Science must drive car policy

20/11/2020

Climate Change Minister James Shaw wants to ban imports of fossil-fuelled cars by 2030:

. . . The UK is planning to ban all new combustion engine vehicles by 2035 – though British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is expected to bring this forward to 2030.

Shaw, the Green Party co-leader, is concerned about the fate of the UK’s cars after the UK ban, considering most of the world drives on the right. “If we let those into New Zealand, we are stuffed. We will have no chance of being able to reduce our transport emissions, which are the fastest-growing sector,” he said. . .

He is right there is a potential for dumping should the UK ban actually happen.

But a ban here is unlikely to do anything to reduce emissions. Instead it will encourage people to stock pile diesel and petrol fuelled cars before the ban comes in and to keep old cars longer once the ban is in place.

But worse, mass conversion to electric vehicles could increase global emissions.

Bjorn Lamborghini says:

Electric cars require large batteries, which are often produced in China using coal power. The manufacture of one electric car battery releases also a quarter of the greenhouse gases emitted by a petrol car over its entire life time.

The United Nations has raised environmental and ethical concerns about the mining of cobalt and lithium required for these batteries too:

. . .For example, two-thirds of all cobalt production happens in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). According the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), about 20 per cent of cobalt supplied from the DRC comes from artisanal mines, where human rights abuses have been reported, and up to 40,000 children work in extremely dangerous conditions in the mines for meagre income.

And in Chile, lithium mining uses nearly 65% of the water in the country’s Salar de Atamaca region, one of the driest desert areas in the world, to pump out brines from drilled wells. This has forced local quinoa farmers and llama herders to migrate and abandon ancestral settlements. It has also contributed to environment degradation, landscape damage and soil contamination, groundwater depletion and pollution. . .

Back to Lomborg:

Second, electric cars are charged with electricity that is in most countries powered by fossil fuels.Together this means a long-range electric car will emit more CO2 for its first 60,000km than its petroleum equivalent. . . 

Most of New Zealand’s power comes from renewable energy now, but could existing generation cope with a steep increase in demand from charging cars if the nation’s fleet had a lot more electric vehicles?

We need a reality check. First politicians should stop writing huge cheques just because they believe electric cars are a major climate solution. Second, there is a simpler answer. The hybrid car saves the same amount of CO2 as an electric car over its lifetime. Third climate change doesn’t care where CO2 comes from. Personal cars represent about 7% of global emission and electric cars will only help a little.

RIght now electric car subsidies are something wealthy countries can afford to offer virtue-signaling elites. But if we want to fix the climate, we need to focus on the big emitters and drive innovation in fusion, fission, geothermal, wind and solar energy. Advances that make any of these cheaper than fossil fuels would mean it’s not just rich Londoners changing their habits, but everyone, including China and India, switching large parts of their energy consumption towards zero emissions.

The problem with Shaw’s policy is that it’s driven by politics when it needs to be driven by science.


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