The Real Carbon Costs of Hybrid and Electric Cars

Doing right by the planet can be tough.  Electric vehicles, for instance, cut down on gas reliance at the pump but may mask hidden carbon costs at a coal-burning electricity plant down the line.  Considering these externalities, how do hybrid and electric cars really compare to gas-powered vehicles?

First, we must consider how much carbon it will take to manufacture, recharge, and dispose of a vehicle.  The efficiency of batteries sharply declines over time, and they also require a significant amount of energy to produce and transport.  Hybrids have lower carbon costs than their gas counterparts overall, but waste energy in lugging both a regular engine and a battery pack.  Additionally, once the car switches to using its gas engine, all the regular inefficiencies apply.

On the positive side, electric batteries are far more efficient at producing energy than a classic internal combustion engine and charging doesn’t add any more onto your energy bill than running your air conditioner overnight.  Several car companies have launched campaigns to develop recharging stations relying on sustainable energy sources, which cuts out the coal power station altogether.  Once your energy company starts making these kinds of switches, too, the external costs for your hybrid or electric vehicle will shrink even further.

The answer, then, to a savvy green consumer’s dilemma is that you must consider your own situation carefully. How often will you be driving your vehicle, and from where will you be sourcing your electricity?  Given the pace of innovation in this field, you may find purchasing an alternative vehicle is a better option in a year or two.  In the meantime, you can always cut out the bottom of your car and use your own two feet like Fred Flintstone!  That’s the caveman green.

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