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More than a billion tonnes of climate pollution pours out American tailpipes every year. For scale, that's more than the combined emissions from the 100 least-polluting nations.

Ending this gargantuan climate pollution disaster will require a sharp increase in new lithium extraction to build the zero-emission alternatives — battery electric vehicles. A new report by the University of California, Davis and the Climate and Community Project (CCP) reveals just how much more lithium will be needed.

The CCP report calculates the lithium required to transition the entire United States passenger car fleet to battery electric vehicles (BEVs) by 2050. They evaluated several policy scenarios showing which would increase demand for lithium above "status quo" and which would dramatically reduce the amount needed. If you are interested in the environmental and social impacts of a rapid increase in lithium extraction — and the policies needed to reduce that harm — I recommend reading the CCP report.

In this article, I will focus on the other side of the coin, which the report didn't cover — the status quo gasoline alternative that Americans and Canadians buy today. I'll highlight the lithium numbers from the report to give a sense of the gargantuan scale of gasoline extraction today. (Note: In this article, I use the term "gasoline" to refer to both gasoline and diesel road fuels.)

Lithium versus gasoline per car

My first graphic compares the amount of lithium required for each new BEV to the amount of gasoline required for each new internal combustion engine car (ICEV).

Lithium per BEV compared to gasoline per ICEV

The CCP study found that the average new BEV bought in the United States requires eight kilograms of lithium. That's the orange bar on the left of the graphic.

All that lithium currently needs to come from new lithium extraction. However, the CCP study found this amount could be reduced dramatically in the future. For example, policies requiring lithium recycling and smaller batteries per vehicle could cut new lithium needed to as low as two kilograms per BEV by 2050.

In comparison, the average new fossil-burning passenger vehicle bought in Canada and the United States needs 20 tonnes of gasoline to move around. This is shown by the stack of oil barrels on the right. This gasoline weighs 10 times more than the car itself. And it's 2,500 times more massive than the lithium needed for each BEV.

Ending the climate pollution disaster created by burning fossil fuels for vehicles will require a sharp increase in new lithium extraction to make vehicle batteries. @bsaxifrage writes for @NatObserver #lithium #EVs

All that gasoline must be extracted from the earth and refined as well. For example, much of the gasoline used in Canada and the U.S. comes from Alberta's gigantic bitumen mines with their sprawling, toxic tailings lagoons.

Unsurprisingly, extracting and refining huge amounts of gasoline results in huge amounts of climate pollution as well.

Climate pollution

My second graphic compares the emissions from making gasoline and batteries.

Lifecycle emissions to make BEV battery and ICEV gasoline

The numbers come from a recent life-cycle analysis of BEVs and ICEVs by the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT).

The small blue bar on the left shows the climate pollution from making a battery for the average new BEV.

The lithium component is only around three per cent. It's shown by the thin orange part on the top.

The tall grey bar on the right is the gasoline needed for the average new ICEV in the United States or Canada. As you can see, just making gasoline causes four times more climate pollution than making a BEV battery.

Plus, this assumes the battery is scrapped when the car is. But the ICCT analysis says the average BEV battery still has about half its useful life remaining when the car itself wears out. As a result, many BEV batteries are getting reused to store electricity. This second use is reducing fossil fuel burning even further by allowing higher percentages of renewable energy in the electricity mix. If you include this second career for batteries in the life cycle analysis, then some of the battery emissions currently assigned to the BEV phase get shifted to that use.

In addition, recycling batteries can shrink their emissions even further. The CCP report and the ICCT analysis project large future declines in extraction impacts and life-cycle climate pollution from robust battery recycling.

Gasoline for the entire American car fleet

So far, we've looked at amounts per vehicle. My final chart totals those up for the quarter billion passenger vehicles in the United States.

Gasoline burning by American passenger cars since 1990 vs Lithium needed in 2050 for BEVs

The black line on the top shows the amount of gasoline burned each year by all light-duty passenger vehicles in the United States — cars, vans, SUVs and pickup trucks.

They currently burn 350 million tonnes of gasoline per year. That's roughly a tonne of gasoline per American — extracted, refined, and burned every year.

According to the CCP report, to eliminate all that gasoline, lithium mining will need to rise to 0.3 million tonnes per year by 2050. That's shown by the orange dot in the lower right.

That's assuming the report's "status quo" scenario in which current BEVs simply replace all gasoline cars, without any change in recycling, battery size, or car ownership rates.

