released the cancer-causing chemical benzene at levels higher than federal limits, according to a new report from a national environmental nonprofit.”
Benzene, which the Environmental Protection Agency considers a “known carcinogen,” is a gaseous compound found in gasoline and other petroleum products. It is known to cause nervous and immune systems damage and leukemia, and companies must create plans to reduce benzene emissions when those emissions exceed the EPA’s 9-microgram limit.”
We all see carbon emissions mentioned in news articles about climate change. Perhaps there has been an overemphasis on carbon to the point there is something of a CO2 “tunnel vision.” Consequently, other harmful emissions such as methane, nitrous oxide and benzene are overlooked. And yet, they must be accounted for in the full lifecycle of fossil fuels costs and the internal combustion engine vehicles that have used them and continue to do so.
Petroleum products don’t have to be combusted in engines to do damage. Sometimes people behave badly by illegally dumping their used motor oil even though they know it is toxic.
“An estimated 200 million gallons of used motor oil is improperly disposed of each year in the U.S. by being dumped on the ground, tossed in the trash (ending up in landfills), and poured down storm sewers and drains.
Used oil from a single oil change (approx. one gallon) can ruin a million gallons of fresh water — a year’s supply for 50 people.
Used oil is insoluble, persistent, slow to degrade, sticks to everything from beach sand to bird feathers, and can contain toxic chemicals and heavy metals that pose a health threat to humans, plants, and animals.”
Used motor oil is common enough that some people might not think of it as being that toxic, but it is. Browsing a material data safety sheet for used motor oil reveals:
- May be harmful if inhaled.
- May be harmful if absorbed through skin.
- May be harmful or fatal if swallowed.
- May irritate the respiratory tract (nose, throat, and lungs), eyes, and skin.
- Suspect cancer hazard. Contains material which can cause cancer. Risk of cancer depends on duration and level of exposure.
- Contains material which can cause birth defects.
- Contains material which can cause central nervous system damage.
Of course, used motor oil dumped illegally also harms non-humans and ecosystems.
The improper and illegal dumping of used motor oil referenced above takes place on land. There is also illegal oil dumping at sea.
“Satellite imagery and data provided by the environmental group SkyTruth helped identify hundreds of potential dumps across the globe in 2021 alone. But the number of spills is most likely significantly higher because the satellites used by SkyTruth cover less than one-fifth of the world’s oceans. According to the group’s estimate, the amount of oily water dumped into the oceans this way could amount to more than 200,000 cubic meters (52.8 million gallons) annually, or roughly five times the equivalent of the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska — one of the worst maritime environmental disasters.”
Oil and gas companies are not responsible for illegal dumping perpetrated by people who do not work for them. However, they do make the petroleum products that are illegally dumped. Therefore, it will be advantageous to stop producing them when the world has transitioned to clean, renewable energy, energy storage and electric vehicles.
Unintentional oil spills also occur regularly.
A single oil spill – Deepwater Horizon – has cost over $71 billion for attempts to clean up the oil and rectify the damage. A research study found that the total cost could reach slightly over $144 billion. In the US alone, there are thousands of oil spills each year, though they are mostly small to tiny ones. Still, even a small amount of oil can cause a great deal of damage.
Depending on which sources you look at the Exxon Valdez oil from a spill that happened over 30 years ago still has not been fully recovered and is likely doing some ecosystem harm.
“As the spill recedes into a more distant past and climate change accelerates, it becomes harder to tease out the disaster’s continuing effects. Less debatable is the lingering damage to the area’s wilderness resource, specifically amid the 8,000 square kilometers of western Prince William Sound that fall within America’s largest congressionally designated wilderness study area. With oil beneath beaches, certain species unrecovered, abandoned structures, and garbage still present, the wilderness remains injured.”
Of course, these are just two large oil spills and there actually have been dozens in the U.S. alone. “Yet since the iconic 1969 oil well blowout in Santa Barbara, California, there have been at least 44 oil spills, each over 10,000 barrels (420,000 gallons), affecting U.S. waters. The largest of which was the 2010 Deepwater Horizon well blowout in the Gulf of Mexico.”
Oil spills are happening almost constantly. A quick Google News search using the key words, “oil spill” demonstrate this fact.
The oil and gas industry causes disasters. “The Niger Delta in southern Nigeria is one of the most polluted places on Earth. Decades of spillages from over 50 years of oil operations continue to erode local communities’ health, well-being, and livelihoods.”
