Are Electric Cars Really More Environmentally Friendly?
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Are Electric Cars Really More Environmentally Friendly?


[INTRO ♪] Telling people that buying an electric car is a great way to fight climate change is a pretty reliable way to start an argument
in some circles. People will say that you still burn fossil
fuels with electric cars – it just happens at the power plant instead of the engine. And while that’s at least partly true, over their lifespans, electric cars don’t
consume anywhere near the fossil fuels that gas-powered cars do — especially in the
United States. With electricity getting cleaner all the time, they’re even better than you might expect. There are a few variables to keep in mind
though, starting with the cars themselves. In the US as of 2016, the average pure-gasoline passenger car goes about nine kilometers for each liter of gas it burns, or about twenty-two miles per gallon, but that’s just an average. Some go four kilometers or so; others go fourteen. But the fuel efficiency hits higher highs, and lower lows, when we start talking about hybrid cars or trucks on the interstate. Plus, the act of manufacturing a car leads to greenhouse gas emissions — whether it’s electric or not. So does refining gasoline. But the major complicating factor here is
electricity. And where you live determines how clean your electricity really is. Most electricity in the US uses a combination of natural gas, coal, and nuclear fission
– with a bit of water, wind, solar, oil, and a few others thrown in. But those numbers change from state to state, and depend on things like local natural gas
sources or how windy it is today. For example, Alaska has plenty of natural
gas and hydroelectric resources, so its power
plants create very little waste when generating electricity. That means a full electric vehicle charge using Alaskan electricity creates roughly the same emissions as a gas engine that drives 48 kilometers per liter or 112 mpg. That’s roughly five times the national average, and two or three times better than even some of the best hybrids. It’s pretty efficient! But at the other extreme are places like Colorado, which, energetically speaking, is one of the dirtiest states. Sorry Colorado. About half of Colorado’s electricity is
from coal, which produces more emissions than just about any other source. But even there, electric cars still outperform gas cars. A full charge off of Colorado electricity equates to about twenty kilometers per liter
(46 mpg) – about double the national average, based on
2016 figures. That’s pretty good. Better still, most of the country is closer to Alaska’s numbers than Colorado’s. It comes down to this: Power plants are just better at making power than car engines are. One reason is that they’re simply bigger. Bigger things don’t waste as much energy
staying hot — and that makes them more efficient. And the story is similar across most of the
world, although again the details change depending
on where your electricity comes from. In countries that tend to use more coal, like India or China, electric cars break even with the average gas-powered car in the US
— although they’re still less efficient than the average Indian gas-powered car. But in water-powered Paraguay or geothermal-rich Iceland, gas engines need to get more than 90 kilometers per liter to beat an electric
one. So are electric vehicles really more efficient
than gas? Yes, they absolutely are – unless you have some very dirty electricity. So much for the “well, actually”s. But climate change isn’t just one problem; it’s a hot mess of many problems at once. And it’ll take some pretty radical changes from people all over the world to keep that hot mess from getting even hotter. Thanks for asking. Before you go, you may or may not be aware that I wrote a book! And that book… is out in paperback now. I didn’t tell you about it when it was just
hardcover, but now you can get it in value discounted, not-as-hard edition! It’s a book about a girl who gets famous
on the internet, which is something I know a little bit about. And it’s also about like, space aliens,
some. So if sci-fi mixed with fame destroying people sounds like an interesting story to you, check it out! It’s available wherever books
are sold. It’s called An Absolutely Remarkable Thing. [OUTRO ♪]

100 Comments

  • LeMeBucallion

    You have to think about the future, electric cars have the potential to be as clean as cars can be and like ALL tenchology has to go though development, even if we can afford them or they cannot 100% replace our ICE cars now supporting the idea is also important, it will make more brands to put money in electric development.
    Remember oil is finite and will deplete sure not in our life time but when future generations will be forced to look alternative the solution will not just appear magicaly.

  • MrAlbedo39

    Don't forget the enormous amounts of electricity used by refineries to make gasoline, in addition to the fuel needed to transport it to all the various gas stations.

  • Akhyar Rayhka

    Since we can't make super efficient power plant for vehicles for now, electric cars is the way to go, its more smooth, more torque, less noise, at least it wont emit carbon gas on the road, and emits less heat because the absent of combustion. But electric vehicle needs improving… Battery will deteoriate and electronic is nearly impossible to fix because it isnt mechanical.

    Maybe fuel cell is the way to go….

    Battery manufacturing isnt eco friendly

  • BFMoldrin

    KM/L, seriously? Nobody uses this measure. If you wanted to make it understandable outside the US MPG context, you could've used fuel consumption is 'x' liters per 100KM (L/100KM).

  • Kim in Alaska

    This is a question I've had for years.
    22mpg average? Thats awful we get 40mpg.
    Thanks guys cool to know.
    Now how do hybrids stack up?