The CCP report questions whether lithium production can increase that much in the next 30 years. I don't know the details of lithium mining. But as the chart shows, in the last 30 years, gasoline extraction rose 100 times more than that. Humans, unfortunately, have proven to be remarkably capable of digging up what we want without enough regard for the consequences.

So, I applaud the CCP report for calling attention to the potential harms of the coming lithium boom. It points to the negative environmental and social impacts that come with all mining. And it highlights specific concerns with some of the planned lithium mining — including water scarcity, international conflicts, and trampling of Indigenous rights. I hope we adopt many of the CCP's policy recommendations to lessen those damages.

At the same time, I think it is critical to also inform the public about the many benefits that will come if we can rapidly eliminate climate pollution. In this case, those benefits include a massive decrease in the extraction of raw materials and the elimination of toxic automobile smog from our cities. And, of course, we gain a shot at passing along a decent and livable future for generations to come.

Right now, however, we are losing that climate fight. Badly.

When it comes to buying a new car, Americans and Canadians are still choosing fossil fuel burners 94 per cent of the time. That's well above even the global average. Our current preferences for gasoline burners are locking us into decades of massive gasoline demand, and all the harms that come with extracting and burning it.

And globally, fossil fuel burning and climate pollution just hit a record high. The atmospheric concentration of all three major greenhouse gases — carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide — are also at record highs, and accelerating upwards.

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For those wanting more details on gasoline and its climate impacts, here are some notes and links:

  • Canadians buy the world's most climate-polluting new cars and trucks. The average new one emits ~200 gCO2 per kilometre. That's 60 tonnes of CO2 out the tailpipe over the lifespan of a car (~200,000 miles).
  • The oil industry really likes selling 20 tonnes of its product to the average Canadian car owner. At the pump, that's ~27,000 litres, which costs ~$40,000 at current gas prices. What the industry really doesn't like are BEVs. Each one sold in Canada reduces the oil industry's future sales by that same amount. So it isn't surprising disinformation campaigns attacking BEVs are common.
  • It costs a lot less to fuel a BEV with electricity. How much less? A rough rule of thumb is that two kilowatt-hours will drive as far as one litre of gasoline. For example, if you live in Montreal, you can charge your BEV at home for around $0.14 per litre equivalent. That is just a 10th of the cost of gasoline. As a huge bonus, made-in-Quebec electricity is essentially zero-emissions. So, BEV owners there can save 90 per cent on fuel while also helping to eliminate the biggest source of emissions in Canada — the extraction, refining and use of gasoline and diesel fossil fuels.
  • Coal-burning power plants get a lot of bad climate press. And for a good reason. Less well known, however, is the fact that gasoline-burning vehicles are far worse. Vehicle engines emit far more CO2 than coal power plants to produce each unit of usable energy. In climate speak, gasoline engines are more CO2-intensive.
  • The reason burnermobiles are so climate dirty is because they are massively inefficient. They use just 20 per cent of the energy in gasoline. Because they waste 80 per cent of the energy, burnermobile owners must buy five times more gasoline energy than is needed to move their car around. BEVs, in contrast, are super-efficient, using up to 90 per cent of the energy put into them. As a result, BEV drivers only need to buy a quarter as much energy per kilometre as gasoline drivers do. Buying so much less energy saves a lot of money.
  • For the carbon math nerds out there, a quick way to calculate gasoline usage is to work backwards from CO2 emissions. Multiply the weight of CO2 emissions by 0.33 to get the weight of gasoline burned. For example, Canada lists emissions from light-duty vehicles at 90 million tonnes of CO2 each year. Working backwards yields 30 million tonnes of gasoline being burned (90 * 0.33 = 30). (Note: CO2 emissions are heavier than the gasoline because burning adds two oxygen atoms from the air to every carbon atom in the gasoline.)

Keep reading

Saxifrage: "Ending this gargantuan climate pollution disaster will require a sharp increase in new lithium extraction to build the zero-emission alternatives — battery electric vehicles."

False dilemma. The choice is not limited to EVs or ICE cars.
If ICE cars are unsustainable, that does not make EVs sustainable. A common fallacy.
EVs are not "zero-emission". Not remotely green or sustainable.

