Today's WSJ: EVs Have Larger Carbon Footprint Than ICE, $7,500 Credit is Wasted

Green Cars Have a Dirty Little Secret:

Pretty interesting set of facts and analysis. It will be interesting to see the responses from "scientists" here. Might be worth Elon Musk chiming in. This could do significant damage to EV case if not shot down.

I didn't waste my time reading the entire article, but its not a secret and its not that dirty.

If you haven't read this paper, you should:

Living in Michigan, I know that my wife's Prius has lower emissions than my S, but the grid is getting cleaner and her car is getting less efficient. And the S is amazing and much cleaner than my previous car.

You'd think someone writing for the WSJ would understand investing, but sometimes investments don't have immediate returns. This includes investments in technology and innovation. Over the next century, we'll be better off that somebody did something disruptive.

It fails to take into account those of us who live in places that are heavily nuclear.

Ok, I read the article after my last post. Full of bad and selective math. A one point he mentions a 6 to 12 oz comparison, then later says EVs use 15 oz.

I grabbed a napkin and tried to make sense of it. He says an EV was built with the equivalent of 80,000 miles.

Using his numbers, 6 x 80,000 / 16 = 30,000 + 30,000 which is what he cites as the emissions to build. 60,000 lbs or 30 tons total.

What about the ICE? 12 x 80,000 / 16 = 60,000 + 14,000 is 74,000 lbs total. Not interesting enough to report.

Lets just say something about 15 oz and coal even though he already said "While electric-car owners may cruise around feeling virtuous, they still recharge using electricity overwhelmingly produced with fossil fuels. Thus, the life-cycle analysis shows that for every mile driven, the average electric car indirectly emits about six ounces of carbon-dioxide."

So didn't we already account for coal? How did we get to 15oz?

For those without napkins handy, using his numbers the break even is 42,667 miles, but I don't really trust his numbers.

Until is starts raining solar powered, biodegradable cars, driving will have a footprint. I'll never suggest otherwise.

There's so many assumptions in this article that he makes to prove his point, which is a shame because it could have been a decent article.

1) What car only gets driven 50,000 miles in its lifetime?

2) A Model S does might take 30k in CO2 emissions to build, but certainly not a Leaf. He doesn't compare apples to apples all the way through the article.

3) Who says the battery dies after 100k miles? If I get 20% less range after 100k miles, then I'm at 212 miles of range. Big deal.

I could go on. All I am learning from article such as this one (and the NYT article) is to never, ever believe anything that you read. All I know is that my S is fast, smooth, energy efficient, and a bargain at twice the price. My next one will be too.

Not that WSJ needs it, but could this have been published to spark a controversy ala NYT ? Even false info sells papers. - Or nowadays, causes website hits which generates more ad revenue.

I looked at the abstract list for the journal article he cited. the only thing that I could find that was close was an article for measuring the emissions of mining operations. I don't have access to the articles. Maybe someone here does and can find it.

I thought that the Lithium in Lithium Ion batteries was reusable in new LIion batteries. that should decrease the lifetime emissions of the Lithium (but perhaps not in the fabrication of the battery itself. In any case, I wonder if the ICE cost takes into account the "minihg" of the oil, the electricity to refine it and the emissions of transporting it to a gas station. I'm willing to concede the cost of pumping gas into the car as negligible.

On Tesla's website, you can see where the majority of your electricity comes from. 56% of the electric energy in the U.S. is produced from sources OTHER than coal.

But who cares about accuracy, let's just make sure we sell papers.

Go to the Book of Knowledge, Bjorn Lomborg is a sound sceptic in many ways (ørn_Lomborg) and he has a good point in this article IF the carbon footprint is the issue. I think not.

I suggest we disregard the "Church of CO2 & Carbon Footprint" and focus on what is really important for most people; local and regional pollution! That is a concrete issue that is understood by most. Airborne soot and grime creating smog and stink to become a vague memory will be appreciated by all. Clear air to breathe is not controversial.

