Electric Vehicles and Environment

Human activities are creating many negative impacts on environment one among them is transportation. Carbon dioxide emissions from traditional vehicles contribute to greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and accelerate climate change. Climate refers to the long-term shift in temperatures and weather patterns. These changes come with some risks like extreme weather events, long term changes to our climate and affect the financial system and economy. A changing climate affects human health and wellbeing. Electric transport will be vital in our efforts to stem climate change. Switching to electrical vehicle is one way to reduce the further damage on earth. Over the last decade, there’s been an increase in the purchasing of electric vehicles. There is a silent revolution taking place in the global transport sector, with electrification of bikes, motorbikes, buses, freight trains, tractors, heavy trucks picking up at unprecedented pace. EVs are a lot more eco-friendly than conventional gasoline-powered vehicles on the market today.   If all vehicles on the road became powered by renewable electricity, switching to EV undoubtedly represents a good strategy to stop global warming. Indeed, if all vehicles on the road became electric, it could cut the global emissions and help to create the sustainable environment.

On the pros side, electric vehicles are energy efficient, they are good for the environment, and don’t require as much maintenance as traditional vehicles. But the benefits of expanding the electric sector go beyond just this: besides being able to enjoy cleaner air, we would be less dependent on conflict-fuelled spikes in oil prices and we would have quieter cities. Innovation is driving cheaper manufacturing costs for EV batteries, thus cheaper purchasing prices. Around the world, governments and automakers are promoting electric vehicles as a key technology to curb oil use and fight climate change. While there is no doubt that electric vehicles will be important in the fight against the climate crisis, it is equally important to answer a crucial question: are electric vehicles truly better for the environment than those with combustion engines in the long run?

When analyzing whether electric vehicles are better for the environment, it is important to reflect on the footprint generated by EV batteries. It is known that the initial environmental footprint from current EV production is greater than the production of internal combustion engines, specifically from producing electric car batteries. Lithium-ion batteries, the most common type of EV batteries which contains two energy-dense raw materials: lithium and cobalt. In order to meet the skyrocketing demand, production capacity has reached record levels, as did mining for these two metals. However, the question is not whether the world has enough lithium. Despite demand expected to rise from approximately half a million metric tons in 2021 to some 3 million metric tons in 2030, experts believe that there is enough product to supply the lithium-ion battery industry. What is far more concerning is the environmental impact of drilling for this metal. Lithium mining is a process known for being extremely detrimental to the environment as well as incredibly resource-intensive, with side effects including water loss and contamination, ground destabilization, and biodiversity loss. 

According to the IEA (International energy agency), the volume of electric vehicle batteries that will be retired by 2030 nearly equals the current annual battery production. Along with the production of EV battery, the disposal or the end life emissions of such batteries must be taken into consideration. As the industry grows, number of used batteries are more and there is no clear-cut picture about the recycling of used batteries. In order to prevent this from becoming a significant environmental liability, manufacturers must be accountable for the disposal and recycling of used batteries and the industry needs to come up with effective measures to address such issues.

When we are thinking about the environmental sustainability it is not enough if we think only the pros or short run benefits but we have to think about the long run impacts of our innovations.