Electric vehicles

 

In “The Elon Musk dilemma” (March 2020), Brian Calvert gets a number of facts wrong about climate change, electric vehicles, and renewable energy. He starts the column by highlighting Americans’ “beliefs” in climate change. As a climate scientist, I would like to point out that the climate doesn’t care about people’s beliefs. It doesn’t care if CO2 emissions come from the tailpipe of a liberal’s Prius or the exhaust of a conservative’s F150. Currently, the transportation sector is responsible for the United State’s largest share of CO2 emissions, having overtaken the power-generation sector. Electric vehicles (such as Elon Musk’s Teslas), powered by an increasingly low-carbon energy grid, are a fantastic tool to address climate change. Studies by the Union of Concerned Scientists have shown that, on average, driving an electric car produces CO2 emissions equivalent to a gas-powered car getting 80 miles per gallon, and these numbers are getting better.

In addition, renewable energy does not, as Calvert asserts, require “plastering open spaces with solar panels, wind turbines and hydro-dams.” Nor does it require excessive water use or mining abuses compared with fossil fuels. Done right, renewable energy projects can provide income for farmers and ranchers who lease their land. There is growing interest in integrating solar installations with farmland, as certain crops can benefit from the shading provided by solar panels. Notice that I said electric cars and renewable energy are “a” solution. There are several other more impactful solutions, especially in regenerative agriculture and the energy efficiency of buildings. I agree with Calvert that we don’t necessarily need leaders who promise to create backup colonies on Mars. However, I wholeheartedly disagree that we need leaders (or writers) who make renewable energy or electric vehicles sound scary, or leaders (or writers) who obfuscate the dominant cause of climate change: CO2 emissions from the burning of fossil fuels.

—David Schneider, via email

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