The only sustainable urban transportation solutions are public transit, cycling, and walking — in cities designed for people, not cars. Cars enable sprawl, and sprawl forces people to drive. Cars and sprawl are hugely expensive and inefficient.
EV subsidies flow to affluent households that do not need them, divert public dollars needed by public transit, and keep non-drivers (the poor, the young, the old, the disabled) marginalized.
We can pay billions for endless roads and road expansions, highways, freeways, overpasses, tunnels, traffic jams, property damage, traffic police, insurance, maintenance and repairs, end-of-life disposal, strip mall blight, mega-mall culture, parking lot proliferation, and the health costs of sedentary lifestyles, social isolation, accidents, countless deaths and injuries, roadkill, loss of green space, smog, pollution, fossil fuels, and climate change.
Or we can spend those dollars more wisely on public transit and the services needed to make transit function for as many people as possible.

EVs enable sprawl, which makes efficient public transit impossible. Not a climate solution, much less an equitable one.
Ecologically, the idea that billions of people will use private vehicles in sprawled cities is a non-starter. Such a system will never be sustainable.

EVs merely shift extraction from petroleum to metals. An ecological nightmare.
EVs require not only lithium but also copper, aluminum, cobalt, nickel, manganese, and rare earth metals like neodymium, praseodymium, dysprosium and terbium — not mentioned in the article.
Half of the globe’s lithium and copper deposits are concentrated in regions experiencing high water stress.
Base metals such as nickel and copper generate 20 - 200 tonnes of solid waste for every tonne of metal extracted.
Mining and refining and processing and manufacturing are all fossil-fuel intensive.

With their massive footprint, EVs would not be green even if they ran on fairy dust. Mining for metals, steel, plastic, manufacturing, end-of-life recycling and disposal. Not to mention the resources required for the buildout of power generation, transmission, and storage to power hundreds of millions of EVs around the world.
Even if EVs halve our greenhouse gas emissions, if at the same time we double the number of cars (in developing world), that gets us nowhere.
"made-in-Quebec electricity is essentially zero-emissions" — so says Hydro Quebec. Drowning thousands of square miles of vegetation causes CO2 and methane emissions. Hydro-electricity is far from zero-impact. The dams on the Peace River are devastating Wood Buffalo Park and indigenous communities. Out of sight, out of mind.
Leaving the only sustainable transportation solutions out of the discussion is a disservice to readers.

"Rush to electric vehicles may be an expensive mistake, say climate strategists" (CBC, Dec 12, 2022)
"With their futuristic designs and new technology, EVs are the seductive consumer-friendly face of the energy transition.…For people with money and a conscience, EVs are doubly satisfying. They allow the affluent to indulge in the time-honoured pleasures of conspicuous consumption while at the same time saving the planet."
Urban planning advocate Jason Slaughter: "EVs are here to save the car industry, not the planet. Electric cars are still a horrendously inefficient way to move people around, especially in crowded cities."

"Shifting to EVs is not enough. The deeper problem is our car dependence" (CBC, Jul 31, 2022)

Prof Greg Marsden (Institute for Transport Studies at Leeds University): "Electrification is necessary but not enough.
"Travel demand reductions of at least 20% are required, along with a major shift away from the car if we are to meet our climate goals.
"This implies a really major social change. That is why it is a climate emergency and not a climate inconvenience."
"Electric car emissions myth 'busted'" (BBC, 2020)

Check out podcast interviews with these Canadian authors:
James Wilt: Do Androids Dream of Electric Cars? Public Transit in the Age of Google, Uber, and Elon Musk (2020)
Paris Marx: Road to Nowhere: What Silicon Valley Gets Wrong about the Future of Transportation (2022)

"Are Electric Cars the Solution?" (The Tyee, 25-Jan-22)

Though I agree that more efficient or better transit would go a long way, this is something which is very unlikely to happen. You could have the best transit system in the world, people love their vehicles and the freedom too much too to consider the alternative.

When I lived in the city, I took advantage of transit if convenient and reliable, but as I got older, I was tired of living on top of everyone else. I left for the country but continued to work in the city. but I commuted by GO Transit Train both ways. Regardless, I still had to drive 45 to 50 minutes to connect to the train.

If the status quo continues, using EV's will be better than ICE vehicles if usage remains the same and I suspect it will not change that much, regardless of what is done with transit.

John Akermanis wrote: "If the status quo continues, using EV's will be better than ICE vehicles if usage remains the same and I suspect it will not change that much, regardless of what is done with transit."

