Are EVs Really the Solution to Saving Our Planet? 'Business Insider' Says It's Not

An increased demand for electric vehicles could have a higher environmental cost than it saves if mining companies don’t adopt more sustainable practices.
Written by Allison Stone
Reviewed by Kathleen Flear
Jul 20, 2022
 While many studies have shown that electric cars do
produce lower greenhouse emissions
over time and are a more environmentally-friendly alternative to gas-powered cars, they are not the silver bullet to solving the climate crisis. 
The
car ownership experts
at Jerry dive into what the real environmental impact of
electric cars
is and what a truly sustainable future could look like. 

The unspoken environmental toll of electric vehicles

According to a report from
Business Insider
, global emissions from greenhouse gases need to be halved by 2023 to prevent a perilous rise of more than 1.5 degrees Celsius before 2050.
While many people see EVs as an entry point to more sustainable energy systems, they are far from a perfect solution. 
In order to produce the battery packs used in electric cars and transition away from gasoline-powered vehicles, raw materials like graphite and lithium are needed in abundance. 
It’s not just electric cars, either, these rare earth minerals are also implemented in other renewable energy sources such as wind turbines and solar panels. 
As the demand for renewable energy rises, so will the demand for these materials, but the mining process used to procure and refine them could be just as disastrous as fossil fuel extraction. 
Automakers are already grappling with
microchip, battery and personnel shortages
when it comes to EV production, and an increase in demand could only make things worse. 
A massive uptick in mining comes with its own environmental tolls, and a total switch over to EVs is something that even most major automakers are not prepared to handle. 

The true price of mining for EV materials

Not only do mines take about a decade on average to become operational, but mining is a very risky and costly industry that has its own environmental cost. 
Mining itself is a major source of greenhouse gas emissions, and it comes with a social cost as well. Establishing a mining operation can displace people, disrupt ecosystems and contaminate water sources. 
Canadian startup DeepGreen Metals, Inc. has
already come under fire
for its potential to cause environmental harm and disrupt ecosystems via its ocean mining projects.
Regardless of these and other controversies, mining companies continue to push for expansion in order to meet the demand for these so-called “sustainable” energy sources. 

Lowering consumption is key

While electric cars are an important part of the energy transition, they are just one piece of the puzzle. 
As industry experts, automotive executives, and government officials scramble to find solutions, some environmental activists posit that the simplest solution—to reduce driving and demand for cars overall—may be the most effective one of all.  
Findings from the
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
concluded that the key to both solving the energy crisis and reducing environmental strain is to reduce the number of materials being used. 
BloombergNEF
reported in May that even a 10% reduction in car travel could take a massive weight off companies that are struggling to meet EV demand. 
Other ways to reduce emissions include vehicle-sharing programs, plant-based diets,
taxes on larger vehicles
, and battery recycling. 
Javiera Barandiarán, associate professor of global studies at the University of California told Forbes, "We need to address climate change urgently, but with a human- and planet-centered approach that is committed to real solutions, not false solutions like the privately owned individual electric car."

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