The Canadian Tar Sands are another environmental disaster caused by the oil and gas industry. “Just look at the 2010 spill that sent more than 800,000 gallons of heavy tar sands crude spewing into Michigan’s Kalamazoo River. Five years and more than $1 billion later, the river is still contaminated. The cleanup is the longest and costliest in U.S. history so far.”
The oil and gas industry is also dangerous for its workers. In fact, there is enough death and injury caused by it that the Centers Disease Control has published a lot of research information about the problem.
“The U.S. oil and gas extraction (OGE) industry fatality rate (25.0 deaths per 100,000 workers) remains well above the rate for all U.S. workers (3.7 per 100,000 workers), and in 2014, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) recorded an all-time high of 144 OGE worker deaths (BLS, 2015; Mason et al. 2015).”
Fossil Fuel Mindset No More
When drivers of internal combustion engine vehicles are filling their gas tanks at a gas station, it is doubtful they are reflecting on the full gamut of harm caused by internal combustion engines and fossil fuels. There is no rational reason not to do so, except perhaps that using gasoline and diesel fuel is a common habit, meaning we accepted it as “normal” though the practice is harmful. We may not or most likely do not think about what every single issue or problem is for the entire hydrocarbon life cycle when we are filling up. Yet the problems and issues have always been present. When people fill up their tanks and drive away with no consideration for the negative impacts, one might reason that something of a ‘fossil fuel mindset’ has developed during the time internal combustion vehicles have been operating. This mindset has accepted fossil fuel use because fossil fuels have been used for decades not because using them is a rational or beneficial choice.
EV owners have broken the fossil fuel mindset. They don’t accept fossil fuels and the myriad of problems they cause as sustainable transportation. They may also not accept that its reasonable for power plants to burn coal or natural gas. Some EV owners have rooftop solar systems on their homes and charge their EVs with their own electricity, or mostly from it.
It is also possible in some areas to use electricity only produced from clean, renewable electricity. Millions of people in California get their electricity from community energy aggregators. Outside of California, it is possible to get clean, renewable energy from Green Mountain, although not currently in every state. Currently, most EVs in American are in California so Californans with EVs can charge their vehicles from solar and wind power if they switch their power sources to a community energy aggregator from their local utility.
Electricity used by electric vehicles can become greener over time as coal and natural gas power plants are phased out and replaced with solar power, wind power, geothermal and battery storage. Fossil fuel vehicles can’t get any cleaner – they can become more fuel efficient, but they will always be tied to excessive carbon, and methane and benzene emissions, among other harmful emissions.
There are many facts about internal combustion engine vehicles that get overlooked. One common one is that they are not at all energy efficient and have never been efficient. According to this source, about 80% of the energy in gasoline is lost when used in an internal combustion engine. Compared to a gas–powered vehicle an EV is far more energy efficient. The anti-EV trolls and EV critics defend the use of very energy inefficient gas and diesel-powered vehicles and they are one of main causes of toxic air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.
Typically, online EV misinformation and disinformation refers to personal transportation in the form of cars, trucks and SUVs. However, there are many other vehicle types that are being electrified. Motorcycles, ebikes, etrikes, mopeds, scooters, boats and even small planes are being made all electric. For mass transit, more and more electric buses are being utilized.
Another false notion is that keeping an old gas-powered vehicle and driving it is greener than getting a new EV because of the emissions associated with producing a new EV. Again, gas and diesel-powered vehicles are the cause of the problem, they can’t ever be the solution. Driving a 1986 Chevy Citation because it was manufactured a long time ago is not at all a green practice. Older internal combustion engine vehicles generate greater emissions than newer ones, not less.
Plastics & Oil
Another potential blind spot when it comes to oil and gas is their connection to plastics. When we buy various household or personal products we may not consider the source of the materials used to make them. Fossil fuels such as crude oil and natural gas are utilized for making plastics. “This boom in plastic production is fueled by cheap oil and gas released by fracking. The industry is planning 157 new or expanded plants and more drilling over the next five years, according to a report from the Environmental Integrity Project. These projects will release up to 227m tons of additional greenhouse gases by the end of 2025 – a 30% rise from the industry’s footprint in 2018.”
Imported Oil & Energy Dependence
Another important connection to oil and gas is how much is imported from foreign countries. Sending hundreds of millions or billions of dollars out of one’s own country for oil and gas is not financially smart. The U.S. has been doing it for decades.