The biggest growth market for cars is not in the industrialized West, where the goal is merely to replace the existing fleet. (1.6 cars per household in Canada.)
The biggest potential for growth is in the developing world, where hundreds of millions of consumers in a rising middle class are eyeing their first car.
China has been the biggest auto market in the world since 2009. Chinese consumers buy one-third of new cars. China has 315 million cars. More than the USA.
If EVs halve our greenhouse gas emissions, but at the same time we double the number of cars (in developing world), that gets us nowhere on emissions.
EVs drive us to ecological Dystopia as surely as ICE cars — just a different one.
Of course, if consumers are given the choice of subsidized EVs and public transit, they will choose cars over buses, subways, and LRT. Just as they do today.
Cars and urban sprawl are social engineering at their worst. We need a different kind of social engineering: government policy to move people out of cars towards public transit, cycling, and pedestrian. This will not happen as long as the discussion and debate focus on cars.

Instead of moving people out of ICE cars into EVS, we need to move people out of cars onto public transit, bicycles, and sidewalks. Move people closer to their places of work, school, recreation, shopping, etc.
Sprawl forces people to drive. Cars enable sprawl. Vicious circle.
The sustainable city of the future will make sprawl history and cars unnecessary.

Sustainability will require a fundamental redesign and rethinking of our cities. But the Sustainable City is where we have to go. That's our true destination.
Price cars, sprawl, and unsustainable goods, services, and paradigms out of existence. Full-cost accounting.

@ John Akermanis

The choice in live-work existence isn't limited to merely two options -- high density towers ("living on top of each other") or ultra low density rural residential or remote small towns. Clearly, you chose to live well over a 150 km from work, including a horrendous commute to the massive Go Train parking lots in the exurbs, with additional time by train on top of that. An EV will lighten the fuel and pollution load, but the time penalty is unchanged, and not something many people would bear.

I know, because I tried long-distance commuting for two years. 1.25 hours one way, 60 km between Vancouver's inner Granville Island neighbourhood and the last suburban town in the eastern Metropolitan area. One stall or fender bender and your already gridlocked commute's blown. I witnessed a horrendous freeway crash with the works -- every emergency service imaginable, multiple people injured, one seriously, all east-bound lanes closed -- which made me nervous on freeways forever more.

All that was after 10 years of car-free living in a very walkable community. It was then literally a 3-minute door-to-desk commute by shoe leather to work at a large architecture office. Having a great new job opportunity so far removed from home brought the attendant car-dependency challenges. It was a shock, literally having a weekend to buy a car (I chose the smallest new, no frills econobox available at the local dealerships at the time) and to be thrown into freeway madness.

I lasted two years. Only in the second year was I able to car pool with one of the urban planners at the city hall where I worked after he moved another 15 minutes further along the route than I. On one of my weeks to drive, he pulled out his calculator and worked out that, accounting for an 8-hour workday, evenings, weekends and holidays, we spent 10 WEEKS behind the wheel every year. Stunning!

One has to wonder what one's time is worth, and how much does it cost to waste so much of it on the road? That's 400 hours times the fair value you choose to assign to each hour, and that's again after the purchase and operating costs of a car(s). After doing the math, and knowing that exurban living was impossible when your social life, doctors and regular business service appointments are within 15 minutes of downtown, I successfully won a competition for another position in a closer city within 25 minutes of home mainly by car pool. I lasted over 25 years there and we currently enjoy retirement in an old detached home on a postage stamp lot in a heritage neighbourhood with 500 shops located within a 15-minute walk.

I am not impressed by exclamations of demographic persecution in the city and choosing life-sapping commutes in exchange. EV or gasoline, it doesn't matter in that context.

Conclusion: long distance commuting is for migratory birds.

This comment is a classic case of advocating for the perfect to prevent implementation of the good.
Replacing gas engines with EV's is doable in the timescale of climate change effects. Redesigning and rebuilding our cities will take literally eons - and all that rebuilding will not be CO2 pollution free unless we have EV trucks, EV lumber mills, EV concrete and cement, etc. etc - well, you get the picture.
Let's get real - get mining!

Alan's point is well taken. Let's not make the perfect the enemy of the good.
But what is good about sprawled cities congested by millions of cars?
For humanity to have a future, we cannot compromise on sustainability. Sustainable cities are the bare minimum. Accept nothing less.

