Comment Of The Day: “Electric Cars And The Following The Science” Lie

Come to Ethics Alarms for the mile-wide and inch deep reflections of the ethicist, stay for the enhancement, perspective and enlightening analysis by the readers who know what they are writing about.

Sarah B.’s superb Comment of the Day needs no more introduction, and besides, don’t read me on this topic when you should be reading her.

Here is her COTD on the post,”Electric Cars And The “Following The Science” Lie.”


First, anyone who says “follow the science” has forgotten what science means. Science is a process that states a method for determining the most likely reason for something. Science requires us to observe a phenomenon, hypothesize about the phenomenon, posit a fair test of the hypothesis, complete the test several times with the same inputs, and compare the results of the tests with the observed phenomenon. The better correlated the test with reality, the better the hypothesis and the more likely it is to be true. Conversely, if you cannot replicate your test or your test or your test does not correlate well with reality, it is either time to scrap the test or the hypothesis.

Anthropogenic climate change is not science by the centuries old definition. The tests are mostly unable to be replicated, and the results have been proven false, time and again. To follow the science, it is time to scrap that hypothesis and move on.

Second, I was amazed to see such low requirements for electric cars to validate their “green” existence. Most studies I have read on this subject put the threshold far closer to 100,000 miles before even coming close. The best I have seen before this one puts us nearer to 75,000 miles than 25,000 miles.

Third, this study only deals with the formulation of the battery. If one considers where we are getting the energy, and as other commenters have noted, solar and wind are not nearly so clean as you would like to think. Heck, think of all the chemicals that need to go into making those panels, even though they cannot give us power 24/7/365 like burning fossil fuels. Life cycle analyses on electric cars, considering batteries, electricity, grid concerns, etc tend to push them to obscene mileage, well above expected battery life. In this instance, they are not unlike windmills, with an expected 30 year life and a 37-52 year payback period, sans government intervention.

Fourth, no one bothers, when discussing electric vehicle, to discuss the basic laws of thermodynamics. These laws are just like the laws of gravity, not caring whether or not you like them. They don’t care what is fair. They don’t care what is socially acceptable. They don’t care if they inconvenience some more than others, because if you are too stupid to get on the wrong side of these laws, you will pay the price. So, thermodynamics state that whenever one transforms matter to energy, or energy to another type of energy, or energy to matter, that there will be a loss in total energy. To take a simple example, we get most electricity by burning coal. The rock is in the ground. We have to spend energy to get it out of the ground and pulverized. Now we’ll start into some of the math. Coal is burned. The gas is used to make steam, the steam is used to turn a turbine that makes electricity. The gas is cleaned. This process has a maximum theoretical efficiency of around 45%. Most of the power plants run at about 33% because theoretical efficiency is not anywhere close to real world possiblity. So for every 100 units of energy the coal gives off, you get 33%.

Let’s now get some minor math happening for electric cars. I’m going to skip the big equations and use easily available numbers from reputable sites. For this exercise, we are going to assume that preparing coal for electric generation uses the same amount of energy as preparing gasoline for car consumption, as gasoline and coal are equivalent primary sources, but electricity is not a primary energy source unless you are hooking up your power lines to silk kites. Now, a car that gets gasoline loses 64-75% on inefficiencies and powering auxiliaries. So a car that was given 100 units of power from gasoline gets 25 units of power when all is said and done, with the WORST assumptions on gasoline cars.

For an electric car, I’m going to use the MOST FAVORABLE numbers. Now, an electric car that starts with 100 units of power from coal loses 33% to electric generation, 5% on electric transmission, 89% for charging, and 88% on inefficiencies. (It is assumed by the DOE sources I found that heating and cooling, as well as any auxiliary power usages on an electric motor are not consuming enough power to mean anything, so they are ignored, even though the electricity drain on the battery for those devices has been shown in other studies to be significant.) The electric car, through that math, gives us, in the BEST case scenario, 23.7 units of power. So the best case theoretical scenario of an electric car under performs the worst case scenario of the gasoline powered car.

Fifth, and this is a major problem that no one discusses and people like me keep getting told to shut up. Lithium batteries need cobalt for stability. Nobody really likes batteries that routinely go boom. (I’ll grant Bolts the assumption that we emphasize freak occurrences.) Cobalt mines are worse than any Nike sweatshop ever was on children. Sure, we could mine cobalt humanely, for a huge increase in cost that would take even the cheapest lithium battery out of the average American price range, but we don’t. Are we just ignoring the high human cost here, or can we maim and murder children in far off countries so long as we avoid a completely unproven and damn nearly disproven future climate catastrophe that defies all current data? If we are looking to improve the world for our future, how about not killing that future off? Yes, we want cobalt, yes, we need cobalt. Without these child-killing cobalt mines, our society as we know it would probably come to a screeching halt, EVs or no. However, if we are wanting to expand on EVs, we need more cobalt than ever. If we want to pretend these cars are good for anything, we need to ignore the kids we kill for every car. This does not sound like an environmentally friendly option.