“Turning now to the dollar value of U.S. crude oil imports, in almost three decades (1993-2020), the U.S. has imported nearly $4.2 trillion of foreign crude oil, an average of over $148 billion per year.”
If the U.S. had been developing more clean, renewable energy for the last several decades at least, there would be less money wasted on importing fossil fuels. Energy dependence is not good for a nation’s finances or security.
Yet another false claim is that all EV batteries only last 10 years, as if exactly at that mark they all suddenly stop working. They can last longer than tens years, even up to 20, and some find a second life when they are removed from EVs and used as stationary battery storage.
As consumers, when we fill up the gas tanks of internal combustion engine vehicles and drive them around without connecting the dots to the oil and gas industry we are supporting a great deal of toxic emissions. These emissions harm human health and contribute to premature human deaths. They also harm and kill non-human life forms.
Generally, because climate change receives more attention in the news and public discourse, there is some awareness that gas and diesel-powered vehicles are a problem and they are. However, gas and diesel-powered vehicles have been utilized for well over 100 years and they have been polluting for over a century. The total carbon and other greenhouse gas emissions emitted by gas and diesel vehicles since they were put into use is perhaps not precisely known and yet the figure must be simply enormous. In other words, gas and diesel-powered vehicles need to be seen in light of their full historical impact on the environment and human health, not just the damage that is caused by them in the current time. Say, if you have been driving a 1969 Dodge Dart for the last 50 years, the total toxic emissions for that internal combustion engine vehicle are huge.
Furthermore, oil and gas can’t get any greener, but electricity in national grids can.
Oil Tycoons & Politics
Yet another issue that goes hand in hand with the gas and oil industry is the rise of oil tycoons and their political agendas, which tend to skew conservative to say the least. “For years, two oil and fracking tycoons from West Texas have been funding some of the most radical conservative political candidates in Texas, in a push that former associates say is aimed at completely replacing public education with Christian-based private schooling, according to a new CNN report.” Depending on how you interpret the words Christian-based private schooling, such a curriculum may replace teaching evolution with the Chrisitian Bible and the Genesis origin story. Climate change denial may also be part of a general anti-science or science unfriendly educational approach.
The Koch brothers also built a political network to influence legislative matters but on a national level. They made billiions in the oil industry.
“Finally, Koch controls a “boots on the ground” army in the form of Americans for Prosperity, a network of employees and volunteers who knock on doors, attend rallies to protest climate change legislation, and visit the offices of any lawmakers who seem likely to cross Koch Industries on the issue.
This machine has been employed to great effect to ensure that no government action is taken to control greenhouse gas emissions.”
India & China
If you have read this far, you may have noticed this article tends to focus on the United States. Let’s take a look at air pollution impacts in the world’s most populous countries to balance that bias. In India, for example, in just one year 1.67 million deaths were associated with air pollution. Vehicle emissions were part of the problem, “In the same time period, the death rate due to ambient (outdoor) particulate matter pollution increased by 115.3 percent and the death rate due to ambient ozone pollution increased by 139.2 percent. These increases in deaths from ambient air pollution reflect increasing emissions from cars, trucks, and buses, as well as the widespread use of coal to generate electricity in India.” In China, a research study paper found that in one year, 2019, 1.42 million deaths in China were linked to particulate matter air pollution. Not all particulate matter in China is generated by vehicles. Some comes from coal-burning powerplants and factories. Internal combustion engine and diesel-powered vehicles are among the major sources. “Fine particulate matter (PM2.5) mainly originates from combustion emissions. On-road transportation is considered one of the primary sources of PM2.5 emission.”
Public Health Is Our Health
Electric vehicles are not only about the environment. Considering that many people don’t seem to have much regard for the environment learning about the human-related air pollution reducing benefits electric vehicles have might be more compelling. In fact, a report published in 2023 by the American Lung Association concluded that switching to electric vehicles in the U.S. could possibly save close to 90,000 human lives by reducing air pollution.
“There are huge health benefits to be gained by switching broadly to electric vehicles,” said West, a professor in the Department of Environmental Sciences and Engineering at the Gillings School of Global Public Health at the University of North Carolina, who was not involved with the new report. “The other part of the report says that this positive health result comes when it is coupled with noncombustion electricity generation. So that’s an important part, too. It’s not just switching to electric vehicles but providing the extra electricity needed for those electric vehicles. So that would be renewables, wind and solar or possibly nuclear.”
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