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Electric Vehicles Carry Carbon Cost, Won’t Ease Car Dependence, Critic Warns

As policy-makers—and the industries that stand to benefit—shift into high rhetorical gear promoting electric vehicles as a silver bullet in the climate fight, a technology writer is warning that EVs are not as planet-friendly as they seem.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s recent boast that Canada “isn’t just going to be a global player in EVs…We get to be global leaders,” glossed over the myriad problems associated with putting pedal to the metal on EVs, writes tech critic Paris Marx, in a recent opinion piece for CBC News.

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While EVs do “tend to produce fewer emissions over their life cycles than equivalent vehicles powered by fossil fuels,” writes Marx, host of the “Tech Won’t Save Us” podcast, their production currently generates serious environmental and social impacts.

Citing the International Energy Agency, Marx notes that a green transition that privileges lithium battery-powered EV over public transit and cycling will send demand for lithium soaring by 4,200%, and cobalt by 2,100%.

While “those figures sound great to the mining industry, which hopes to use EVs to greenwash its operations,” a roaring trade in these mineralswill intensifyenvironmental and human harms already playing out along the EV supply chain, they warn. Those impacts include water pollution and scarcity in the so-called “lithium triangle” of South America, as well as high rates of birth defects and pervasive child labour in the cobalt mines of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

“In 2019, electric carmaker Tesla was among a number of companies named in a lawsuit over child deaths at cobalt mines in the DRC,” notes Marx.

(BNN Bloomberg offers more insight on how Elon Musk’s “antics” are discouraging loyal Tesla customers as well as potential ones.)

In Canada, “lithium mines in Quebec have already been responsible for environmental accidents and subject to community opposition, while Indigenous opposition is already mounting over plans to exploit the Ring of Fire in Ontario,” Marx writes.

And then there is the way the feverish promotion of EVs ignores the real elephant in the room: that EV adoption will do nothing to alleviate, but will only reinforce, the forced dependence on car ownership that is guaranteed for the many millions of people who live in suburbs. Of the 83% of Canadians who either own or lease a vehicle, 81% felt it would be impossible not to, “because so many of our communities have been built to deny residents a reliable alternative,” writes Marx.

Alternatives are urgently needed, Marx adds. While the Canadian government has increased funding for transit, “much of the money won’t flow until 2026 and beyond,” they write. And “meanwhile, subways in the major cities need expansions to keep up with demand, municipal bus systems need operations funding to provide a more frequent and reliable service, and many Canadian cities lack proper cycling infrastructure.”