Sixth, what about all these minerals we need for windmills, batteries, solar panels, etc? I once saw a survey that suggested that if we did what our GND folks want, we would totally strip the planet of certain minerals, and still not come close to realizing demand. Yes, many of these minerals are plentiful, but we are talking about 1,000-10,000-100,000 fold increases in mining for some of these minerals. Also, in dealing with resources, we can talk all we want about resource availability, but this comes down to the fossil fuel talk of resources and reserves. In technical terms, a resource is what we can find. A reserve is what we can economically and practically retrieve. Many of the assumptions in the mineral needed for this EV revolution require magical thinking to get resources and reserves to be the same value. Unicorn farts anyone?

Finally, we have the other problems with electric cars. They have battery usage at 300 miles per charge, and a charge time of at least 30 minutes, though depending on if you have the exact right connection for this particular vehicle, you may have upwards of four hours. Remember that most numbers for electric cars are for the 80% charge. The last 20% takes the longest and is most inefficient, so we just don’t talk about that. A good battery really has 300 miles per charge and takes 30 minutes to get to 80%. So you should count out 20% of that mileage or say that it has 270 miles per charge. The studies on these vehicles have shown that the 300 mile/charge is about 100-150 when the temperature drops to below 32F or there is significant wind, etc. In addition, charging stations are not all that common, so if I’m on the BFE stretch that is I-80 Wyoming and I’m low on charge, I’m screwed, as compared to gasoline. You will destroy middle America. I have many more stops. I also can get someone to siphon a gallon of gas, or haul me to the next station where I can buy a gallon of gas, to get my dead car from the side of the road. I’m not sure how you are carrying that 100W of electricity.

And to top all of this off, we have the long term issues of the power grid. The power grid cannot handle a large quantity of electric cars. There have been requests in many municipalities that electric car owners not plug their cars in until off-peak hours due to brown out issues. These cars pull wattage on a more drastic scale than any other common home appliance. When calculating house electrical usage, one of the biggest factors for any home is whether or not there is an EV. This can cause the entire electrical system to have significant reliability, and even health and safety issues, depending on the age of the local grid.

Electrical cars have not one damn thing to do with following science, and even suggesting that we follow science is stupid. The data that is available shows that while EVs can help ameliorate some gasoline costs, they are not good for humanity or the environment in their current configuration.

I have plenty of other thoughts, but I have spent way too much time on this and need to get back to work…

24 thoughts on “Comment Of The Day: “Electric Cars And The Following The Science” Lie

  1. My son drove from Chicago to Denver in his Tesla, stopping every 150 miles to get a needed charge. When he stopped here, he plugged the car into my dryer outlet (240 volts) for two hours, which gave him a grand total of 14% more battery power. Admittedly, a fast charge system could give him a full charge in a quarter of that time, but it seems to me that the reliability of the battery system just isn’t there for anything other than urban trips. Until we develop a better and more capable grid to handle the demands of these limited batteries, EVs will remain something only the urban wealthy can really employ. And they will have to drive them a long time to make them truly eco-positive.

    • Yeah, you can’t rely on level 2 charging for short stops. That’s what the superchargers are for.

      And I’d be hard pressed to take another road trip in anything other than my Tesla. It adds time to the trip, but a young family appreciates the breaks anyway, and the pros outweigh the extra time easily.

    • I second that Chris and intend to share.
      I believe that Demeter’s comment about “real world food vs energy debate.” in the same original thread as Sarah B. is at least worthy of an honorable mention.
      I found his real life experience and commentary to be quite informative albeit also quite sad and discouraging. It is a wakeup call just like China gobbling up millions of acres of our land is.

      Is the self-charging Prius any kind of eco-friendly automotive solution?

