electric-car-emissions.png.662x0_q70_crop-scaleThis summer, researchers from the National Bureau of Economic Research reported on a study they conducted which found that electric vehicles actually emit more harmful greenhouse gasses than traditional vehicles.

Now, in a rebuttal, the Union of Concerned Scientists have released their annual report, known as the State of Charge report on electric cars. They found that because of improved manufacturing practices and how the energy grid has changed, EVs are indeed saving the earth. In fact, the scientists from UCS argue that electric vehicles only release 50% of the emissions of traditional vehicles, including manufacturing and disposal as well as the time actually spent driving.

In 2012, the same group of scientists found that 45% of US residents live in an area where electric cars are cleaner than gasoline cars. Their new report now estimates that number is 66%.

Treehugger’s Sami Grover had already argued against the studies from the Bureau of Economic Research since it used grid data from 2010 and only looked at emissions released specifically while driving, not taking into account just how much electricity is used in the process of refining gasoline. He also pointed out that owners of electric vehicles are more likely to invest in solar, boosting their contribution to saving the earth even further.

The study from the National Bureau of Economics can still be viewed as “correct”, however, as both studies basically say the same thing: it still depends on where you live. I had a similar conflict over recycling before recent reports, after first reading that it may not be so environmentally-friendy after all. Should I do what’s best for the environment in the short-term? Or, do I recycle so that I help to drive up demand, potentially creating the need for more recycling plants closer to home to achieve a longer-term goal? These are not easy questions to answer. Even in this case, I am curious about the 50% figure, and couldn’t easily find an answer. It would seem that the 50% figure applies to those 66% of people who live in areas where EVs are saving the earth. That means that a third of Americans still need to find a balance between those two questions, not to mention that we still have no information about how this affects other parts of the world.
Which is better? Being a pioneer in a potentially revolutionary technology at the risk of being wrong and doing more damage? Or, waiting until you know something is a safe bet for the environment?

Image (c) Union of Concerned Scientists

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