By Andrew Fillat & Henry Miller
The United States is being taken for a very expensive ride by an unholy alliance between climate ideologues and business opportunists, who have exerted undue influence over public opinion and government institutions in the name of climate change. The misnamed Inflation Reduction Act, signed into law by President Biden last Tuesday, allocates $369 billion to climate initiatives – a hugely expensive exercise in virtue-signaling that can be expected to reduce global warming by the year 2100 by only 0.0009 to 0.028 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s a tour de force of political showboating, and the electric vehicle (EV) aspects may be the bill’s most egregious example of non-cost-effective spending.
Pushing EVs is essentially selling snake oil with limited benefit at astronomical cost. To start with, U.S. passenger vehicles produce less than 1% of global greenhouse gases because the U.S. accounts for about one-seventh of global emissions of which the transportation sector is 14%, with passenger vehicles well below 40% of that. This calculation renders the potential benefit for even universal EV adoption essentially meaningless, even before accounting for the offsetting emission of CO2 (around 95% of greenhouse gas emissions) in EV battery production and recycling. Manufacturing an EV battery produces from 10 to 30 tons of CO2 (depending on battery size and manufacturing considerations), which offsets two to five years of emissions savings from EV adoption. And that ignores the environmental impact of producing the required charging electricity, but more on that below.
Then there are the serious implementation problems. Critical elements that are components of batteries are in short supply. Lithium prices have surged 750% since the start of 2021. Neodymium and other rare earths are in short supply. Seventeen critical battery minerals are 100% imported, often from hostile suppliers like China, Republic of Congo, or leftist Latin American countries. Talk about supply chain challenges.
As to costs, it is a fantasy to expect there to be sufficient charging infrastructure to successfully replace gasoline vehicles. In 2021, approximately 3.2 trillion passenger miles were driven in the U.S., of which 1.5 trillion were by passenger cars. A Tesla consumes about 35 kilowatt hours (KwH) per 100 miles driven (trucks would be much higher due to weight), so the total annual electricity required if all U.S. vehicles were EVs would be somewhere around 1-2 trillion KwH. This represents nearly half of today’s total US power generation.
We won’t hazard a guess as to the costs, but they will be gargantuan. Consider all the generation, centralized transformers, transmission facilities, and local distribution networks that would have to be replaced or upgraded. (Note that some parts of the country already have rolling brownouts.) There has been no viable plan yet articulated for bringing charging to cities dependent on street parking. But what’s another few trillion dollars among friends?
Renewable energy sources for charging are not an answer, either ecologically or economically. A typical wind turbine produces 6 million KwH per year. This implies the need for about 300,000 wind turbines just to charge EVs, which would take up 25 million acres of land. We would need about a billion tons of concrete and almost as much iron. And consider the required rare minerals and lithium: As just one example, we would need to find and mine as much as 100 times more neodymium than the total amount of that mineral that is mined today. Solar is even less land and material efficient.
And who pays for these EV’s? Profits to industry, if any, come from luxury EVs too expensive for average Americans (absent government subsidies much larger than those offered today). It is well known that the mainstream auto manufacturers subsidize less-expensive EVs by selling gas powered SUVs and trucks (which would disappear), and that Tesla profits handsomely from selling carbon credits. Luxury car makers like BMW, Mercedes, and Audi can simply raise prices for EVs to eye-watering levels by capitalizing on their cachet. But increasing the penetration of EVs among the general population is fraught with unintended consequences: It can bankrupt mainstream car makers trying to keep prices affordable as battery costs skyrocket due to component constraints, or add significantly to consumer and government debt as carmakers raise prices to effectively capture ballooning government subsidies in order to survive. (Ford just raised their F-150 e-truck prices by $6,000-$8,500.)
Pushing electric cars as a panacea may be the most brazen and expensive scam ever perpetrated, trading trillions of dollars for trivial climate benefits. And this is courtesy of climate ideologues who are, to be charitable, ignorant of the facts and indulging in delusional virtue-signaling.
It is high time for government and taxpayers to get out of the electric vehicle morass and redirect the flood of wasted resources toward research and strategies that could actually make a difference for the climate, most notably nuclear power.
Andrew I. Fillat spent his career in technology venture capital and information technology companies. He is also the co-inventor of relational databases. Henry I. Miller, a physician and molecular biologist, is a Senior Fellow at the Pacific Research Institute. They were undergraduates together at M.I.T.