(This post is about all-electric cars, not petrol/electric hybrids)
We keep hearing a lot about electric cars. They don’t pollute, and they are ‘green’, as far as the environment is concerned. Some countries are insisting that all cars have to be electric by a certain date, though that date varies dramatically.
They have drawbacks of course. Limited range, depending on speed, and using lights or accessories. They are not easy to charge either. Very few charging stations have been built so far, and those that exist don’t have that many spaces. That means you might drive to a place, not be able to charge your vehicle, and then be stuck there.
Even charging them at home is a mission. If I had one, I would have to have a cable running from the car to a power source in the garage. Far from ideal, especially in bad weather, if the car doesn’t fit into the garage, or if like most of us, your garage is full of ‘stuff’, and has no room for a car.
And what if I lived in a smart high-rise apartment in London, with no underground car park? Would I drape my charging lead twenty floors down the side of the building, to the car parked outside? Or in a nice Edwardian house on a street. Would people be prepared to step over or under the cable as they walked along? I doubt that. And nobody will vandalise your unattended car as it charges, by pulling out the plug, or breaking the cable.
Believe that, and you’ll believe anything.
And there are some other much more serious considerations.
It is estimated that the batteries in such cars generally only last about seven years, depending on use, and how many times they are re-charged. If we end up with millions of electric cars on the roads, we will have the problem of having to dispose of millions of worn-out batteries too. And replacements can cost anything from £400 to £1900 each. That replacement cost has to be factored in to a car that has already been hit by age and use depreciation, possibly making the car completely worthless after a relatively short life.
But if it is going to be better for the environment, then it has to be done, right?
Cobalt is essential for the manufacture of batteries used in electric cars. A lot of this is obtained from countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo. Child labour is used there in the extraction of Cobalt, as well as poorly-paid and unsafe adult labour. There is no health and safety, and no restrictions on the extraction. Last year, the DRC produced 70% of all the Cobalt used in the West.
But even that won’t be enough once electric cars become compulsory. The ‘answer’ is going to be mining the seas for Cobalt. Those seas already choking on plastic pollution, oil pollution, and garbage pollution. Coral degeneration is a hot topic, but once Cobalt mining starts, the current worries will be overwhelmed by a true ecological disaster. The disturbance of the sea bed will cover plants and creatures in sand and silt, also making the water dark, and stifling the breathing of sea life.
Here’s a recent BBC report on that.
So when Amsterdam bans all but electric vehicles soon, and stands proud as the first city to do so, I hope they are giving some thought to the small boys hammering rocks in Africa for a pittance, or the sea-life destroyed by Cobalt mining in our oceans. And I also hope that they have worked out what to do with all the spent batteries, less than ten years after that.
I know petrol and diesel is no long-term answer. But it seems all-electric has just as many problems too. And I haven’t even discussed the generation of all that electricity using coal-fired, garbage-fired, and nuclear power stations that will still be in use for a generation.
Perhaps the future has to return to pedal power? And a lot more walking.