      • I think the Toyota Prius and most other hybrid vehicles are at the technological forefront of what an environmentalist-minded average American wants.
        It fulfills the need for range and can be topped off at places that already exist (gas stations) in less than ten minutes. They’re reliable and can serve as test-beds for newer technologies. The Prius gets bigger and heavier with each generation, yet somehow manage to obtains better fuel economy without sacrificing power.
        The goals set by the Biden Administration are not going to be met without much electricity generation; existing generation is unable to meet existing demand, and today’s Democrats seem weirdly proud to threaten utility customers with rolling blackouts rather than add capacity to meet demand.
        An electric car makes more sense if you have a short commute and can fully recharge overnight without a super-charger; renting a gasoline powered vehicle for the occasional longer drives.
        I can’t think of any reason to exclude hybrid vehicles if you want to spend less on gasoline and retain the range of a gasoline powered vehicle. Unless you’re keeping up with the Jones’ or are a climate alarmist, it’s very practical and will likely cost less than an electric car.
        The Toyota Camry/Lexus ES hybrids have similar fuel economy to the Prius without looking any different than the gasoline only versions; the Prius is only available as a hybrid and can quickly be identified.
        Some people get off on signaling their morally superior status by driving a car that is obviously a hybrid. Others shun it.

      • I agree Demeter’s comment was one for the record books for quality information an context. I am using the information in that post when I debate the whole solar farm issue.

  2. The ultimate players in the game come in three flavors-

    The true environmentalists hate humans. You really press them on ways to engage in modern living but environmentally conscious and it turns out they just hate modern living and just hate humans who are happy.

    The second is there’s a kind of environmentalist state-capitalism game being played. You press these guys with *real* energy solutions – like nuclear – and they never go for it because there are way larger government subsidies with way less work involved for the fake renewables like wind & solar.

    Third are conservationists which themselves are split – there are good conservationists who I generally agree with: we are stewards of our environment and where we can keep things clean we should, but the environment is also ours to utilize. Locally we can make life very unhealthy for us and locally we should do what we can to avoid those conditions. These environmentalists aren’t successful because for one – the crusade isn’t big and sexy and attention grabbing and two – the crusade requires real work on a personal level by everyone who feels this way. The other type of conservationist is some type of mad scientist who wants to govern society according to his or her understanding of the way an ecological system works. Only they don’t know because we aren’t omniscient – so we’d end up making really poor decisions with effects just as bad as the perceived problem.

  3. “Are we just ignoring the high human cost here, or can we maim and murder children in far off countries so long as we avoid a completely unproven and damn nearly disproven future climate catastrophe that defies all current data?”

    Democrats are… interesting.

    See, a generation or two ago, they would have been leading the charge for work to be done in America. They would have done this because they cared about a middle class union base that liked being in work. They would have fought bitterly, against the evil Republicans, saying that cared so much more about money than the lives of the slave labor that made their goods.

    We’ve completely turned that page. I don’t think that the Democrats are pushing production overseas because they want the cheap prices though. I used to think it was quasi-humanitarian, that despite the atrocious reality of labor laws in the markets we’re dealing with, that *some* economy is better than no economy, and that the world is desperately trying to shore up the Chinese economy, because if China’s economy falls (and it will), then that has some pretty nasty downstream repercussions for the world.

    I said “used to”, and that’s not quite right, I still believe that’s part of the puzzle. A larger part though, is a NIMBY mindset. Not In My Backyard.

    “We don’t want to prosecute illegal immigration! (So long as you don’t bus them here)”

    “We don’t want to drill oil or mine cobalt in America! (But please drill drill and mine over there)”

    “Electric cars are so clean! (Please never tell me where the power is generated)”

    So much of current Democrat policy revolves around letting someone else do the dirty work, out of sight, out of mind, consequences be damned. They want to have their cake and eat it too, well out of sight of the starving kid who made it. Knowing that no one will get the reference, but no more perfect a reference could be made: They are the Tehranee to the Relyimah. They must be made to see the Unseen.

    • Gah…. Not only will no one get the reference, they’ll never find it if I don’t at least spell it right. “Terahnee”. I loved the books, but I always thought that name was a little too much on the nose.

    • It’s a similar analogy to people who like steak but have been so detached from the steak making process they are appalled that a cow dies and are glad the cow dies nowhere near them.

        • And also that some of the things we enjoy in life involve *real* *dirty* *hard* work. And some people have been so convinced that real, dirty, hard work is by definition unfair and exploitative that they don’t want to see what makes them feel guilty.

          Never mind that their definition is wrong. Some work is exploitative and unfair – but it isn’t automatically so just because some work is difficult.

          • They Care, so deeply, about the environment while doing nothing to help it. They Care, desperately, about socialism, and the plight of the average Joe while rummaging through artisan ice cream in a $20,000 fridge. They Care, immensely, about your well being, so they advocate an alternative lifestyle while living a very conservative one.

            And what is bad? The sweatshops overseas? The genociding dictators? The pollution of emerging countries? No…. No…. That’s not their problem, it’s happening over there. NIMBY. It’s probably fake news or something anyway. No, what’s really bad is the people that disagree with them. The people who don’t go along with their fantasy. Their political opponents. Eeeeeviiiiiil.

