An electric car sounds like the obvious eco-friendly vehicle alternative. But is it really as “green” as we might initially think? When we weighed the pros and cons, we weren’t convinced enough to incur the additional costs on behalf of the environment. Here’s why we chose a traditional gasoline-powered car over an electric vehicle for our family.
For our family, making sustainable and eco-friendly choices involves striking a balance that we can actually sustain. We aren’t set on always choosing the “perfectly green” option if it requires so much energy that it becomes overwhelming or exhausting. This isn’t practical (and therefore, not sustainable).
Recently, our car lease expired. We contemplated what type of car to lease for many months. Should we get an electric car? Fancy or practical? Same brand or something new? What size?
Ultimately, we landed on another practical sedan with a traditional, combustion engine. While we initially planned to opt for electric, more research led to a change of heart about it, at least for now.
6 Reasons We Chose Not To Lease An Electric Car
Energy Source To Power Battery
While an electric vehicle doesn’t discharge carbon emissions while driving, the battery requires energy to be charged between uses. The environmental benefit of using an electric vehicle is only as good as the source of the energy generating the electricity that powers the battery charger. In many cases, we don’t have a whole lot of control over this.
If the charger is plugged into an energy source powered by coal, for example, we’re trading gasoline emissions for coal emissions (and mineral extraction, described below). I’m not yet convinced this trade-off lives up to the hype.
Environmental Consequences of Lithium-ion Batteries
Electric cars require lithium-ion batteries. Lithium is a mineral that must be extracted from the Earth and treated with chemicals before it is ready to be part of a battery. Lithim-ion batteries also require other minerals like nickel and copper that must be mined, a process that is particularly harmful to the environment.
The Environmental Protection Agency of the United States government released a life-cycle study a few years ago looking at the environmental and health impacts of lithium-ion batteries for electric vehicles. The report concludes that, despite having reduced carbon emissions, electric cars have their own set of environmental and health consequences. Mining of components I mentioned above, extensive water usage to extract lithium in areas already short on water supply, and chemical use required during mining and manufacturing all pose environmental and health risks that are worth considering.
Additionally, we don’t know what will happen to all the electric car batteries as they die out. Most parts can be recycled, though some parts require harsh chemical treatments to refurbish the lithium and make available to reuse. Is all this really any better for the environment than the carbon alternatives?
Hydrogen Fuel Cell Alternatives
Lithium-ion battery-powered cars are not the only ‘green’ vehicle option, though they are the most common right now. Some companies also make vehicles powered by hydrogen fuel cells.
Hydrogen fuel cells may be a better alternative to lithium-ion battery-powered cars, but they aren’t readily available to us right now (at least where we live). You can check out more about hydrogen fuel cells in this Green Dreamer podcast episode all about the topic and its benefits to environmental health.
Carbon Sequestration Developments
While the long-term impacts of lithium and related component extraction and recycling on our environment are less understood (or at least less known by the general public), we have a wealth of research to support the harmful impacts of carbon on our climate. We know the harm over the last hundred years has been huge, but carbon is not inherently bad.
Further, we also have many scientists and companies hard at work on projects to sequester carbon from the air and return it to its original home in the ground. As we weighed our options, we considered if the carbon impact of a traditional internal combustion engine in conjunction with carbon sequestration technology might actually be less harmful to our planet than lithium-ion battery production and recycling.
Certain types of carbon sequestration, like regenerative agriculture practices that return carbon to our soil, are actually good for the environment and good for the soil. It’s a win-win for the Earth and our well-being.
I don’t have a definitive answer on this matter, but the carbon sequestration developments and the ways they can actually help our agriculture systems offered another set of pros and cons to consider.
The electric cars we looked at cost about 50% more than the exact same traditional alternative from the same dealer. Additionally, we do not have the infrastructure in the area we live to rely on external charging stations, so we would have had to purchase a charging station for our garage and hire an electrician to install it. The incremental cost of driving an electric car, given uncertainty about how much better it really is based on the factors above, just didn’t seem worth it right now, at least for our family.
Difficulty With Dealer
Lastly, we had a really hard time finding electric cars in our area. There are a few available, but many dealers don’t carry them to test drive. There is not enough demand to warrant dealers having stock available on the lot. Thus, we couldn’t even see the cars before we bought them.
We didn’t call every dealer for every brand in town, but we called a few and they all had the same story. I suspect the lack of service required on an electric car limits the dealer’s incentive to sell electric cars; it’s one less potential revenue source during the life of the car. But even when compared to leases, where all service was included on the car during the life of the lease, the price of the electric car was much higher and dealers weren’t interested in helping us through the process.
Had the issue with dealerships been the only impediment, we probably would have pushed forward and gotten an electric car anyway. I have driven a couple of electric cars, including the particular model we planned to lease. When combined with all the other factors, however, it just didn’t make sense. We weren’t confident enough that the choice was incrementally beneficial enough to the environment that it was worth the hassle and increased costs.
In the end, we weren’t certain which alternative really has the best environmental and health “scoresheet”. We can only make the best decision with the facts available to use and within the circumstances of our lives. Unclear on the environmental and health consequences, we chose the most affordable option. At the very least, we can invest the savings into other “green” lifestyle choices for the duration of the lease.
What kind of car do you drive? What factors did you consider when choosing why type of car worked best for your family?