Electric vehicles: a promise or a paradox? – The Flagler College Gargoyle

By Gabe Spathelf

From the heart of Silicon Valley to the busy streets of Beijing, electric vehicles have become powerful symbols of environmental progress. Not only do they promise reduced carbon dioxide emissions, but they also offer a vision of an urban landscape without the noise and air pollution associated with combustion engines.

Such a vision was further supported by the Biden administration’s enthusiastic support for electric vehicle initiatives, underscoring the United States’ formal commitment to a greener trajectory.

But like any transformative technology, the framework that has fostered and encouraged innovation is both promising and paradoxical. On the one hand, these initiatives indicate a promising future of environmental sustainability; on the other, they pose a series of pressing questions about their real environmental impact, the socio-economic consequences and the ethical dimensions of their global supply chain and the interconnectedness between companies and businesses.

The promotion of more sustainable technologies in this electronic vehicle (EV) market has led to a wave of new purchases, with electric vehicle sales increasing by around 50% between 2022 and 2023, and electric vehicle sales also up around 8% of new cars nationwide.

Although the growth in EV production suggests the possibility of a greener futureThe intentions and motivations of this attempt are more sinister than expected, driven by corporate America’s greed.

Photo by Stephen Warnes.

A greener future?

While electric vehicles may not emit as many greenhouse gases during their operation, the processes behind their creation – and the elements that power them – pose a complex web of environmental and ethical challenges.

The transnational race for lithium has resulted in a complex maze of socio-economic and environmental problems. Developing countries, with rich reserves of this precious mineral, are becoming mining hotspots, often at the expense of their vulnerable populations.

According to investigative journalist Michael Penke, the extraction process has led to serious health problems in communities near these mines, with reported cases ranging from osteoporosis to chronic breast problems.

So the toll on these communities goes beyond mere statistics. Real people’s lives are being disrupted and entire ecosystems are being threatened, all for the sake of having an innovative vehicle with the words ‘Electric’ printed on it.

Previously untouched regions, such as the city of Baotou in Mongolia, are now showing significant environmental impacts from mining activities, which are affecting both local ecosystems and the species that inhabit them.

What was once a habitat teeming with diverse species has been transformed into an area characterized by toxic lakes. These toxic waters, a direct result of active mining, have led to the deaths of hundreds of fish and other aquatic animals. Penke describes the lakes as:

“without life”, so mark it “the transition from a vibrant habitat to an inhospitable environment, indicating serious environmental costs associated with progress.”

The consequences of lithium mining extend beyond environmental issues, as the industry is also marred by concerns about human rights and worker safety, often ignoring principles of human decency in the pursuit of production goals.

Gunther Hilpert, head of the Asia Research Division at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, candidly states that certain regions are prioritizing revenues over human lives:

“For example, China has never really cared about human rights when it comes to achieving production targets.”vii

Not to mention the continued contamination of water systems in certain communities from the millions of gallons of water used to efficiently extract lithium. These projects have terribly deteriorated the quality of life and life expectancy of these communities, mainly impoverished areas in China, Africa, Bolivia and Argentina.viiishowing progress for some translates to suffering for others.

In many ways, the quality of life that most Americans experience is not possible without its manipulation and plunder less appreciated to land. Lithium is a precious resource that allows us to have electronics such as smartphones and computers, and also gives us new motor vehicles.

By living a life as luxurious as many others in the world, most Americans will likely find it easy to forget the transnational atrocities taking place.

Photo by Stephen Warnes.

Coal to kilowatt

EVs are still dependent on an energy network that is not entirely green. Ideally, every EV charging station would rely on renewable energy sources, but coal remains a major part of the U.S. power grid, casting a shadow on the perceived environmental benefits of electric vehicles.

This is highlighted by a statement from a spokesperson for General Motors, who acknowledged the continued dependence on coal when asked what fuel runs on GM’s electric grid, exclaiming that their grid and EV chargers were 95% coal powered .

Even Tesla has been guilty of using coal and diesel to power charging stations, admitting in a statement that their advertised emissions savings do not take into account the emissions created from manufacturing and charging electric vehicles.

The big story surrounding electric vehicles often overshadows a crucial detail: U.S. auto emissions account for less than 2.8% of the global total. While every little counts in the fight against climate change, it is critical to understand that motor vehicles are one of the smallest contributors.

The US is only responsible for about 15% of global emissions, while cars account for only 2.8% of total US emissions.

This suggests that electric vehicles are being marketed in the US with the potential to recover 0.42% of global emissions; and this figure would only be accurate if electric vehicles were 100% environmentally friendly.

Since electric vehicles still produce half the CO2 emissions of ICE vehicles, this figure is more like 0.21%.

Photo by Stephen Warnes.

We are so concerned about the beauty of electric vehicles that we avoid the true intentions of corporate America and their manipulation of such a commercialized society. But encouraging initiatives to switch to electric cars really benefits the richest men in the world, like Elon Musk.

Such large-scale environmental damage continues to occur due to the production of electric vehicles, but as a society we are convinced to believe in the narrative that the rich will only get richer. Biden wants 50% of U.S. motor vehicles to be electric by 2030, which would create a huge vacuum for auto companies to fill and make billions.

That could be a more compelling motivation for corporate America to emphasize electric cars, rather than fixing less than just 1/500.e of global emissions.

Since 2021, when Biden called for an increase in electric vehicle sales, Tesla’s annual sales have nearly doubled from 53.82 billion to 96.77 billion. This is just two years of growth, and as environmentalism becomes increasingly relevant, carmakers’ financial motivations are driving the toxic creation of electric cars and could be the rich’s strategy to put money before the environment.

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