Advocating for sustainable cities instead of unsustainable sprawl — is that making the perfect the enemy of the good?
Designing cities for people, not cars. Situating amenities close to people instead of far away. Living close to places of work instead of making a twice-daily trek from distant suburbs. Investing in public transit, cycling, and sidewalks to serve transportation needs instead of millions of private automobiles. Committing ourselves to the public good instead of private extravagance.
Is that making the perfect the enemy of the good?

The decisions we make now about urban design set the blueprint for generations to come. Cars drive sprawl, and sprawl forces people to drive. We cannot undo sprawl except at enormous cost. So let's not make it worse!
Doubling down on cars (EVs) makes already difficult problems intractable and puts solutions out of reach. Forever.

Doubling down on cars and sprawl is not even remotely a green solution.
Climate solutions that guarantee other environmental disasters are no solution at all. Climate change is not our only problem. Electrification is not the solution to everything.
The focus on emissions reductions via EVs to the exclusion of other environmental and social equity issues — not to mention far more effective climate solutions — is short-sighted and self-defeating. Ill-considered climate solutions are liable to do more harm than good. We need a holistic vision.

In perpetuating sprawl, EVs exacerbate the problem and obstruct real solutions. A one-Earth footprint cannot accommodate an energy-intensive lifestyle where people drive everywhere they go -- or an urban model relying on millions of cars to transport millions of people.
Using two tons of metal to transport a 150 lb human being is an ecological non-starter.
This model is insane. We need to hit the brakes on sprawl and car culture ASAP.

We have a choice. We can either invest in the private automobile, car culture, and sprawl. Or we can invest in the public good: transit, cycling, and smart urban design.
Sinking public dollars into private cars just slows public transit down — and puts the only sustainable solution out of reach.
There is no evolution from more private cars and more sprawl to efficient public transit. More private cars and more sprawl do not enable efficient public transit at some future date — they make it impossible.
If the goal is efficient public transit, it is self-defeating to promote car use and enable sprawl.
The supply of tax dollars is not infinite. Scarce public dollars spent on private cars are dollars not spent on public transit.

Once middle- and upper-class consumers are happily ensconced in their automobiles, there is no shifting them. There is no incentive for governments to invest in and improve transit if the vast majority vote for cars and EV subsidies.
Transportation policy and investment focussed on cars abandons the marginalized — the poor without political power, seniors, the handicapped, and environmentalists — without hope of essential mobility options. Mass transit does not work without the masses.

I am all for public investment in public transit that incentivizes citizens to change. Free urban transit would be an excellent choice. Canada is desperately lacking in regional and national public transit options. That is where scarce tax dollars should flow.
Neither EVs nor ICE cars are sustainable. Both should be be priced out of existence, as well as the urban sprawl they perpetuate.
We can either invest in the problem or in real solutions.
I vote for real solutions.

"A developed country is not a place where the poor have cars. It's where the rich use public transportation" – Gustavo Petro, Mayor of Bogotá

I'm curious Geoffrey, what kind of community do you live in? Do you own a car? What is your commute time? Distance to the shopping centre and regular social gatherings?

If you're in a condo or house near downtown Rocky Mountain House and can bike / walk / bus it to your destinations, then many kudos. Ditto any inner city.

RMH is a small town (pop. 6,302 and falling).
No car.
Several bikes gathering dust. After one close call too many, I gave up cycling. Safety vest, safety flat, red helmet, six-piece marching band in front of me… makes no difference. Bicycles are invisible to (increasingly distracted) drivers.
Now I walk everywhere I go. I walk to work. Ten minutes to work. Twenty-five minutes max to most locations. I walk to the grocery store. Large knapsack. Pull-wagon if necessary.
I grew up in the big city. How many years of my life did I spend waiting for the bus in the freezing cold? How many minor heart-attacks sprinting for the bus pulling away from the stop?
No thanks. Leaving the big city behind was the smartest thing I ever did. Small-town living is the only sane set-up. (99% of the adult population drive everywhere they go. Sedentary lifestyle is a killer.)
Twice a day, big city freeways turn into parking lots. Huge stress. Zero energy efficiency. People commute across the city for work. From the suburbs, downtown is a mere dot on the horizon. Forget about bike commuting from the suburbs.
Large sprawled cities are inimical to efficient, sustainable transport. 20th century sprawl is a failed experiment.
No sense pursuing it further. More cars will just make it worse — regardless of what's under the hood.
When you're in a hole, stop digging.

