An EV on its charger, Paul Stern

The opinion piece on September 21 in CTMirror by the State Director of the Sierra Club Connecticut was an unfortunate exercise in gaslighting in support of electric vehicles.

We all do and should love the environment. We only have one. But we should not overstate our argument lest we undermine effective longer term changes in consumption methods to better help our environment. And we should keep environmental equity in mind. We should do whatever we can for the environment provided it does not raise the cost of living for the poor.

In her article, the Sierra Club director emphasized potential health benefits of electric vehicles but then went to the biggest myth of electric vehicles as “pollution-free transportation.” That is false on so many fronts.

First and foremost, the electricity for an electric vehicle must come from somewhere. Either the electricity comes from natural gas, coal, petroleum, wind, solar, nuclear, hydroelectric or other sources. In Connecticut, the environmental results can be better if the electricity comes from the Millstone nuclear power plant in Waterford, after that comes in order of production, natural gas and petroleum, with renewables bringing up the rear.

The International Energy Association projected that “the mineral demand for use in EV’s and battery storage [will grow] at least thirty times between 2021 and 2040. Lithium would see the fastest growth, with demand growing by over 40 times in the SDS [Sustainable Development Scenario] by 2040.” To get to net zero by 2050 ‘would require six times more mineral inputs in 2040 than [2021].”

New mines and refining the minerals from the milled ores would have to be established. That is the dirty side to clean energy, not to mention the resource intense requirements of building an electric vehicle. Milling requires great quantities of water, electricity and chemicals to separate the mineral from the earth and the resultant slag heaps that leach chemicals for centuries.

Which hillsides and mountainsides will be blasted to smithereens? It won’t happen in your back yard. Will it be the $67 billion in nickel, copper and cobalt buried under pristine wilderness in the outback of Canada, on and near the lands of indigenous Canadians? Electric vehicles and green technology mean six times more mining in countries populated with people of color and indigenous people, with whom the Sierra Club director professed compassion. Will the cobalt mines of the Congo be expanded where children toil in open mines under armed guard?

How much an electric car pollutes in its manufacturing and use depends on the energy production where it is used. A comparison of a Mercedes four door diesel C220d sedan to a Tesla Model 3 in Munich, Germany calculated the carbon dioxide emissions at 141 grams per kilometer for the Mercedes and 156-181 grams per kilometer for the Tesla which included “the carbon emitted to drill, refine, and transport its fuels.” The Tesla’s carbon footprint would have done better in France, which has significantly more power generated by nuclear energy versus Germany, which has more coal-generated power.

Connecticut does not have the sun of the American southwest for solar power generation. And the offshore wind farms proposed by Gov. Ned Lamont only promise significantly higher electric bills for our poor along with all other Connecticut residents with skyrocketing costs for the minerals and materials necessary to build these wind farms.

Most recently, Connecticut begged the Biden Administration to reinterpret legislation for “bonus tax credits,” for our offshore wind projects due to cost increases on a magnitude that our citizen utility rate payers “may be unable to absorb these significant new costs alone.” And right there environmental equity is breached, as the poor are required to pay more for their electricity.

By no means should Connecticut, one of only a handful of states that has failed to regain the jobs it lost in the Great Recession of 2008-2009, increase the cost of living again for those who live here by following the folly of California.

That state, with its stellar weather and natural beauty, has achieved the unthinkable of forcing more residents and capital to leave the state than arrive. Connecticut has been traveling the same road of failure as more people and capital leave our state due to our high cost of living. The last thing we should do is imitate California, which is also now losing that sparkling gem of a city on a hill, San Francisco, to homelessness, crime and economic stagnation.

Questioning the speed at which we adopt more environmentally friendly methods to live our comfortable and consumptive lifestyles does not elevate a person to a climate denier or conspiracy theorist. We should follow environmental equity and not raise the cost of living for the poor which these electric cars do. Nor should we undermine our liberal democracy by running our supply chain through resources controlled by China, or imposing six times more mines and refining on communities of color and indigenous people around the world. “Pollution-free” is the last thing clean energy and electric vehicles are.

Peter Thalheim of Stamford is the author of “Tesla Carbon Pigs, Climate Change, Environmental Equity and Liberal Democracy.”