A Tale of Two Headlines: When is Switching to an Electric Car a Good Thing?

Imagine two headlines for a story about electric cars:

  1. Switching to an electric car isn’t always good for the environment

  2. Switching to an electric car would reduce carbon emissions for over 80% of Canadians

CBC radio recently ran a story using the first headline, although the headline was not supported by the content of the story. The second headline reflects the content of the story more accurately, but they chose not to use it. In fact, I wrote it. But hey, I’m not a CBC headline writer.

CBC interviewed Chris Kennedy, a University of Toronto Engineering prof who recently published a study (caution: it’s behind a paywall) looking at the threshold level for electricity carbon intensity: above the threshold switching to an electric car would increase carbon emissions, below the threshold switching would reduce emissions. And yes, the study relies on life cycle assessment studies that take into account the climate impact of producing the batteries required for electric cars.

The CBC got the story wrong. In their story they said “Yet new research suggests that even if every driver in Canada made the switch, from gas to electric, the total emissions might not actually go down.” But the research result is very clear that the opposite is true: if every driver in Canada made the switch from gas to electric total emissions WOULD go down. Carbon emissions would go down for drivers in every province except Alberta, Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia, which collectively account for only 17% of Canada’s population. So switching to an electric car would reduce carbon emissions for over 80% of Canadians. I guess that doesn’t make for such a good headline. Kennedy’s research indicates that if electricity carbon intensity is less than the threshold of 600 tCO2e/GWh (plus or minus 100), total emissions would go down by switching to electric cars. Canada’s average electricity carbon intensity is less than 200 tCO2e/GWh (see Figure below), although it varies considerably by province.

The grey shading indicates the transition zone around the 600-ton threshold in CO2 emissions, below which electricity generation is carbon competitive.

The grey shading indicates the transition zone around the 600-ton threshold in CO2 emissions, below which electricity generation is carbon competitive.

Source: Kennedy, Key threshold for electricity emissions, Nature Climate Change (2015)

It’s disappointing that CBC got this very important story wrong. Creating doubt about the climate benefits of electric cars in most of Canada is irresponsible journalism.

Advertisements

About Duncan Noble

Duncan Noble explores #sustainability #climate & #carbon. Those who have the privilege to know have the duty to act. Tell the Truth and Live the Truth.
This entry was posted in Climate Change, Culture, Systems Thinking and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to A Tale of Two Headlines: When is Switching to an Electric Car a Good Thing?

  1. Curtis Harnanan says:

    Great article Duncan!

    I guess this is a prime example don’t believe everything you read in the paper (internet, social media, etc.).

    Hope all is well with you and Mary.

    All the Best,

    Curtis

    Curtis A. Harnanan
    Senior Consultant

    Phone +1 613 722 6629 ext.242
    curtis.harnanan@thinkstep.com, http://www.thinkstep.com

    [cid:image005.png@01D05274.28E9CF80]

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s