For an old style car, first you refine hydrocarbons – say, oil.  Then you transport the resulting gasoline into the car’s fuel tank.  Then you burn it to make the car go.

For an electric car, first you refine that oil.  Then you burn it in a power plant to make electricity.  Then you transmit the electricity to a battery charging station.  Then you use the electricity to charge the batteries.  Then you use the batteries to make the car go.

Can someone tell me why a process involving five steps is more efficient than a process involving only three?  I concede that it is not mathematically impossible – with the right relative conversion efficiencies, anything is possible -- but forgive me for nursing a doubt.

Again, both the three-step and the five-step processes release waste heat and waste gasses into the biosphere.  But the five-step process releases not only these, but additional problematic substances including cobalt and cadmium.

This time can someone tell me why the five-step process is friendlier to the environment?  I may be missing something here too, but it isn’t obvious what.

And we haven’t even compared the health risks of coal miners and gas and oilfield workers with those of coal miners, gas and oilfield workers, plus cobalt and cadmium miners.

I want a clean planet too, but the political enthusiasm for electric vehicles is fueled largely by payoffs, sometimes called subsidies, and unexamined assumptions.  Thus far it seems to be much more about virtue signaling than about virtue.


This post began to spark correspondence the moment I posted it online.  Thanks to those who have written!

Yes, I know that not all electricity comes from burning hydrocarbons, and I share the hopes some readers have expressed for better alternatives than we have.  Solar power generation isn’t there yet.  It may never be, and not just because it requires the right climate and lots of sunny days.

We speak as though what we do now has environmental risks and what we propose doing doesn’t.  Has anyone tried to estimate the effect that devoting enormous acreage to solar collection would have on temperatures?  Some authors have proposed putting the collectors out in space instead and beaming the energy back down via focused microwaves, but I would hate to be in the way if the aiming software failed.  Zzzt.

Fission is not on the table; we all know why.  Fusion would be great, but we don’t know whether we can get it to work.  For the foreseeable future, the other alternatives, such as tidal and geothermal electric power generation, seem more plausible as supplements to the conventional methods of power generation than as replacements.

Last point.  When I said I might be missing something, I meant it.  I don’t have the answers.  What do I know?  But sunny assumptions aren’t answers either.


A New Twist on Conspicuous Consumption

The Church and Public Policy

Too Much Virtue Signaling, Not Enough Virtue