I live in Taiwan since late 90-ies and work in China and know what local/regional pollution is all about. Trust me. To reduce that particulate matter in the air that we breathe has to be the focus for the wellbeing of most. And it has to start somewhere. Inour case, the MS is for me a great start.

Believe it or not, but Chinese authorities are heavy handed on EVs and LNG vehicles as well as photovoltaic energy. There is things happening despite all the misery reported. It will change eventually. Recall the stories about the London fog. It killed people on bad days, a 100+ years ago.

As for the global gloom and doom including ice bears and melting ice caps, I'll attribute that to the sun, solar flares and ionisation of the atmosphere. Heresy with some I know. No intention to start that discussion. But in fairness, too much of the CO2 mumbo-jumbo is too conveniently creating too much money on too few hands. Check it out. Cap and trade? What bull. If you are serious about carbon footprint it is all about Cap. Period! No trade.

So - keep it simple; enjoy the MS (the lucky few of you that can...) with no emissions, the quiet and the insane motoring experience.

Det mener nå jeg :-)

Expect this kind of thing. The ICE paradigm is deeply entrenched and those that profit and control it will NOT go quietly into the good night. While I know many here are very green in philosophy and many here bought the S because of that, imo, if Tesla survives and thrives it will be because they build a far better car that costs less to operate. This is what will persuade most people to make the switch.

Getting into the weeds about pounds of carbon will not sway the masses. When I tell people that I am driving for less than 3 cents a mile, THAT strikes home. If Tesla can survive long enough to put that cost of driving into a 40K car nobody will care squat about this kind of data mining.

I am thrilled to help that in the small way my buying the best car on earth did. The very, very best thing we can all do is continue to proselytize and DELIBERATELY target the people in our spheres that can actually buy one NOW.

Tesla MUST survive long enough to bring in GenIII. Nothing else matters.

Wow DocJay- I think you've been drinking the same flavor of KoolAid as I have. +1

Hey - the WSJ article is spreading to Norway too:
Coincidence that this has headlines in the two largest Tesla markets just like that, ? I think NOT!

Let's check where this pops up over the next few days. Will be interesting to see what lobby has launched the campaign and the consequences that maybe the reaction. My guess is that the US tax breaks is in the line of fire. I see similarities to the ethanol discussions....


"It fails to take into account those of us who live in places that are heavily nuclear."

Agreed. The article cherry picks results.


This is from my province. We are almost entirely done with coal. I believe the last two plants are about to be taken offline as well. In other words, we're fairly green in Ontario. I think our mix is a realistic example of what some other states or provinces could accomplish; base load using Hydroelectric or Nuclear and with renewables to augment. (Our use of gas plants still needs work though...)

I believe the WSJ is owned by Rupert Murdoch. A man that has no need for facts. 'Nuff said.

@Hogfighter But who cares about accuracy ... sad, but true.

The dirtiest part of making an EV is the battery (and how to recycle), which can be, and should be under controlled by the government and manufactures. It doesn't matter what way you look at it, EV is still cleaner than ICE car overall. There are many ways to generate electricity and many utility companies offer mix-source (or 100% wind) as an option. Unless all ICE cars can run on petroleum-free bio oil, their cons still greater than EV, needless to say many wars can be avoided because of petroleum.

@ cindys_tesla

You have to think and distinguish between local, regional, global issues. Big differences. For sure the battery is a significant contributing factor but making aluminium from bauxite through electrolysis, just as steel is made out of oxide out ore, is not at all negligible. Even wind is not clean. Far from carbon neutral that everybody like to tellus. 100% wind means tons of CO2 from steel, copper, coatings etc. Bio-oil is at best carbon neutral as the CO2 is returned (photosynthesis) to the hydrocarbon rich material such as trees, switch grass, stover, straw etc. Actually not really carbon neutral as factors contributing has to be factored in, but better as you won't liberate the mineral oils from deep down in the ground or shales. You are of course right, EVs despite it all are a much better proposition for local and regional pollution. The key.
But if you go into the "Church of CO2" we are all doomed and sinful and Beelzebub as long as we breath.