  • Dr Pancake Face

    Yes, buying a brand new electric car Vs a brand new gas powered car the electric car is better. But what about an older car? Which would be better for the environment, burning the coal and spending the oil to make the electric car and dumping all of those byproducts involved in the manufacture of the batteries that only last a few years or buying an old car like a Toyota or a Honda that gets really good had millage and had already repaid it's sent to the environment?

  • Steven Kelty

    My Fiat 500e is great, I used the Union of Concerned Scientists' EV emissions calculator before I bought it. Not stopping at gas stations is nice, way less guilt.

    https://www.ucsusa.org/clean-vehicles/electric-vehicles/ev-emissions-tool?_ga=2.211695125.1892565900.1567288519-1092510566.1563814580

  • BigMobe

    What happens when the battery goes bad? Can you remove and replace it or do you have to scrap the entire car because it would cost less to get a new one? Are the batteries recyclable or do they end up in landfill waiting to leak chemicals?

  • Andrzej Ława

    This is, of course, "buying a new gasoline/diesel car" vs "buying a new electric car".

    Did anyone compare "not getting a new car every 5 years and just keeping the old car in good condition" to "buying a new electric car"?

    Example: 2 years ago I bought and old (but in quite decent condition) Skoda Octavia diesel and, barring accident etc, I figure I could drive it for another 15 years at least. And I get 40mpg riding it not very gently (I got it tuned up – both engine and suspension). And I could get about 60mpg hypermiling it on a highway (coincidently it would also meen I would not exceed the speed limit). It could be even beter if I upgraded it with a 6-speed gear box. Taking into the account I don't do more then about 5000-10000 miles a year… how long would it take for my hypothetical new electric car to return its manufacturing ecological cost (and the cost of disposal of the old car)? Note: in my coultry ovewhelming majority of power comes from coal.

  • Matthew Madruga

    To say that I'm responsible for how the electricity is made is like saying your the reason for the Bay of Pigs. It doesn't make any sense.

  • U.S.Slave

    all I know is I fell the gas emissions. filling up I gotta step out the toxic cloud a few feet, walk somewhere on public sidewalk with gas cars going by ya notice the toxic affect. the affect if in bfe far from me isn't good but happens in production like any car. key will be longevity, if battery life will meet the warranty life and rest o ecar holds up well over time your in the black in less than 5 years. also the performance is sick, the Tesla car has more hp and torque than any gas or diesel truck that can tow 30k.

  • Danylo Kostirko

    You forgot to mention a couple of variables. You also have to take into account
    1. The mining and refinement of lithium
    2. The disposal of lithium and the impact on the environment

    These steps contribute to global warming. So your statistics are skewed. Also by only focusing on carbon emissions you are ignoring pollution, which is equally important to respect.

    I would really appreciate a science channel that takes a comprehensive look at the issue and doesn't ignore the science which doesn't fit with your perspective.

  • ariesrapid

    The video doesn't answer 5% of what the title of the videos suggests. At least include a Life Cycle Analysis of a EV vs ICV.

  • Quimper111

    What about the rare earth minerals required to manufacture the electric cars?

    Also: inversly, how much more money does the environmental effect cost? Electric cars tend to be more expensive than regular cars, yes? Could that money difference be invested in some other way that was more effective in reducing environmental impact or are electric cars the best "environment per dollar" investment out there?

  • sween187

    Did you ever see a lithium mine, strip mining destroying the environment and water tables around it. The best way is to use clean burning fuel (alcohols), this can be made cheap from food waste, then the waste wort can be made into fertiliser, also there isn't that much lithium in the earth, maybe enough for the next 20 30 years, so it will be like peak oil but with batteries.

  • James Biggar

    This video was not done very well. When you say 'environmentally friendly', people assume you're going to cover how the environment is impacted – not the climate. Related, but technically they're two different things. Most people understand that using clean energy to charge an EV is better in terms of CO2 emissions than using dirty energy in either an EV or ICE powered vehicle. Worst case, produce your own damn energy for your EV – that's what I do. But you didn't cover the impact on the environment, contrary to the title. This seemingly grey area is where most skeptics and critics like to wade and claim EV's are actually worse. A bit of research and some math would show they're wrong, of course. But they're not going to do that. Confirmation bias, and all. Would love to see a more detailed video done…

  • John Wallace

    The climate change, green house emissions, global warming is not true, hence the constant name change for it. This is the government’s and United Nations attempt to rule the world, taking away our American freedoms.

  • Damian Reloaded

    Let's just share this with everyone we know guys! Congratulations Hank for the book! I'll make a note to read it as soon as I can! Cheers! ^_^

  • Ivan Kujundzic

    You should really study nuclear energy ( and don't look usa via cars it's stupid). Try put tankers and cargo ships in study and please look into how large companies shift blame from them to common people.

  • cedric robertson

    All my electricity is hidro so I have no guilt about electric cars… excep for the not as green fabrication process

  • ChrisRyot

    Hm, what most people I talked to are pointing out is the very dirty process of producing the batteries, which consequently reduces the ecological friendliness of electric cars

  • T3CHN01200

    But again, you didn't bring up any numbers for the manufacture of the vehicles and that is where the majority of the counter-argument to electric cars comes from.

