Don’t look now, but we have the latest round of electric vehicle myths circulating online. This time the headline (from CityLab) includes the phrase “EVs cause more pollution than gas cars” to grab your attention, then runs through a study that forgot to include essential points of data before making its conclusion. Rather than going into whack-a-mole mode to beat back another EV myth, we’ll focus mainly on why the misinformation continues to appear: research funded by interested parties and poor journalism.
The study funded by the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) starts with the old premise that electric vehicles only offer environmental benefits when they run on something cleaner than coal. Sure, we’ve heard it before, but the report in CityLab found Stephen Holland (co-author of the study) especially quotable in his take on EVs and where you charge them.
“The real big take-home message is: location, location, location,” Holland said. Later, he created more breaking news when he compared the grids of the West Coast to that of the East Coast in the United States. “It just turns out the West is a lot cleaner than the East.”
You might be wondering why this study even deserved a misleading article, and you would be right to think so. Everyone knows dirty power plants make for higher emissions when you use them to run plug-in cars. The big fudge comes when the author of the story fails to mention where most EVs are owned, driven, and offered for sale in dealerships. (Hint: It’s west of Ohio.) Maybe the researcher could have saved everyone time and offered a breakdown of where the most EVs operate, seeing the author was incapable of getting there. (Exhibit A on the poor journalism front.)
Since the researcher didn’t lead CityLab there, we come to our second point about the conflict of interest so common in today’s research on fossil fuels and alternative energy. Holland actually suggests cutting electric vehicle incentives across the U.S. — in effect lapsing into a policy rant — without discussing the trillions in subsidies the oil and gas industry gets. He also felt confident releasing the results without studying the life-cycle emissions of gasoline production.
Good thing a “nonprofit, nonpartisan research organization” like the NBER has to list its individual and corporate donors. Without seeing ExxonMobil listed on its short list of contributors, you might get the idea there was no connection between a study knocking EVs and boosting gasoline cars.
The key word throughout Holland’s critique of government incentives for EVs is “subsidy.” Red flags emerge because the recently published study on fossil fuel subsidies released by the IMF. When learning of the trillions spent in getting gasoline and other fossil fuels to market, there was a fair amount of outrage. Rarely do you see the word “subsidy” connected to electric vehicle incentives, but you always see it when speaking of fossil fuels.
At the end of the CityLab article, we receive the most important bit of information — that the energy needed to get gasoline to the pump was not considered for Holland’s conclusions. For a study to claim gasoline cars were better for the environment, you would have to begin (not end) there.
So we have fishy research mixed in with policy suggestions repeated verbatim without the slightest thought as to the “location, location, location” of EVs operating in America. We shouldn’t wonder why electric vehicle myths keep circulating in 2015.