A report was published last week by a group of academics in Oslo, Norway was highlighted by the BBC news website. Nothing remarkable there, reports are published by University departments all over the world every day. There was another report published in April this year by the American based Union of Concerned Scientists which, for some reason the BBC chose to totally ignore.
Both these reports focused on the benefits and negative effects of electric vehicles and the influence their adoption has on renewable energy investment but the BBC chose the one from Oslo.
The headline, carefully edited out of the report stated that ‘Electric Cars Pose Environmental Threat.’
Eye catching link-bait or well-balanced review of an important news item? That remains open to question.
When a report like this arrives in the inbox of the BBC news department, editorial decisions are made. Do they ignore it or run with it? They receive tens of thousands of such reports a year, they would have received the one from Union of Concerned Scientists but they can't publish them all.
It’s not an accident this story hit the web, a decision was made by the BBC news department to go with it. From their standpoint it was the right decision; due to their position of authority as a news source the story spread like wildfire through the press and in the case of the right wing press, with vigour.
If you Google the headline you will get thousands of hits from newspapers and right wing blogs all over the world. Vindication that it’s true, electric cars are terrible, we knew it all along! Even the BBC say so.
The only teeny fly in the ointment is that this is not quite what the report said.
The report asks important questions about battery manufacture and the materials in the batteries, but also about the source of electric power to charge these batteries. It’s states very clearly that if an electric vehicle travels over 150,000 km it its lifetime, it is without question regardless of the power source, much cleaner than an equivalent petrol or diesel car.
The report, as these reports always do, leaves out a very essential part of the mix. While it asks, rightly, about the mining, transportation and manufacturing impacts of the materials that make cars, both fossil burning and electric, it conveniently forgets about the extraction, transportation and refining costs of the fuel used in fossil burners. It goes into enormous detail about the electricity generating figures, how much impact mining coal, burning natural gas and all the associated impacts those systems inflict.
However not a mention of oil exploration, oil extraction, oil storage, transportation, refining or the defense and political costs associated with keeping that supply secure. Just what happens at the very end of this long and damaging process, the tail pipe emissions.
These figures are never included because we don’t know them. Well, the oil companies know them but clearly they are not about to advertise the facts, they keep it deliberately obfuscated, I don’t blame them, they need to be obfuscated to bits.
It’s also important to remember the key thrust of this report, they are saying we really need to stop burning coal to make electricity. The report comes from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Olso, a country which has zero coal burning power plants and the highest percentage of renewable energy in the world, Norway. Most of their electricity is from massive hydro-electric projects, they have millions of mountains and lakes, and from wind, they are leaders and pioneers in the field.
Oslo has the highest percentage of electric cars of any city in the world, none of those cars release any CO2 when they are driven. None, zero.
Charging an electric car in Oslo is free. Every car park space has a charge point because they already use them to stop their traditional cars freezing up in winter. They have a few very unfair advantages in Olso but then they do live in a fridge for 9 months of the year.
So why, this is the very uncomfortable question, why did the BBC chose to highlight this report and not the equally prestigious report from the Union of Concerned Scientists in America?
Could it be because the report from the Union of Concerned Scientists came up with a completely opposite conclusion? They took into account the battery manufacturing impact, the source of the electricity, the longevity of the battery and the costs of re-cycling and or re-using the materials in those batteries. They concluded that regardless of the source of electricity, coal, oil, gas, nuclear, wind, solar, hydro, an electric car was unequivocally cleaner, cheaper to run, required less replacement parts and was more sustainable and more efficient in energy use than anything a fossil burner could ever hope to be.
So will we ever see the headline ‘BBC states electric cars are cleaner.’