So sad that bias and bad science are so prevalent in the media. True, if you decide to keep the lifetime short and the electricity production dirty, you can tweak the numbers into looking not-so-good...and you can also do the opposite. How about some unbiased realism?

Here is another study that seems much less biased

It shows lifetime BEV at under half the CO2 cost of ICE using a longer lifetime and actual electricity production mix now and projected. And, from what I've seen, we EV owners are MUCH more likely to have solar on our rooftops...while gasoline production is getting dirtier (tar sands, etc). Remember, most of these studies also look at total lifetime *energy* use and calculate emissions from means of producing the energy. This is a little different than looking at emissions directly and it does *not* include *all* emissions. Figure 5 in the UCLA report shows this clearly - no contest.

I, for one, am thrilled that Tesla set up shop in the USA. The government spends money on much worse things (uh, like oil exploration subsidies!) than spurring a new industry here instead of letting enterprising folks elsewhere take another bite out of Detroit.

In fairness, Lomborg doesn't just say coal, and refers to fossil fuels, which, with natural gas and oil, make up a lot more than the 45%+ of our electricity, on average, that does come from coal. I agree with the comments above about why we own these cars. Although I have 111 solar panels and use no net electricity at our homes, business, or to drive the S, I own the car for its great technology, speed, etc., not because its make the world a better place. It doesn't. An EV may be slightly better in terms of environmental impact than an ICE (apparently at least debatable), but they still make an owner's carbon footprint a net cost, and way more than that individual's fair share of environmental resources. They are still rich guy's toys. Perhaps that will change with Gen III.

To the point about investing in the future, that may be relevant in the big picture, but not to this analysis. His study looks the individual vehicle cost in carbon, not the long term, or the fact that electricity will increasingly come from renewables. That's probably a legit approach, especially given the smug superiority and sanctimonious attitudes held by some greenies and EV owners. Lomborg has a pretty decent reputation, except to some very extreme warming science critics, and putting aside quibbles about which statistics one chooses over what time frame (and all of the numerical responses above have have disqualifying errors too), it is sobering that the analysis is even close.

Interesting factoid: Tesla Motors owns many more Ford F-250 and F-350 3/4 and one-ton diesel pickups with roll-back bodies than it has EV's in its entire demonstrator inventory. Every Service Center has a small fleet of those heavy trucks (six in Rockville) for the road rangers. It was jarring to see the Powerstroke Diesel insignia next to the Tesla logo on the pristine white trucks that TM just bought with our money. For those of us who dream of an all-EV world, or even significant market penetration, remember that our cars could not exist without bunker-oil-fed ships to bring the batteries, tires, etc.,18-wheelers to take the parts to the factory, and diesel-belching car carriers to deliver and service them.

Next time we feel all pleased about our cars' clean-world bonafides, we should also remember the ICE technology and support without which our toys would not be possible.

It is a valid point, but the WSJ article does itself a disservice by not presenting an apples to apples comparison, It just cherry picks disconnected facts and trys to make a point about of non sequiturs. In the end, it doesn't matter. People will buy what they want to buy, and the case of the model S there are so many other compelling reasons to buy it other than global CO2 levels. Personally I think the strongest environmental reason to buy the model S is to cut down city pollution levels. People are so used to city smog they don't realize that are marinating in crappy air. And the point needs to be made that you are not, in fact, just transferring where the pollution is made since there are many pollution free ways of making electricity and ICE cars are only 30% efficient while electric motors are 85% efficient. A look at the EPA MPGe ratings shows that clearly.

WSJ used to be a balanced, well reported newspaper which I subscribed to for years. After purchase by Murdoch it became notably right leaning and no longer balanced. I stopped reading and subscribing to it for this reason some time back. The editorial agenda at the paper should not be overlooked when reading its articles.

The math doesnt work for those of us in 75 to 80 percent renewable electricity states, e.g. Washington. Just drive behind one of these infernal combustion contraptions. Who you gonna believe? The WSJ, or your own lying nose?


