The Carbon Footprint Game

Let’s get one thing straight: There is no such thing as “zero emission.”

Fortunately, an analysis at Seeking Alpha has raised awareness of this today. It’s one of two reports that came out that coincidentally made comparisons between Tesla and Toyota.

(Let’s dispense with the more fun one first: The guys at Marketwatch claim it’s cheaper to own/lease and operate a Tesla Model 3 than it is a Toyota Camry.)

Now, on to the more serious topic of carbon footprint.

To be clear, I’m a big fan of the rapid ascent of EV autos in the world. I do think Tesla has spurred the makings of a revolution and the big manufacturers are falling right in line.

But, just as companies exploited the “Green” label by slapping it on everything and anything, (they might as well have added “Gluten Free”) the claims of “zero emission” are spurious at best and misleading to boot.

What the Seeking Alpha article finally points out is that we have to look holistically at the Tesla — or any electric vehicle — when analyzing the carbon footprint. And in this case, according to the report, the Tesla Model 3 is, overall, a bigger polluter than a Toyota Camry.

Ouch.

Now the argument here, while thoughtful and meticulously researched, has drawn fire a la the comment section. I am not going to claim I can dispute the position of the author or the uproar in peanut gallery with any level of authority.

But what I do appreciate about this report is that for the first time, at least that I’ve seen, someone is analyzing EV car manufacturers’ carbon footprint based not just on the “tailpipe” emissions or lack thereof, but on:

1. The overall cost of manufacturing the vehicle

2. The fact that the electricity used to charge the batteries has to come from somewhere and more often than not that is a coal-, gas-, or oil-fired plant. The emission at the tailpipe might be zero but really it just means the emission has been moved elsewhere.

Certainly, solar is offsetting some of that. Many EV owners are eco-conscious and putting solar on their roofs. This is a good thing.

But it still must be taken into account that it all vehicles — in fact everything that is produced, requires raw materials that are extracted, transported and refined (using carbon-spewing vehicles and machines). It requires energy to power the manufacturing process. It requires oil and gas to transport the finished product via air, rail, road or sea.

So here’s my point: I like the Seeking Alpha article for raising awareness around the need to look holistically at how what we buy and use contributes to the overall carbon footprint.

It is one of my peeves are the “Zero Emission” bumper stickers and branding the EV car companies exploit.

Nothing in this world that humans touch or use is zero emission. Nothing.

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