A Polite Disagreement
The environmental impact of automobiles has long been a concern in this country. For years, hybrid automobiles remained relatively obscure vehicles in the American market, but in the wake of environmental and economic concerns stemming from fuel cost spikes, eco-consciousness has grown to become more than just an afterthought in the minds of many American consumers, especially those looking to purchase an automobile.
Many consumers have chosen to move away from conventional full-size vehicles for a variety of reasons, but many still feel that just downsizing to a smaller or more fuel efficient vehicle isn’t enough. It is primarily for this reason that hybrids have grown to their current popularity; hybrid drivers are looking for more than just an economic solution in the car that they drive. Hybrid drivers are greatly concerned with the environment as well, and to some, hybrids are seen as easily superior to standard cars in that aspect.
In an article published by Online PR News, part of the heading states that “Hybrid cars are the most environmentally friendly cars.” It then goes on to state that “A Hybrid car is a perfect solution to problems like deteriorating environmental conditions.” It’s very easy to take one look at emissions tests and make the assumption that a hybrid has a much smaller impact on the environment than a conventional car. My main disagreement with this argument is that the author is not taking into consideration the overall lifespan impact of hybrid cars.
It all starts at the production stage, especially for hybrids. A large portion of the pollutants released over any car’s lifetime are released at the manufacturing stage, consisting of, on average, anywhere from 10-20% of lifetime pollution. Manufacturers, such as Toyota, have admitted to the fact that much more pollution is created in the manufacturing of hybrid cars compared to conventional cars. This can be attributed to the production of a much larger amount of electronic equipment, especially electric motors, specialized braking systems, and hefty battery cells. All of this additional equipment, combined with standard gasoline components, requires automakers to use substitute materials such as aluminum for weight savings. Aluminum use also increases a car’s environmental impact, as it requires more intensive processes to work with in comparison to steel.
The materials required for the production of hybrid batteries are another environmental factor that isn’t taken into consideration. Cobalt, a highly important component in hybrid production, is sourced from volatile regions such as the Katanga province of the DRC. Serious environmental damage has been caused in this region, and in many others, as a result of increased demand for the multitude of exotic materials required for hybrid powertrain production. An article from Car and Driver’s Aaron Robinson makes the following metaphor that strongly supports the concept that electric technology in vehicles has a much deeper impact than many realize: “……a wave of new EVs will arrive, touted as clean transportation for socially responsible types. You know these people; they’re the ones in Whole Foods carefully reading the package labels. Unlike food, cars don’t come with a detailed ingredient list. Does anyone living in our modern consumer paradise care if their vehicle purchase helps pay for murder and environmental ruin in Africa?” That being said, I would like to politely disagree with the notion that hybrid cars are a “perfect solution.”
“Out of Africa: Where Electric-Vehicle Batteries Come From, Part II” http://www.caranddriver.com/columns/aaron-robinson-out-of-africa-where-electric-vehicle-batteries-come-from-part-ii . Aaron Robinson. Car and Driver. 11/2010. 4/16/2013
“Hybrid Cars – Eco Friendly Cars”. http://www.onlineprnews.com/news/52075-1281347364-hybrid-cars-eco-friendly-cars.html. Online PR News. 8/9/2010. 4/16.2013