An electric car runs using an electric motor, instead of the combustion motor that the much more common gasoline-powered car runs on. A rechargeable electric battery, which must be routinely recharged by plugging the car into a wall outlet at home, powers the electric motor. Around some cities, there are recharging stations that are analogous to gas stations.
Electric cars are meant to be a safer and more environmentally friendly option to gasoline-powered cars. Experts have proven again and again that gasoline-powered cars pollute the environment and send carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide is a potent greenhouse gas that contributes to the gradual warming of our earth.
But electric cars are not as environmentally friendly as they may seem to be. Consider their production. They use aluminum for their hood and doors, which reduces the car’s weight, but is far more expensive and intensive to make than the steel of gasoline-powered cars. Their motor also contains very rare magnetic earth metals known as neodymium and dysprosium, which are mined in China with serious environmental effects such as the erosion of mountainsides.
Adding all of these costs together reveals a sharp total. A study by the Journal of Industrial Ecology showed that the construction of an electric car releases half the amount of CO2 the car will emit in its lifetime. By the time they roll off the production line, they’ve released about 30,000 pounds of CO2 into the atmosphere -- compared with a gasoline vehicle that at the end of the production line has only used 17% of its lifetime CO2 emissions, which amounts to 14,000 pounds.
Consumers may assume that driving electric cars will reduce their carbon footprint, but with the already heightened cost for manufacture, they actually don’t. Even recharging them arguably emits CO2, as most electricity comes from coal-fired plants. With its current output, if someone drives an electric car 90,000 miles, the car will put out 24% fewer emissions than a gasoline-powered car.
Of course, that’s assuming that the car lasts that long. Like any rechargeable battery, the electric car’s batteries slowly wear down until they refuse to keep a charge. If consumers purchase the most common electric car, the Nissan Leaf, they will be charging quite a lot. Its full battery range is a mere 72 miles.
Still, price ranges may attract people to buy electric cars. The Nissan Leaf totals in at 28,000 dollars, and with government subsidies for electric car buyers, it’s even less. But are green cars really the answer? Or are they just a part of the problem, stopping us from searching for better, greener technology?
The most environmentally friendly option would be to not use cars at all and instead travel by mass transit, walking and bike riding. Yet this is not feasible for many people who need to travel long distances or have medical issues. Although many environmentalists believe it is important to find a better alternative to the gasoline-powered car, it is questionable whether the electric car is the “silver bullet” that they're looking for.