Typo alert: "Safety flat" should be "safety flag".
Where is The Observer's EDIT button?

Thanks for your informative response.

We are currently watching reruns of an original hard hitting series produced buy BC's Knowledge Network called 'Life and Death at VGH.' Basically, the cameras followed the doctors and nurses in the Emergency Department at Vancouver General Hospital for a few weeks prior to the pandemic. The look on the doctor's faces whenever a cyclist or pedestrian arrived by ambulance after losing a no-win competition with a car was very educational. Only highway crashes and stabbings were worse. Viewer discretion is definitely advised.

I put my plan to buy a bike on the back burner and will stick to walking despite Vancouver's good cycling routes, some of which are protected. Unfortunately, we still need the econobox for elder care runs to Victoria every month or six weeks, and the occasional shopping run for loads of bulk canned goods, or lumber. C'est la vie.

I can understand that response, however climate change is not the only existential, if you will, ecological crisis facing the planet. The good can't simply be a little better; while perfection is not needed, it has to, nonetheless, be good enough. What's the point, otherwise?

Of course, we can't snap out fingers and magically see an immediate result.

However, the provinces have done little to set a new development framework towards, really, any sort of urban design different from the car-centric model we've had for decades. Sure, there are pockets of condo towers (in greater Vancouver there are forests of such towers encircling many SkyTrain stations). Hardly great planning but it does locate a lot of people close to transit. There are many policies that could be immediately implemented: protect greenbelts and say no to further sprawl; change zoning to densify, over time, single family home zones (without necessarily going beyond 3-4 storeys); create new neighbourhood design standards to both increase density and design for transit efficiency. Of course, change building codes to reduce energy needs. Forbid new gas hookups. Those are all provincial actions that could be done tomorrow. Feds could add additional programs; for example, to aid homeowners retrofit existing homes to reduce energy needs.

What's true of the provinces and feds doesn't necessarily follow in the cities. We'll see how new BC Premier David Eby does, but his overview of municipal zoning may not apply to Vancouver as much as the suburbs, BC Interior and northern cities.

While Vancouver is known for its "forests" of towers, those towers are confined to the 20% of land left over after RS zoning preserved detached home sprawl on 80% of residential land since 1948. Even with exclusionary zoning, pre-pandemic Vancouver achieved a non-car commute rate of nearly 55% (walk, transit + bikes). The downtown high-rise peninsula has one of the lowest car-ownership rates on the urban continent; 40% of the West End population does not and never has owned cars. High density zoning since the 90s and new non-car infrastructure (new rapid transit lines and rapid bus lanes, protected bike routes, wider sidewalks...) has resulted in a double-digit decrease in vehicular traffic to / from the peninsula and the same in GHG emissions. Downtown has had a gas-fired district heating plant for decades with a per capita lower emissions profile than individually gas heated buildings, and it's planned to switch to electricity some time this decade.

The Metro Vancouver government did start the ball rolling with the Livable Regions Strategic Plan that resulted in the rapid transit-stimulated "town centre' concept that has been a ripping on-steroids success in transportation planning and high density living. And of course there is a plethora of more fine grained planning and urban design that needs to be explored between the town centres. But the initial LRSP started with the realization that Metro Vancouver is confined by geography, scarce protected agricultural land and pristine watersheds while also having a concurrently huge demographic growth curve. In short, the Vancouver region was forced to be smarter about planning. If only every city did the same. This could be incentivized with very generous senior level funding for all kinds of climate busting infrastructure, from new transit lines to electric heat pumps.

This is not to say that human scaled efficacious urbanism (mainly low rise) won't happen, but the above success so far stems mainly from city hall and the regional government despite senior government ideology. Having said that, we did see a change in both higher levels of government that brought in a new formula for funding major transit projects since 2015. It could be better, but let's count our successes and assign thanks first. Next in line is the Vancouver Plan approved by the last progressive council that allows the Missing Middle to be explored. Let's hope the new conservative council doesn't blow it up.

Thank you for this excellent summary of "gasoline vs. lithium" Barry, backed by your signature graphics.
Clearly the fossil fuel industry wants everyone to remain hooked on their products, so it's in their myopic interests to promote myths about the electrification of transportation.

