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Electric Cars Won't Save Us from Climate Change

GM announced yesterday that their electric car, the Chevy Volt, will cost $41,000. The car can go 40 miles on its battery, after which a gas-powered generator will charge the battery and extend the vehicle's range another 340 miles. The Volt isn't the only choice for electric-car enthusiasts: the N...

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The Tesla Roadster's TK (courtesy of flickr user TheNickster)




GM announced yesterday that their electric car, the Chevy Volt, will cost $41,000. The car can go 40 miles on its battery, after which a gas-powered generator will charge the battery and extend the vehicle's range another 340 miles. The Volt isn't the only choice for electric-car enthusiasts: the Nissan Leaf, an all-electric car with a range of 100 miles, will go on sale later this year. And the Tesla Roadster can be yours for a mere $101,500. The Smart Fortwo, Mitsubishi i-MiEV, Tesla Model S. The list keeps growing.



Electric cars may be part of our future, but anyone who thinks they're saving the world from climate change by buying one hasn't quite thought through the purchase. I'll explain:



Yes, an electric car emits no greenhouse gases. But where does the car's energy come from? The battery. And the battery's energy, for now, comes from your home.



Where does your home get its electricity? Unless you buy your energy from an all-renewable source, like a wind or solar farm, your car is still emitting carbon into the atmosphere, albeit indirectly, and contributing to anthropogenic climate change.



You can check where your energy comes from with the EPA's Power Profiler. Just input your ZIP code, select your power company and a profile is generated comparing your fuel mix with the national average. In my neighborhood, that means I get 45.1 percent of my energy from coal, pretty close to the national average of 49.6 percent. And it's coal that's the real worry here. Coal may be cheap and abundant, but it also produces more carbon dioxide than any other carbon-based fuel source.



That's not to say that electric cars aren't part of a carbon-free future. But they're not going to get us there as long as we rely on fossil fuels, in any form, to power them.
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About Sarah Zielinski
Sarah Zielinski

Sarah Zielinski is an award-winning science writer and editor. She is a contributing writer in science for Smithsonian.com and blogs at Wild Things, which appears on Science News.

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