▶️ Little Did I Know: Electric Cars


Okay, I’ll admit it. As someone who makes a living off our climate, the enticement of the electric car has been with me for a while.

I even remember how hideously ugly, yet emotionally inspiring it was, when the first Prius hybrids started coming out in the late 90s.

But Little Did I Know that the concept of an electric car is as old as the concept of the car itself.

“Biofuels and electric cars were options on vehicles when they first came out,” said Neil Baunsgard with The Environmental Center in Bend. “Because we didn’t have the infrastructure around gasoline and that was the infrastructure concern at the time”.

Once gas engines took over the market, electric became a distant memory until around 2010 with the release of the Nissan Leaf.

Suddenly we did get a glimpse of what an electric car could be. Still ugly. Still horrible range. But dang, what a clean, simple operation.

“Electric cars are in many ways even simpler than an internal combustion car or gas car ’cause there’s just so many less moving parts,” said Baunsgard. “We’ve had a car at the Environmental Center since I think around 2017 and all the maintenance that we’ve done on it is swapping our winter tires on and refilling the windshield wiper fluid.”

Yeah, but what about when I want to go to the mountain?

“With good snow tires we have rocked the two-wheel drive Nissan Leaf all throughout Central Oregon in the winter which is really great,” said Baunsgard.

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Now electric cars are noticeably more expensive. So much so that there are state and federal subsidies made available to help people get into this new technology.

But Baunsgard says that his spreadsheet mind has revealed to him that the savings for electric cars is not in the upfront cash. It’s over the long haul.

“When you look out at a five- or 10-year timeline, it oftentimes is significantly less expensive to purchase the electric car,” said Baunsgard.

According to a recent study by Volvo, EV’s take up to 70% more carbon to produce than a gas-powered vehicle. So it takes tens of thousands of miles of driving one before the net benefit is really obtained.

“Electric vehicles have more things in them. They’re a heavier car. They have a larger footprint to build,” said Baunsgard.

And let’s not forget, the mining of the resources to store the electricity for these cars is not without its negative impacts either.

“It’s hard with the new technology because the impact of that is very visible. But we have to compare the material needs of an electric car compared to a lifetime of purchasing gasoline and what the impact of that is,” said Baunsgard. “So I’m not saying that electric cars are a perfectly clean thing. They’re not.”

Right now we’re importing most of our lithium and the mining regulations in most other countries are far more relaxed than in the U.S. So mining it in our backyard may not be a bad thing.

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“And so it’s important to see it in our backyard, so then we know what we’re talking about when we’re getting new things or fueling up your car with 10 gallons of gas every week,” said Baunsgard. “That’s a lot of material as well, that you don’t see being disposed of, but is being emitted as carbon into the atmosphere — into the proverbial dumping grounds of our atmosphere.”

So after all of this research, am I gonna run out and buy an EV? Nope. Still can’t afford one. But I’m keeping my ears to the ground because EV’s are an inevitable part of our future.

“I think we’re at the point now where it’s not just early adopters and so we’re seeing both more and more cars available on the road and a lot more connections of ‘I’ve seen it at work’, ‘I’ve had an electric Uber ride’ or ‘a friend of mine has one’ — where it’s an easier jump for people to understand and kind of make it happen,” said Baunsgard.


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