Internationally we're consuming 100 million barrels of oil per day. Bob McDonald (CBC Radio) has pointed out that 100 million barrels per day is enough volume to run Niagara Falls for two hours (per day). . .
I strongly believe that the electrification of transportation cannot happen soon enough. Electric vehicles are a major part of that transition.
"The top ten electric vehicle myths that need to be debunked"

Meanwhile the race is on to improve battery power density (Wh/kg) and the sustainability/safety of their chemistries. Remarkable advances in battery technology are happening internationally; batteries with much greater power density than Lithium-ion, and with much less toxic chemistries are already a reality.

By 2026, if not sooner we will likely have a superior, much safer 900 Wh/kg battery; way beyond the 350-400 Wh/kg required to make electrically-powered aviation a reality.

As pointed out by Geoffrey Pounder, just having more electric vehicles isn't the ultimate solution in all scenarios . . . However, it's without doubt better than the road to hell we're on with the ICE (internal combustion engine) 19th century technology.

Along the lines of what Geoffrey is suggesting, Norway is already on that path!

"I went to Norway to see an electric vehicle paradise, but I found something more surprising"
"Norway’s electric vehicle revolution should be praised and replicated, but it should also be viewed for what it is: not an end goal but rather a step in the right direction.
Even for Norway, this massive shift toward electric vehicles isn’t the final step in its sustainable transportation ecosystem."

Geoffrey Pounder's on-point comments notwithstanding, I appreciate this article for the simple comparison of the magnitudes of oil and lithium consumption. My quibble is sourcing non-peer-reviewed statistics for the life cycle CO2 comparison.

Returning to Geoffrey's comments, I'll build on those with a couple of additional references (to keep my remarks short).

1. Derrick Jensen's book, Bright Green Lies (which I'm still working through), in which he excoriates the rosy-spirited, bright green crowd with numerous arguments and statistics which suggest that the Green New Deal (or similar policy), implemented within the status quo industrial economic paradigm, will not solve the many concurrent ecological crises currently overwhelming the biosphere, even if it manages to result in a serious decrease in GHG emissions.

2. Contextualizing Jensen's impressive statistical analysis, I came across a graphic from Visual Capitalist showing annual global resource extraction; the graphic left me stunned at the scale of human resource extraction.

I don't know what the promised land will look like, but the first steps from where we are must include: personal responsibility, enforced by equitable policy (such as personal carbon allowances); a radical redesign of building codes and urban planning and design. Such urban rethinking: incorporates embodied energy and embodied carbon in materials into policy choices; moves personal motor vehicles to the periphery of urban life (by effective redundancy); implements density that facilitates economical common transportation while reducing transportation needs (i.e. fewer trips, less distance per trip).

So, take the climate-change blinkers off and realize what is truly required.

re: Urban rethinking: Sure - good list.
But if anyone thinks you can effect this kind of change in a place like Edmonton or Calgary, or even a little place like Victoria, in time to have a significant effect on climate forecasts then they are deluded.
Yes please, invest in better public transport, but the bulk of cities like Edmonton were designed for automobiles and big box stores. Walking to school is barely possible; walking to a corner store is just not on.

My mother lived 50 m off Calgary's Red Mile in Connought and Lower Mount Royal for 35 years. I have several relatives who live in Mission and Rideau Park (yep, their rowhouse got flooded in 2013). I have lived in close-in Eau Claire, Mission and Tuxedo Park as an adult and grew up in the decently commutable 60s rings of Rosscarrock and Haysboro for a total of 22 years.

There are wonderful inner city and closer in neighbourhoods in Calgary and Edmonton. Yes, there is a tendency to gobble up thousands of hectares of under valued farm land at the periphery for ticky tacky asphalt-encapsulated sprawl and to replicate the terribly obsolete mall building model from last century, but that doesn't take away from the qualities of the urban realm or the fact that C-Train has exemplary ridership and presents even more possibilities for better urbanism in future.

This comparison of ICE to EV vehicles appears uneven, as seems to leave out how much energy - much from fossil fuels - will continue to put GHGs into the atmosphere while the batteries are to recharged. Apples to apples, please.

I agree with Andrew: the use of EVs and their energy/carbon/footprint was not included in the comparison, but was for the ICE scenario. A major and obvious error comparing apples to pears. A more useful comparison is the full life-cycle environmental impact of BEV vs ICE. Also, comparing BEV vs ICE to short and long-distance public transport would also be useful since those responders who indicated that the move to BEV is simply a move in the right direction, but not the complete and final objective needed are absolutely correct. Personally, I see a mix of BEV robo-taxis, short-distance and long-distance public transit replacing all ICE and much of the current short-haul air travel, as the ultimate target objective.

