New Book Claims Electric and Hybrid Cars Are a "Green Illusion"

By Jacob Brown | June 11, 2012
People buy electric and hybrid cars for many reasons: To make a statement, to save fuel, or to stop sending money to OPEC countries. Those are all fine and noble. But if your goal is to lessen your environmental footprint, an electric or hybrid car might not be your best bet, says a new book. Green Illusions, written by UC Berkeley professor Ozzie Zehner visiting at the University of Nebraska, asserts that while electric vehicles look environmentally conscious on the surface, they're actually no better than their gas- and diesel-powered contemporaries. And the claims he makes are backed by a report from the National Academy of Sciences, too. "Shifting from gasoline to electric vehicles is like switching a smoking habit from cloves to menthols," Zehner said in a statement. "It isn't acceptable for doctors to promote menthol cigarettes—should environmentally minded people promote alternative fuel cars?" Zehner says that while electric and hybrid cars may be cleaner to run, their electricity still largely comes from burning coal. Then, there's the mining for copper, aluminum, and other materials necessary for battery production, not only ripping up natural habitats but also doing so with vehicles powered by smog-belching engines. He details all of his findings in his 439-page piece de resistance, drawing the conclusion that the only way to really make a positive environmental impact is to go off the grid completely, to start biking or walking more. Zehner says the U.S. government is trying to cut funding for bike roads to make way for more highway funding, though. Late last year, Nissan's vice president in charge of worldwide product launches, Andy Palmer, said in an interview that similar notions were "complete bulls**t." Either way, though, this is for certain: Powering a car uses energy. Energy will inevitably create pollution as a biproduct. How much and where it comes from is where the real debate begins, a debate Zehner might just win. Source: University of Nebraska Press