“Saving the Earth” is all the rage these days. Yeah, the roads are filled with Tesla and Prius drivers that feel somehow superior to us mere mortals since their electric cars are saving the environment, while “outdated,” gas-swilling cars (especially our classics) are trying to destroy it. The problem is that they base this feeling on just a tiny slice of the overall pie: namely mpg. Yep, they view the 50 mpg of the Prius or the zero gas usage of the Tesla and determine that their rides are the best way to go since less dinosaurs are consumed, and less emissions are produced, to get them from point A to point B. I suppose if that’s all there was to it they would be right. But, as I alluded earlier, the pie is a whole lot bigger (or the cake has more layers if you’re not into pie).
The key element to any hybrid or electric car is batteries—and lots of them. Technology in this area has improved greatly but they are still big, cost a lot of energy to produce, and have a finite lifespan. Yeah, your Tesla doesn’t use any oil or gas and has no emissions, but the giant earthmovers at mine the nickel or lithium, especially overseas, does. The factory that coverts all of those raw materials into batteries is most likely powered by a coal-fired plant (and overseas, it’s most likely not a very clean one). Then the heavy batteries are put on ships and hauled across the oceans to various assembly plants. So, before that “green” car hits the road it already has a huge carbon footprint to make up for. Once on the road it doesn’t use gas (or in the case of a hybrid it uses less gas) but it does require electricity. Yep, you plug it in and unless you’re have a solar system the plug is connected to some sort of power generating plant, most likely fed by coal. So while your car is generating little to no emissions, the same may not be said for the plant that generated the power for your car. Eventually the batteries in your ride will need to be replaced with new ones that start life in that same dirty strip mine and the old ones will need to be recycled in a plant that cost a lot of energy to build and even more to operate.
When the whole pie is considered, the guy that bought the PZEV (partial zero emissions vehicle) that gets 35-40 mpg, doesn’t pull electricity from the grid, and can easily run him down the road for well over 300,000 miles is doing the Earth as much of a service as the hybrid or electric car driver, he just doesn’t get the good press or free access to the carpool lane.
Then you have our classic Chevys. My Chevelle was built 46 years ago and is still going strong. We’ve updated the engine to an LS mill, which gets way better gas mileage and churns out a lot less emissions than the original drivetrain. Barring any tragic traffic accidents the Chevelle will be around long after today’s cars have been turned into razor blades and beer cans. These cars are the ultimate form of automotive recycling and, given how little they are driven compared to most cars, their impact on the environment is minimal. Even a bone stock classic Chevy, which certainly has higher emissions than a newer car, is driven far less since they are typically hobby cars. So when some greenie gets all bent out of shape over our classic Chevys they just aren’t looking at the overall picture.
Now don’t get me wrong, if you want to cruise a hybrid or electric ride, then by all means go for it. Nobody can argue that they don’t get great gas mileage and will save you cash once your make for the premium paid up-front, but know that the Earth isn’t being magically saved by it. Also, when you see that classic Chevy cruising down the highway it’s not backstabbing Mother Nature. In fact, it’s one of the best and coolest forms of recycling on the planet.