  • avicohen2k

    Either way its better for humans. Less engine noise and pollution right in front of your home or kids playground. Probably less noisy dirty auto repair shops as well.

  • thegangvault2

    I understand that California did a study and determined that electric cars were 25% WORSE because of the extreme amounts of energy needed to make the batteries in particular and the vehicle in general. I believe that didn't take into account that the batteries have to be replaced in 7-10 years…. there's a reason why electric cars are sooooo much more expensive; they're more difficult/more energy required to build one. The fact that you barely mentioned this and almost completely left it out of your video is highly suspicious.

  • Koniglet

    The idea that "some go 4 kilometers or so, others go 14" is pretty wild to be fair. 4 km/l is bordering on freight truck territory, and there are plenty of regular ICU cars that exceed 20 km/l, not to mention hybrids.

  • username : I suck at usernames

    Use something till it breaks, when it breaks fix it then use it again. If it cant be fixed anymore then replace it.

  • Eric McQuisten

    The fact that Tesla purchased Maxwell Technologies and can now produce 1-million-mile-batteries, as well as the fact that they can now produce batteries with 70% fewer toxic chemicals, means that a Tesla electric vehicle will be approximately 850% cleaner to build/manufacture …. and approximately 1600% cleaner to drive over its expected life.
    (vs its traditional gas-consuming counterparts)

  • Dan Stewart

    What other area of scientific endeavor has "deniers"? The scientific method necessarily requires continuous re-examination, debate and reassessment. That's how science advances, it's the only way. The state of scientific knowledge is always in flux.

    But only in climate science, an area so complex, with so many variables, assumptions and unknowns, and with so much uncertainty, are scientists who question the prevailing wisdom are denounced as "deniers" and silenced.

  • Theodore Seeber

    I still do not understand why we do not use the two biggest comservative pluses of electruc vehicle to sell them: torque and toral cost of ownership are both better with electriric.

  • Jonathan F

    It's better to take public transit if you live in the city or are staying in one. But yeah, for everyone else who needs a car, they should switch to electric if their infrastructure allows it.

  • Daniel Griffin

    We don't need all these airplane's in the skies 24/7 it insane some yess like it is now no we are killing our planet electric cars are almost there

  • ManFred TheLast

    What about, well, everything else? Manufacturing electric cars, impact of their shorter lifespan (environmentally and economically, being that less and less people can afford an expensive new car every 10 years) and sourcing the materials for those batteries, and so on. There's a lot to talk about here, it isn't as simple as "power plants are more efficient than small engines, therefore yes to electric cars" as this video makes it out…

    This video does not cover anywhere near even a small part of the argument, seems like a really lazy video. Not what I hope to expect from you guys.

  • Ian H

    This video and almost all comments are missing the point. 70% of carbon emmisions are from 100 corporations.this isnt the fault of people who buy stuff from these companies because those consumers are trapped in those systems. The blame lies with those who are benefitting from and enforcing that system.

  • Littaly

    Can you make a video about climate compensating flights? Like, paying for trees to be planted to offset your carbon emissions. It's a topic that similarly seem to spark a lot of "well, how good is it really?" in daily conversations.

  • Bazooka Llama Productions

    its a lot more eficient to create energy from fuel in a large industrial facility thats SPECIFICALLY DESIGNED to convert resources to energy, rather than have EVERYBODY do it "ON THE SPOT in theirown tiny car. where most on the engines power is lost as heat.

  • Alan Equest

    Sure making any car is bad environmentally, but an EV is way more nature friendly when considering it doesnt burn fuel when sitting idle, you dont have to warm it up 5 minutes wasting fuel (which in a EV equates to 30 seconds plugging in once a day, varing), and most important, you dont have to waste fuel going to get fuel. You simply charge at your destination/home/work.

  • Susan Henderson

    Is there any validity to the concerns brought up in Germany that electric cars create and maintain more CO2 emissions than a diesel truck?

  • Bazooka Llama Productions

    suck on THAT "every old republican ever" 😛

    oh wait… theyll just deny that polution matters in the first place…

  • PJ Frederic

    Suck it Adam Conover. Your electric car episode just like your entire show is BS. So much so that everything from physicists to doctors to legal analysts have to waste their time correcting you. EVs for the win!

  • Shamanot Urdiculous

    Hydropower is not clean. PG&E spends millions each year on cloud seeding in order to increase the snow pack. Everything around them in the mountains below the snow pack burns down due to being too dry. Last year the amount of CO2 released due to all the fires caused by PG&E has only made the C02 problem worse.

  • darkmage07070777

    If we could just get off our asses and restart the nuclear power initiative, electric cars could become nearly carbon neutral.

  • ImVeryBrad

    I live in Canada and no one here uses Km/L >.<
    The cold here in the winter kind of kills the idea for electric cars for me, might suck too much juice for my 70km highway commute to work

  • Tejas Kudva

    Would encourage cycling or public transport to be used more by people as much as possible. Nothing better than that imo.

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