In her inspiring book, Saving Us, Canadian climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe dissects many of the most common denial narratives on climate change. She notes that successful misinformation campaigns have elements of truth and sound scientific. But the goal of this communication strategy is to sow seeds of doubt and repeat it until the misinformation becomes accepted as fact.
Recently, The Globe and Mail added to a series of articles that appear to be aimed at turning public opinion against electric vehicles. The pieces are well-written and very effective at eliciting negative discussion points.
Hayhoe explains, “An analysis across 56 countries found that political affiliation and ideology was a much stronger indicator of their opinions on climate change than their education, their life experiences, or even their values.” This ideological split clearly extends to the EV debate, with the likes of Fox News’ Tucker Carlson calling EVs a “disaster for the environment.”
Nathan VanderKlippe’s Globe and Mail opinion piece spreads the disinformation that electric vehicles are not suitable for cold weather. One only has to glance through some of the more than 400 comments on this article to see how it reaffirms the beliefs of EV critics across Canada.
VanderKlippe’s most damning evidence is from a test done by Norway’s electric vehicle association, where three out of five EVs failed to start after being left overnight in an environmental chamber set to -40 C. The article went on to share several other individuals’ concerns and skepticism over the practicality of using EVs in the winter.
It wasn’t until the end of the piece that it was revealed the 12-volt battery was the reason for the EVs failing to start. Having driven my gasoline cars in Canadian winters for more than 50 years, I’m intimately familiar with how 12-volt car batteries perform on the coldest days. The vehicles’ main batteries that power the electric motor still maintained a charge in this experiment.
How many people require boosts on -30 C mornings, not to mention the exceedingly rare -40 C events? In a CBC News article, the Canadian Automobile Association reported that over 40 per cent of the more than 35,000 service calls received in the Greater Toronto Area between Dec. 19, 2017 and Jan. 3, 2018 were battery calls, but “none apparently for EVs.” Five years later, some journalists continue to stoke doubt about EVs starting in cold weather when gas-powered vehicles have the same problem.
My curling partner drives a Tesla and simply shook his head when I mentioned the piece in The Globe. Recently, we finished a round of drinks after our game while the temperature outside was -27 C. As we started putting on our layers of clothing, I jealously watched him turn on his car heater using his cellphone. The beauty of electric heat is that you don’t have to shiver for 15 to 20 minutes in a frozen car before the engine finally warms up.
There are remote starters for combustion engines, too, but it still takes time to heat up the vehicle’s interior. I once had a neighbour who used to run his noisy pickup for half an hour at 6 a.m. every morning in the winter because he didn’t want to scrape the ice off his windshield. Not only did he wake me up with his fuel-wasting habit, but I was also disgusted by the amount of pollution visibly being spewed out his exhaust pipe.
Transport is one of the highest-emitting sectors in Canada, just behind electricity and heat. #ElectricVehicles are a solution gaining global adoption and will eventually become less expensive to purchase, writes @winexus #ZeroEmission
Most owners of electric vehicles plug them in to charge overnight. This provides a full charge in the morning and also heats the battery. In this scenario, there is very little chance of not being able to start your car in cold weather and you can also pre-heat the interior without filling your garage with carbon monoxide.
Range anxiety is another common target for those who would like to discourage any trend that results in lower gas consumption and profits for the fossil fuel industry. Given the average range of an EV is around 350 kilometres and rising, it is unlikely that a 30 to 40 per cent loss of range on cold days will impact most city drivers.
If you need to travel long distances on extremely cold days, then you are looking at more charging stops. My curling buddy described how he drives from Calgary to Regina on those frigid days of winter. It takes two charges to get there and he simply selects two charging stations along the route using the car’s mapping system. As the Tesla nears the charging location, it activates the battery heater so the rapid charger still works in extreme cold.
Charging an EV in the winter doesn’t require freezing while the gas pump slowly fills your tank. You simply plug it in and then go inside for a coffee and a snack. Or you can sit in your heated car and use the vehicle’s computer to access entertainment or social media. It’s actually a welcome break when driving long distances.
There is a more nuanced argument against EVs that I find fascinating. Willem Klumpenhouwer is a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Toronto’s Transit Analytics Lab. In his opinion, the problem with electric vehicles is that they’re still cars. Frequent, safe and reliable transit is the best way to transform our cities and we should be pouring more funding into transit systems, not EV subsidies.
Last fall at a Calgary city council meeting, I witnessed an impassioned plea from a young man who had just returned to Calgary after living in Montreal for several years. He described Montreal’s amazing transit system and support for cycling through initiatives like the BIXI bike network. This allowed him to live more affordably without driving a car.
This was a great example of how transit is an equity issue and I fully support better transit systems, more protected bike paths and policies to encourage more walkable neighbourhoods. But even the best European cities that offer these advantages are still choked with cars. All the transit options in the world aren’t going to stop people from driving to pick up their kids from school and whisking them off to soccer practice.
Klumpenhouwer’s opinion is closely aligned with that of The Globe’s European bureau chief Eric Reguly, who once told me, “I think EVs are the greatest con job ever. They are not the solution to anything.” In a series of opinion pieces, he details his perceived pitfalls of electric vehicles — from supply issues to bringing down the electrical grid.
In Canada, the CO2 emissions from the transport sector are once again on the rise, topping 165 million tonnes in 2021. Transport is the second-highest emitting sector in Canada, just behind electricity and heat. It is important to focus our emissions reduction efforts on the two largest sectors.
EVs are a solution gaining global adoption. They are already cheaper than internal combustion engine vehicles to maintain and operate and as automakers compete to introduce more affordable models, they will eventually become less expensive to purchase.
There are major concerns with the lithium-ion batteries used in EVs because of the short supply of minerals like cobalt, sourced from countries like the Congo where child labour persists. However, increases in Indonesian supply coupled with a reduction in demand are now resulting in long-term supply surpluses.
Efforts by the U.S. Department of Labor and battery manufacturers need to address child labour practices in the Congo, but there are also cobalt-free battery technologies emerging. Tesla is reported to already be using cobalt-free batteries in half the vehicles it produces.
An article in Scientific American dispels the myth that growing EV usage will bring down the electrical grid. In fact, EVs will be part of the solution. California is the national leader in EV usage and the expected rapid growth in EV usage is predicted to account for only five per cent of the grid’s total load during peak hours by 2030.
New charging station technology will allow grid operators to manage when vehicles are charged and use vehicle batteries to supply the grid during peak hours. Homeowners with solar panels can use the massive battery in their vehicles to power their homes after the sun goes down.
Despite the persistent misinformation attacks on electric vehicles, they’re an exciting contributor to the energy transition. All major automakers are rolling out attractive EV models and demand is growing exponentially, as indicated by the latest Statistics Canada data. In my mind, the greatest con job ever is the misinformation around EVs, renewable energy and any other viable solution that threatens Big Oil.
Rob Miller is a retired systems engineer, formerly with General Dynamics Canada, who now volunteers with the Calgary Climate Hub and writes on behalf of Eco-Elders for Climate Action.