            Perhaps they used to care about this. Now they just don’t want to see it. It’s below them. The reality is that they don’t Care. They want to be seen as Caring. They don’t know, they just want to be seen as knowing. It’s all performative.

            I’m so tired. Bone weary… of the performance.

      • Michael, I am not sure if the slaughterhouse example works here. Everyone knows the steer, pig or chicken dies and we do what we can to ensure the animal processing is done as humanely as possible given the outcome. On the other hand we willfully turn a blind eye to horrific child welfare conditions in third world nations. I do agree that NIMBY is at work but only because they know they will be forced to face the negative externalities when it is close to home.
        NIMBY exists because people are aware of the issues at play.

        • First off, I don’t don’t think that everyone knows that meat is a cut up steer. Heck, I’m not even sure that everyone even knows what a steer is… But more importantly, there’s a difference in knowing rhetorically that your meat is a cut up steer, and actually coming to terms with it and understanding what that means. They don’t engage with that. That lack of engagement is how PETA gets members.

          I think “negative externalities” in that context is so broad it’s almost meaningless. It might be less lucrative to mine cobalt in America because you don’t abuse your labor quite the same way China does. Sure it’s not legal to enslave portions of our populations into work camps the way they do… But the work could get done. It would just get done a little more expensively. So “negative externalities” here might mean anything from “illegal” to “decreased margins”. But more than anything else…. What I think actually drives their NIMBYism more that anything else is self-actualization.

          It’s not as simple as a profit motive. They could get that any number of ways. They want to be seen as good people. They want to feel good about themselves. They want the acclaim. Look no further than Fauci for the posterchild on this. They don’t necessarily want to do anything good for you, they want to be seen as doing good for you. They don’t care about the issues, they want to be seen as caring. And any time you suspend your disbelief, any time you question that premise, it bothers them… Right down to the core. You can tell: In interviews, when they catch a mere whiff of anything less than on-side for them, the defensiveness, the speed in which their hackles come up, it’s so disproportionate.

        • “Everyone knows the steer, pig or chicken dies and we do what we can to ensure the animal processing is done as humanely as possible given the outcome.”

          Not really Chris. Not by a long shot. If you research factory farming, you will discover the meat industry is unnecessarily *very* cruel and inhumane just to maximize profits. Animals be damned. It does not have to be this way and the meat industry hides their brutally painful processing methods as best they can. It is wrong on so many levels and they know it.
          Exposure was/is the only way to influence those who run the businesses.
          It requires people risking their lives undercover to video the horrific treatment within slaughterhouses and then putting in the public domain. Organizations like Mercy for Animals, among others, have made great progress in persuading big name corps to improve their processing methods.

          You will never walk down a meat aisle and look at the offerings the same way after viewing just one of the many videos that capture the reality of animal processing. I included a link to one that is narrated by Paul McCartney.
          Warning: not for the faint of heart. I will understand if Jack (or anyone) would decide not to allow the link.

          • I know that the meat processing industry does the minimum necessary to humanely process the product. The operative word is humanely. Humans are not benevolent and often times violent to get what they want. So, the word humanely means to me, that which society as a whole will tolerate. Every person has his or her subjective level of indifference toward animal cruelty. At one extreme we have those who believe that animals possess the same rights as human beings and on the other hand we have those that treat livestock, wild animals and pets horrifically because they have what I might call sadistic tendencies. There was a post a day or two ago about a walrus. I for one would have suggested euthanizing those invading the walrus’ space instead of euthanizing the walrus. The walrus had no advocate. Opinions varied here but the overwhelming perspective was that humans always take priority. I don’t agree with that. I did not weigh in on that post because the outcome was unnecessary and unchangeable at that point. In essence we can see from that example that many believe that humanely means whatever minimizes the cost to human beings. I don’t.

            My point was that as a society we supposedly have government agencies to ensure that animals are not mistreated. When they are, that is a failure of the agency whose mission is to hold processors to a given standard. I do agree that exposure has proven valuable to reducing animal cruelty. One must wonder why we fund government personnel to do what private organizations can accomplish. Perhaps we should fund those NGO’s. If there are some that do not know where their animal product food supply comes from and that animals don’t die in the process, I have no answer for that level of ignorance.

            With respect to NIMBYism, one must be aware of and reject being subject to the negative externalities that occur in any activity. Yes, we could mine various minerals without using child labor but those living in the area will object because of how the operation will affect the value of living in that particular area. The opposing residents know that noise, pollution, potential contamination of their water supplies and even visual degradation will affect their financial position and general wellbeing. With that said, I do agree that these same people who fight tooth and nail to stop a project in their communities stop fighting when it becomes someone else’s fight.

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