Electric Cars Are Fun

Contributed by Jeffrey L. Sponsler, MD

We have at this time a slow evolution away from the internal combustion engine (ICE) and toward the electric vehicle (EV). Corporations that distribute fossil fuels especially "big oil" love the ICE. In the United States, our automobiles consume 391 million gallons of gasoline per day. Most climate scientists believe that dumping carbon dioxide, the waste product of the ICE, into the atmosphere is a factor in global warming. Many politicians do not support this idea. I will let the reader decide who is more believable - a scientist or a politician. 

It has been studied and reported that EVs are more energy efficient. The reasons for this efficiency include that EVs do not burn fuel while idling while ICE cars do burn gas at stoplights. If you consider coal generated electricity, then EVs do not look so good. However, electricity can be obtained through sustainable means, including solar energy, hydroelectric energy, wind energy, geothermal energy and tidal energy. We will not touch on nuclear energy in the article except to mention that there some environmental issues with atom splitting: Google on Chernobyl, Russia or Three Mile Island, Pennsylvania. Coal burning power plants are especially polluting and also require coal extraction which is a dangerous occupation and not especially good for the environment. In southern West Virginia, 1.2 million acres and 500 mountains have been blown up to strip-mine the coal. This mountaintop removal has destroyed many small communities and eliminated many creeks, streams and other important sources of clean water.

Back to oil. Most have heard of the two most serious environment disasters in the past fifty years - Deep Water Horizon and Exxon Valdez. The Valdez spilled 11 million gallons of crude oil into beautiful Prince William Sound. That spill killed 2000 otters, 300 harbor seals, 250,000 seabirds, 250 bald eagles and 22 killer whales. The lives of Alaskan fisherman were disrupted by the economic shock of the loss of various fisheries. The spill coated three national parks, four wildlife refuges and five Alaska state parks with oil. Prince William Sound will probably never be the same. And then there is the Deep Water Horizon disaster. Owned and operated by British Petroleum, the spill released 5 million barrels of crude oil (210 million gallons of crude oil) and so was higher volume that the Valdez spill. Living things damaged included coral, dolphins, crabs, fish and marsh vegetation. The death counts will never be known because of the vast area in the Gulf of Mexico that was involved. 

These events were accidents, but there is an environment disaster happening right now in slow motion in Canada. Currently, the mining of oil sands in Alberta is rendering a pristine area of the Earth into a giant strip mine. The oil sands occupy 142,200 square kilometers of Alberta. Oil has to be cooked (using energy) out of the sands and this is very inefficient. Two tons of sand are processed to yield one barrel of oil! Oil from Alberta's sands will flow through the controversial Keystone Pipeline. The carbon footprint of the oil sands is greater than oil pumped from, say, the North Slope. 

And then there is Saudi Arabia. A long-term source for oil, this kingdom is an interesting place if you are female. Women can vote and can go to school (only recently), but they cannot drive and must cover their faces when in public. In 1990, there was a protest "drive" and all the women were arrested. In 2017, a woman was arrested for driving and given a jail sentence of two months. She was not arrested for drunk driving, just driving. The very famous Osama Bin Laden was a wealthy Saudi citizen from a prominent family. When you buy gasoline, your money is going to British Petroleum, Exxon or the Saudi royal family. On the other hand, when you charge up an electric vehicle, your energy dollars go to Matanuska Electric Association; you are, in essence, supporting the local economy which is probably a good thing ("vote local" to coin a phrase). And then there are the military costs required to keep Middle East oil flowing. The Persian Gulf War of 1990 involved the US military fighting the armies of Iraq to restore Kuwait to its royal owners. The Persian Gulf War costed the Allied forces 54 billion dollars.

Now for the good news. During the term of President George W. Bush, the US Department of Energy put $25 billion in loan guarantees toward EV research and battery research. That seed money helped to begin the EV revolution that continues to this day. The most famous EV is, of course, the Toyota Prius. The Prius is a gas/electric hybrid (like a centaur or a hippogriff); other hybrids include the Highlander, the Chevy Volt, the Outlander, the Ford Escape, the Volvo XC90 T8 and many more. Hybrids use batteries and motors, but also burn gasoline and so do not carry "range anxiety" that is a concern for some drivers. Other all-electric EVs now available include the Nissan Leaf, the Chevy Bolt, the Tesla Model S, Model X and Model 3. Most manufacturers are planning EVs, hybrids or plug-in hybrids. Look for EV cars and SUVS from Audi, Mercedes, BMW and Volkswagen.