“Green” Cars Are Actually Very Brown

Seth Borenstein, environmental writer for the AP, notes a new study out Monday from the National Academy of Sciences that finds electric cars have a strongly negative air pollution effect if they are run in states that generate most of their electricity from coal:

People who own all-electric cars where coal generates the power may think they are helping the environment. But a new study finds their vehicles actually make the air dirtier, worsening global warming.

The EPA knew this more than 20 years ago, and this finding has been replicated over and over again, but somehow it always seems like “news” to environmental journalists when it happens again. Anyway, next sentence:

Ethanol isn’t so green, either.

Well duh. This has been known for a long time, too.

The full PNAS paper, “Life cycle air quality impacts of conventional and alternative light-duty transportation in the United States,” can be found here, written in the usual hard-to-follow style if you’re a layperson (but worth trying for some of the regional variations that show up on the color maps). Here’s the key sentence from the abstract:

We find that powering vehicles with corn ethanol or with coal-based or “grid average” electricity increases monetized environmental health impacts by 80% or more relative to using conventional gasoline.

I used to remark that if you’d been an environmentalist 100 years ago, you would have wanted to have a bumper sticker that said, “Save Farmland—Drive a Car,” since in 1915 we were still using over 90 million acres of land to grow feed for our draft horses and such. Much of the re-forestation of the northeast that has taken place over the last century owes to the coming of the internal combustion engine.

Sounds like we need a new bumper strip for today: “Reduce Air Pollution: Drive A Gasoline Powered Car.” Heh. Nice going environmental idiots.