Somebody didn’t get the memo.

Wind and other low-carbon technologies have taken their hits of late from the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page and its ilk. (Examples here, here, here, and here.)

But one piece in particular caught my eye with the headline: “Electric Cars May Accelerate Global Warming.”

It Started at Forbes.com …

… with a January 5th blog posting by William Pentland (a k a “CleanBeta”) summing up a recent paper published in Energy Policy by Reed Doucette and Malcolm McCulloch of Oxford University. Doucette and McCulloch found that:

“For China and India, and other countries with a similarly high [carbon dioxide] CO2 intensity, unless power generation becomes dramatically less CO2 intensive, [battery electric vehicles] BEVs will not be able to deliver a meaningful decrease in CO2 emissions [relative to vehicles powered by internal combustion engines].”

On the basis of this finding, Pentland declared in his short post:

“Electric cars are not a silver bullet solution for global warming, but could they actually be part of the problem? In some developing countries, the answer is likely ‘yes.’”

And of course the coup de grace: at some point between the draft and the posting, the piece got tagged with the “Electric Vehicles Accelerating Global Warming” headline.

Holy Turnaround, Batman. Does That Mean We Should Stick With Our Gasoline-Sucking Mobiles?

No. First off, Pentland downplays the authors’ finding that despite the higher carbon intensity of China’s and India’s electricity, only in some scenarios do petroleum-powered vehicles emit less CO2 than their electric-powered equivalents. In other words, in places like China and India lower emissions from electric vehicles are still possible. Nor did Pentland note, as the paper points out, that as China and India’s carbon intensity drops, as is predicted and as they have pledged, the benefits of using electric vehicles will grow.

Pentland’s widely re-published blog posting also failed to note that, with respect to developed economies like the United States, electric cars do significantly reduce emissions — and do so even with our current dependence on coal-fired power plants (see here and here).

And finally, Pentland failed to point out that a move to electric vehicles would lower the world’s dependence on oil, which, as we know, largely comes from geopolitically unstable corners of the world.

So, no. Pentland’s post notwithstanding, I don’t recommend writing off electric vehicles. (And apparently drivers are not gunning to do so — a new poll finds that nearly one fifth of drivers surveyed would consider an electric-powered car.)

Post Goes Viral — and That’s Weird

To be fair, Pentland may not have had a particular axe to grind against electric vehicles — in fact he’s a self-described “clean energy wonk.” But his post (and its headline) sure had legs with folks that likely do.

And that’s what I find weird. Why? Take a close look at the headline. It states that “electric vehicles may accelerate global warming” (emphasis added). Seems to me that such a statement implicitly accepts two key facts:

  1. Global warming is occurring (if not, how could it be accelerated?) and
  2. Human activities specifically emissions of carbon dioxide are causing global warming (if not, why would emissions from power plants and vehicles be relevant?).

So I find it almost incredible that this posting and its headline popped up as either a link or a full (or partial) re-publishing in unlikely spots — like, for example, on Freerepublic.com, Reddogreport.com, Floridasportsman.com, Freedomist.com, and Americanconservativenews.com, to name a few. Oh, and on Foxnews.com, too.

Fox News’s position on global warming is so extreme that a senior editor reportedly e-mailed a memo last December instructing Fox News correspondents to “refrain from asserting that the planet has warmed (or cooled) in any given period without IMMEDIATELY pointing out that such theories are based upon data that critics have called into question.”

Could it be that we are witnessing an uprising of scientific reason from the denizens of Fox News? Or is it simply the case that someone forgot to read the memo?

Comments

  1. Bill Chameides
    February 28, 2011, 9:22 am

    Anonymous: As you well know, or at least should, global warming refers to a long-term trend in globally averaged temperatures and not a single weather event in one location or region. There is no guarantee that, if global warming continues, you won’t continue to experience extreme cold events. Indeed, while we don’t know for sure, there is a possibility that the extreme cold your *** is now feeling has been influenced to some extent by the changes in weather patterns caused by global warming.

  2. anonymous
    February 21, 2011, 12:22 pm

    @delta
    not to be rude but that is exactly what the big corporations want. actually that is how all corporations are run and that is what keeps America and Europe humming along. increasing profit means that there is more chance for employing people, buying improvements to infrastructure and researching ways to make better electric cars. i would have them slow production on the “gas guzzlers” and see what happens when they pump out more electric cars.

    on a more ruder note: ITS NOT GLOBAL WARMING, IM FREEZING MY *** OFF HERE AND YOUR TRYING TO MAKE IT COLDER!!!??? its global climate change, get it right