Should Environmentalists Cheer For Electric Cars? (Survey)

Tesla Model X© Tesla

Ozzie Zehner has a book coming out in June, Green Illusions, where he will make the case that "We don’t have an energy crisis. We have a consumption crisis." He writes:

We need to shift our focus away from suspect alternative energies and toward improving social and political fundamentals: walkable communities, improved consumption, enlightened governance, and, most notably, women’s rights.

it happens to be an argument that I agree with wholeheartedly; we even had a little contretemps around the water cooler between those who think that electric cars are a step forward and those (namely me) who think they are a pointless diversion from the real problem, which is urban design. So it is not a surprise that a newspaper like the Christian Science Monitor would ask him his opinion about the new Tesla launched recently, which he promptly dumps on for a number of reasons. No doubt Fox News will pick up on his points about battery production and put it on along side of its $ 250,000 subsidy per exploding car canard that they are broadcasting these days.

But Zehner is correct when he notes that what the car runs on does little to stop the real problem:

Cars enable people to spread out into patterns of suburban development, which induces ecological consequences beyond the side effects of the vehicle itself. Even the most efficient hybrid or electric cars can’t resolve the larger ecological impacts of sprawl. In fact, their green badges of honor might even help them fuel it.

He thinks environmentalists should stop being cheerleaders for alternative fuels.

Should environmentally minded people promote alternatively fueled automobiles? Some community groups are saying “No.” They’re showing how concerned citizens are better achieving their environmental objectives by supporting more durable options such as walkable neighborhoods, bicycling infrastructure, carpooling, traffic calming (incorporating physical features to slow or reduce traffic – wider sidewalks, roundabouts, etc.), and comfortable public transit.

Read page 2 at the Christian Science Monitor.

David Owen says much the same thing in one of the better bits in his new book, The Conundrum:

The major carbon spewing energy drain in a sprawling American suburb isn’t the car in the driveway, it’s the driveway. That is, it’s everything the car makes possible and necessary; the oversized house, the three bay garage, the manicured yard, the unused swimming pool, the miles of connecting asphalt, the redundant utilities, the schools, the hospitals, the shopping malls, and all the other accoutrements of inefficient suburban living- none of which would exist on anything like the same scale if residents were less able to move around at will. Cars are consumption amplifiers; driving is the pump that enlarges the sprawl balloon.

I find it hard to get excited when I see a hot new electric car, because it just lets us continue in what Jim Kunstler calls our happy motoring. Our transportation editor disagrees, writing:

Cars will be around for the foreseeable future. those that remain should be as clean as possible, and batteries are dozens of times cleaner than gasoline.

What do you think?

Should Environmentalists Cheer For Electric Cars? (Survey)
It is a conundrum. They use less of our most problematic fuel, gasoline, but the biggest problem with cars is the urban pattern it promotes.

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