Are Electric Cars The Future? Arguments For And Against

By Jordyn Posluns on March 4 2020 in Society

Some electric vehicles can take up to 20 hours to charge.
Some electric vehicles can take up to 20 hours to charge.
  • The first electric vehicle prototype was invented in 1832 by Scottish inventor Robert Anderson.
  • While there are countless environmental benefits to owning an electric vehicle, upfront costs and driving range/charging limitations can be prohibitive.
  • Besides the financial costs to electric vehicle ownership, there are serious environmental and social costs to be considered during the purchasing decision.

It's tough to dispute the countless benefits of investing in eco-friendly technologies, especially when it comes to electric cars. The deployment of electric vehicles has skyrocketed over the past ten years; in 2018, the global stock of electric passenger vehicles surpassed 5 million, a whopping 63% increase compared to the prior year. But reports indicate that not everyone has hopped on board the "electric car" express train - why do some people think electric vehicles are a bad idea? Are they right? This article explores the different perspectives related to electric vehicles: the good, the bad, and the ugly. It turns out Kermit may be right after all - it's not easy being green.

3. The Good

Most people - whether you're a self-proclaimed car aficionado or not - are familiar with electric cars' most obvious benefit: they're eco-friendly.  The simple fact that electric vehicles are are a greener alternative to gas-powered cars is enough to convince many drivers making the switch is a worthwhile investment. Electric vehicles have zero greenhouse gas emissions (they don't even have an exhaust system, for Pete's sake!) since they run on a rechargeable battery. Less pollution means cleaner air and a healthier planet - that's something we can all get behind!

Electric vehicles are also much more energy-efficient than regular gas-powered vehicles, which means they require less fuel to drive the same distance. Did you know that electric vehicle batteries convert 59%-62% of energy into vehicle movement, whereas gas-powered cars only convert 17%-21%? Think about that statistic the next time you fill up at the pump!

Don't forget: electricity is significantly less expensive than gasoline!  Electric vehicles operate at only one-third of the cost compared to gas-powered cars, so the ongoing costs of owning an electric car are considerably lower than the conventional alternative. Saying goodbye to oil changes (and any other maintenance costs related to combustion engines, filters, and spark plugs) means more savings in your pocket.

Another bonus is the tax credit you may be eligible to receive as an owner of a zero-emissions vehicle. Of course, the size of your tax credit will vary depending on where you live and the make and model of the vehicle, but some have reportedly been as large as $7,500.

Electric vehicles are smooth operators (literally)! The engines are whisper-quiet in comparison to gas-powered cars and tend to be able to react more quickly and operate more efficiently in stop-and-go driving conditions.

2. The Bad

Electric cars charge on the side of the road.

Owning an electric car isn't without its shortcomings.

The maintenance costs associated with owning an electric vehicle may not burn a hole in your wallet the same way gas-powered cars do, but you'll be in for a surprise if you think you'll be saving much money on your initial investment. The upfront costs of electric vehicles - even when you factor in tax rebates and state incentives - as well as their replacement battery packs, can be too expensive for some to stomach.

One of the pain points that most electric vehicle owners complain about is its relatively limited driving range, even on a full charge. While technology is improving the capabilities of electric vehicles to reach further distances, most 2020 models are limited to 100 to 150 miles per charge, while certain higher-end models boast over 300 miles per charge (like the Tesla Model S Long Range), which is on par with most gas-powered cars. Imposing restrictions on how far you can drive can be problematic, especially if you're considering making a long-distance trip.

Depending on where you live, another concern that may make you think twice about giving up gasoline is the inaccessibility to charging stations in certain regions. Yes, as electric vehicle ownership increases in popularity, the number of available charging stations will inevitably follow suit. But until then, you better hope that you don't suddenly find yourself desperately needing to boost your battery in a remote area without a charging station in sight - yikes!

Speaking of charging your electric vehicles, most electric engines need approximately four hours to fully charge, as opposed to a mere couple of minutes to fill up your tank at the gas station. Certain models can take up to 20 hours! The good news is that kits are now reportedly available that pledge to slash charging times by 50%.

1. The Ugly

While we've discussed the environmental benefits of electric car ownership, it's important to acknowledge that there are some environmental costs to manufacturing and operating electric vehicles.

Electric vehicles run on electricity, which is primarily generated from fossil fuels, nuclear power, and other non-renewable resources that contribute to environmental pollution. Indicators suggest that this may not be an everlasting concern since global investment in electricity generation from renewable energy resources continues to grow.

Due to electric cars' heavy batteries, tires may wear faster, resulting in more particulate matter pollution, which could lead to environmental damage and negative health effects, like respiratory problems or premature death in people with heart or lung disease.

As is the case with all vehicles, the manufacturing of electric cars causes carbon dioxide emissions to be released into the atmosphere, which contributes to the greenhouse effect, climate change, acid rain, and negative human health impacts.

The social costs of manufacturing electric vehicles may be the most disturbing concern of all. Amnesty International has called the ethical claims of electric cars into question after reporting incidences of human rights abuses during the manufacturing process, including the use of child labor to extract minerals needed to produce the batteries that power electric vehicles. 

Amnesty International urges the public that we should not be fighting climate change at the expense of human rights. Kumi Naidoo, Amnesty’s Secretary-General, explained, "Without radical changes, the batteries which power green vehicles will continue to be tainted by human rights abuses."

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