The magnitude of the difference shown is so great that this additional comparison would not add to the materially to the discussion. Let's not get sidetracked into 'what about" isms.

The electricity is heading for all being from renewables anyway, so that's gonna be moot.

I agree Rufus. Also, 80% of Canadians already live in provinces in which electricity emits only ~1% of the CO2 of gasoline per kilometer. So it is already moot in much of Canada. Here's my article on that:

Thanks for the comment, Andrew. This particular article was trying to give readers a sense of the vast scale of gasoline mining/extraction -- and it used lithium as a way to provide scale. If you are interested in comparison of CO2 from driving on gasoline vs electricity here's an article wrote about that: I will note that for the 80% of Canadians that live in clean electricity provinces the emissions from driving on electricity is very small. Adding electricity emissions for these regions to the "battery" column in my chart above would not change the overall picture of vastly more CO2 from gasoline than from building battery and producing the electricity.

First: Mr. Saxifrage, I really enjoy your articles and please keep them coming. My following comment is offered as friendly, constructive criticism.
I wanted to make essentially the same point as Andrew: I think the impact of the generation and transmission of the electricity for BEVs should be included in your analysis. I think the electricity could come all or mostly from renewables, but building new renewable generation and transmission infrastructure has a materials and energy cost, which probably belongs in the MAKE category.
I think that including this impact would still show BEVs to be an improvement over ICE vehicles, while making it more difficult for naysayers to discount your argument as biased.

I believe Vaclav Smil (U of Manitoba) has already done that in his book, 'How the world Really Works.' If memory serves, he may have used watts as the common unit of measure. This is also done by climate scientists when comparing energy densities of different fuels and materials (eg. watts of electricity equivalent of sunlight falling on a square metre of Earth's surface).

Smil describes the CO2 embedded in various crops based on the natural gas-based derivation of specific fertilizers, and is cautious about jumping to conclusions about replacing fossil fuels rapidly without understanding their embodied energy, and also the embodied energy + GHG of their renewable or regenerative alternatives. He seems optimistic about wind and solar especially around their competitive economics.

The apparently urban chorus extolling the virtues of lithium and so-called rare earth minerals is misguided.

First, mining is not, never has been, and never will be a rational notion of climate knight in shining armour, as bizarrely envisioned by the current rash of enthusiasts;

Second, manufacturing and buying new vehicles for everyone is very unlikely to ultimately be net positive in limiting climate change;

Third, articles like this do not acknowledge all the other aspects of mining, like more roading, loss of biodiversity, loss of place - which is endlessly disregarded by urbanites and decision-makers who have never profoundly loved or belonged in an intact landscape. There is often a breezy postscript in these articles that hopefully all this mining can be done without ecological damage or harm to indigenous rights. While First Nations differ in their approach to support for industrial projects, ecosystems do not, the damage is extensive and irreversible; and,

Fourth, as the writer before me has commented, the author's dichotomy is a false one. Digging up more resources, manufacturing more vehicles, more wind turbines, more nuclear plants, more of everything is simply not going to limit climate change. Studies show that we simply add these endeavours to the fossil fuels we already extract. What we need is to find an alternative to the growth, growth, growth economy, to need less, to be less like magpies keen on every shiny new thing.

Dear Barry Saxifrage, I have always enjoyed your articles, I've admired your research, and I love your surname, but before you get too far down the concrete urban street of boosterism for the mining industry, perhaps you should find a faint Earthen bear path through mosses, native grass, wetlands, old growth forests, wolf willow, magenta shooting stars, alpine clematis, glacier lilies and saxifrage for a change of mind.

Oh sure - let's just all go back to the stone age.
I'm sure we will enjoy the saxifrage as we spend February desperately searching for the last left over berry or the first wild garlic before the hungry bears wake up.
I grew up in the age of dirt, when child mortality was common, penicillin rare, and small pox a killer disease. I have no desire to go back there, let alone wish it on my grandchildren.
We need solutions that preserve our standard of living not just polemics against growth.

I'm just curious if you've read any of those writings you're dissing that discuss growth. I find it odd that those who believe that human economies can increase, exponentially, for all time, see the only alternative being a return to the Flintstones and Bedrock City.

Are you content, then, to continue our program of mass extinction of the planet's other species?