The only defense of electric cars you really need
Maggie Koerth-Baker is one of the most responsible energy journalists on the planet, in part because she writes for the blog of all blogs, BoingBoing, which has never felt the need to cloak its writers' opinions in trumped-up objectivity and false balance. So it was refreshing to see her refute the latest turd lobbed over the wall by the Internet's favorite tabloid, Gawker Media: "You Are Not Alone. America Hates Electric Cars."
Forming interest groups around your own misbegotten prejudices is nothing new, so kudos (I guess) to author Joel Johnson for remembering that the shortest route to pageviews is to tap into America's bottomless well of reactionaries who are fundamentally ill at ease in the face of change. The debate over electric cars — and everything they imply — is going to come to a boil again and again, as the 21st-century equivalent of buggy-whip makers either get ahead of larger trends in oil and carbon prices or are swallowed by them.
Which is why it's so fortunate that it was Koerth-Baker who addressed this piece and not me. She's much, much more reasonable, and it's worth reading her response in full. Her basic points are straightforward and worth repeating:
- Most Americans (more than 80 percent, in fact) live in cities, and this trend is only accelerating. Sure, people out on the open prairie won’t get much use from a limited-range car, but the average commute is well within the range of a Nissan Leaf.
- Sure, electric cars won't save the environment. Personal transport is a small fraction of our carbon emissions. Our sprawl-ified cities are going to have to be fixed, too.
- But electric cars are more environmentally sound than gasoline powered cars, even given that half the electricity in the U.S. is produced from coal.
- Electric cars are awesome. This is true. They have better low end torque and no gearbox. A powerful one will take off like a jet engine. They win drag races all the time. The fastest car in the world that you can buy is currently gasoline-powered, but only because it was beaten by an all-electric and the gas-powered team had to retool to make their vehicle even faster.
- Gas cars aren't dead. As I wrote just a couple of days ago, they could be way better than they are, and higher oil prices will drive a shift to more fuel-efficient gasoline vehicles long before electrics are in the majority — solely because of cost. (Aside: At the intersection of ever increasing oil prices and cheaper and cheaper batteries is a point at which it makes more financial sense to go electric. That day is coming.)