With each passing day, it seems that sustainability and environmental responsibility become more trendy. This is true locally just as much as it is globally. Think of Sustainable North Grenville – the local organization dedicated to issues of environmental sustainability right in our own community. This organization is not “new” anymore. This year, it will host its 14th annual Sustainability Fair. None of this is a bad thing, given the importance of caring about the planet, but “trendy” doesn’t necessarily bring about change.
I have written in the past about electric cars, and how they are no longer awe-inspiring to see because there are simply so many of them. My kids no longer excitedly shout “Tesla” when they see one because… well… they would be shouting it a dozen times in every short car ride!
One cannot trust unresearched information floating around about electric cars, or any facet of environmental sustainability for that matter. There will always be those who jump on the bandwagon and blindly celebrate trendy new enviro-tech. There will also be those who feel a surge of power and rebellion when revving up their oversized diesel engines to drive somewhere that is close enough to walk. Neither group can be trusted to follow the science. For this reason, when I heard “whisperings” that our electrical grid can’t actually handle the anticipated influx of electric cars in the next few years, I thought it was probably the “dieselheads” making up stories. To my surprise, a recent Toronto Star article from October 2022 confirms that, indeed, our electrical grid is not currently equipped to handle the number of electric cars we are expecting by 2030. Yikes!
Even if we did have enough electricity to power all of these expected electric cars without crashing our system, there is another irony at play: we generate a lot of our electricity unsustainably. In fact, a report I pulled directly from the Ontario Government website shows that in 2020 and 2021, we generated most of our electricity in this province from nuclear power plants. A measurable portion was also generated using – OH NO – gas! Nuclear power has low carbon emissions, but does require an immense amount of water to produce, and creates huge quantities of toxic waste. Gas-fired generating stations produce carbon emissions just like gas cars. Seems ironic, doesn’t it? I fear that a lot of our obsession with things like electric cars is about making ourselves feel good instead of thinking about how much difference we’re actually making, and I want us to make a difference.
There is no doubt in my mind that electric cars will become the dominating force in the automotive market, probably within a couple of short decades. I just worry that at that moment, we are being divided and turned against each other for the simple reason that the right hand never talks to the left hand. That is to say that a company like Tesla achieving mass marketing of the electric car, and virtually creating a whole new subcategory in the auto market, does not automatically solve the carbon emissions problem. It’s as though the “right hand” is an impulsive younger sibling who has great ideas but doesn’t think far ahead when implementing them, and the “left hand” is the pesky older sibling who must poke holes in the plans, knowing they simply may not work as intended.
So what do we do? I assume that governments all over the world are seeking ways to expand our electricity infrastructure to make sure that we are electric-car-ready. But does that mean more wind turbines? Wind turbines require a huge amount of materials to produce, they are frequently said to kill birds, and they can dislodge undesirable settlement into aquifers when they are pile-driven into the ground. However, each one can power about 1,500 homes. With under 2,000 private dwellings in Kemptville, that means that just two wind turbines can comfortably power Kemptville! Are the materials, bird deaths, and possible groundwater contamination worth it? I don’t know. It seems we need industry experts who can be straightforward with us. No agendas and no propaganda – just facts.
The problem is that straight facts don’t always suit the powers that be. I doubt many people reading this realize that eating meat contributes to more greenhouse gas emissions than driving your car, but it does. Livestock and their by-products account for 51% of all worldwide greenhouse gas emissions. Transportation exhaust? Just 13%. This is all outlined in an interesting 2014 documentary called “Cowspiracy” which unsurprisingly supports veganism. Governments love to charge us carbon taxes, tell us not to let our gasoline cars idle unnecessarily, and offer rebates for purchasing electric cars. Do they tell us not to eat meat? Of course not. As a person who loves meat as much as the majority of the population, I can understand why. People are not about to give up something they love, and so we resort to propaganda about the things we can change instead of truth about the things we can’t.
In Quebec, it will be illegal by the end of 2023 to replace existing furnaces with any furnace powered by fossil fuels. In other words, when your furnace dies in Quebec, you’ll be switching to electric forced air. Despite above arguments regarding strain on our electrical grid, I can see some sense in this move. The carbon tax I am currently charged on the natural gas that heats my home is senseless. I am not going to freeze myself and my family by dramatically lowering the temperature, and the reality is that I bought a house with natural gas and I don’t have cash to waste on replacing a perfectly good furnace with an electric one. This is why people, myself included, see carbon tax as a cash grab – it is not financially feasible to avoid it, so it provides no incentive to change.
New rules, however, such as a universal gradual switch to electric heating, can make sense if well implemented and if people are given the time to adjust. The only caveat is that we must be prepared for these changes. The electrical grid must be strong enough, and the cost of electricity must be affordable to avoid adding extra burden in an already unaffordable world. For that, we need something from our governments that can be hard for those in power: we need the right hand to talk to the left hand.
It’s interesting that electric cars are no longer awe-inspiring, yet if you read some of the comments on FB you would get the impression from some that they are still imaginary and not here yet.
How many years do we have left before fossil fuels are diminished? Instead of looking at how much do they really save the environment, how about looking at it as some day we will run out of oil. Electric cars are not perfect but are improving each year and you need to look at it now to have them ready for the future. Not running out of oil and saying, “what do we do now”?
If you think the carbon tax is killing your wallet, wait till you see how much oil is as we have less and less at the end.
The point of electric cars is supposed to be that the electricity they use, in routine local driving, is to be from photvoltaic arrays on the homes of the owners, so it never enters the grid.