Actually, Electric Cars Are Good for the Planet

Slate's Will Oremus does what most headline writers didn't bother to do: he actually talked to Joseph F. DeCarolis, the co-author of the paper on electric car emissions.

Published: 28-Jan-2014

Here’s a news flash, courtesy of tech blog the Verge: “Electric cars won’t save the planet.”

The argument, based on a policy analysis from a civil engineering professor at North Carolina State University, hinges on two points.

First, passenger vehicles account for only about 20 percent of U.S. emissions today. So even if they all ran on fairy dust, we’d still be polluting the air in plenty of other ways. And second, electric cars don’t run on fairy dust: Most of them run on power from the U.S. electricity grid, a lot of which comes from burning coal and natural gas (for now, anyway).


Computer Illustration of Nissan Resonance

Bill Chameide, Duke University's Dean of Nicholas School of the Environment reviews the e-drive offerings at the 2013 North American International Auto Show.

2009 Ford Escape Hybrid similar to that driven by Professor Shapiro.

Retired Wayne State professor of Mechanical Engineering Howard Shapiro writes that hybrids make more sense than do all-electric cars.

US Energy Secretary Steven Chu with mockup of Chevrolet Volt battery pack behind him.

Some 488,000 hybrids and electric car were sold in the USA in 2012, representing 3.3 percent of the market, but to reach 1 million by 2015, share would have to increase to 6 percent.


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