A quick look over the article Cliff pointed to and the WSJ article - the only real difference is the going in assumption of the lifetime of a car... WSJ 90K, Cliff article 180K. The 3rd paragraph of the WSJ article is in line with Cliff's article (see figure 1).

Overall, the WSJ article isn't *wrong* -- there was a time 100K was the end of your the line for your car. People may hold on to cars longer now, but do most of them keep it for 180K? I know I keep mines fairly close to that - I doubt those who daily commute is 30 miles will - given that (accounting for only the daily commute) it would take 25 years to get to that number. BTW: my commute is closer to 120/day -- so the math is totally different.

So, the author presented his opinion (and like my dad always said, "opinions are like *@!holes, eveyone has them and they all stink") -- with data that supports it. We just differ on some of the assumptions used to come to the conclusions.

I agree totally with Docjay (and others) and I’ve sadly come to expect this type of yellow journalism going forward. Clearly the author isn’t letting reputable research and established facts get in the way of his world views and his desire for attention.

BTW, in this country alone we have 120 to 150 thousand gas stations. Remind me again - gas stations, gas pumps, etc. are powered by??

Don't waste your time posting the real facts here, go post on the WSJ article comments. We need to fight this type of disinformation by getting the truth out.

There's truth, and there's tilt. This article blends both.

That every car manufactured has a carbon footprint, is truth. To suggest that this wipes out any EV benefit is tilt.

Like Peterson's articles, this too is selective about what to compare, to achieve the tilt. Peterson for example, suggests that the electric motor takes as much co2 to build as its gas equivalent. This is false. Look at at mass and complexity of these two machines side by side - a gas motor takes much more energy to manufacture.

These "so what" comparisons also tend to ignore the electricity used to produce gasoline. (3kWh per gallon or so).

What I think is unassailable:

1. EVs allow us to use non-carbon energy. Gas does not.

2. Lithium batteries can be recycled. So the steady-state mining cost will drop significantly.

3. Electric drive trains last much longer, so the steady state replacement cycle costs are much better than gas vehicles.

If you are fair, you know there is some nonzero cost to switch to EVs. But in the steady state, it is far more efficient, and has the potential to supply all our driving with no continuing co2 footprint.

@ GeirT

My point about the battery building process being dirty was to stress a primary area where an EVs manufacture differs from an ICE. Both use steel, plastic and a million other common components so the primary gain for the ICE, at creation, is with the battery. Over the life of both cars though, the EV has a far greater chance of reducing that footprint than the ICE. The amount of gain would be impacted heavily by the source of the electricity but even if it stays as it is today, controlling pollution at a factory/reactor level is much more feasible than trying to control it at the individual car level.

The fact is, every answer we have to this problem at the moment has flaws but that should not stop any of them from being explored. EVs represent one possible solution to the question and one that I personally believe in. The manufacture and support of EVs is in its infancy and, though there will be bumps in the road, I am excited by
the possibilities they represent. If bio-oil, fuel cells or pixie dusts comes down the road with a better solution though, they'll have my support as well. The end goal is, after all, not about which technology is used but which provides the best solution
for everyone.


Where in href="" is the issue of electric vehicle construction discussed?

I did not see that anywhere. Did I miss something?

I don't think Lomborg is irrationally hostile to EVs. Anti-carbon emission fans of EVs need to look at the emissions in the battery construction.

Newspapers should be barred from drawing conclusions. Our local paper says stupid things about economics all the time. Difference is I can shout them down.

In this article the WSJ asserts that the tax credit is a bad deal for taxpayers because of the math in the article. First let's assume its correct, but then we have to imagine that every plant used to build car parts doesn't wash their output. And then we have to agree that carbon emissions are the only pay-off.

For my money getting the country out of the oil import business is job #1. Not spending trillions on wars in the middle east will be a big win. Every time we burn coal or use nuclear or even wind and solar, we get closer to that.

I fail to see how continuing to buy ICE cars helps that important goal.