In recent months Nissan has begun effective marketing of their new Zero-Emissions vehicle the Leaf. According to the Nissan website, Zero-emissions are eco-friendly vehicles, such as Electric Vehicles (EVs) and Fuel-Cell Vehicles (FCVs) that have no tailpipe emissions of CO2 or other gases. The idea is that you can charge the vehicle’s electric battery at home or at designated charging stations and have absolutely no carbon emissions, or at least that is what the advertising might lead one to believe. Sounds pretty great but there is one major problem that the media and public don’t seem to notice. Electricity is not intrinsically carbon-free. In fact, electricity production is the single largest emitter of CO2 in the United States according to the EPAs report on Climate Change.
I have often wondered why culturally, the idea of electricity is not associated with large carbon emissions? I think it probably has something to do with the big bucks spent by the Coal Industry on advertising, but regardless, I would like to think that as Americans we are smart enough to recognize their deceit. And Coal is exactly what is fueling the new Nissan Leaf, and other hybrids and Fuel-Cell Vehicles. Essentially cars like the Leaf are just deferring their CO2 emissions to another fossil fuel.
I see this issue as tangible evidence of the lack of general understanding of energy production and consumption. I agree that electricity is good. I like having lights, heat, hospitals, schools, computers, and cars. However, we must be more critical of where our electricity is coming from and drop the assumption that electric=clean. This new generation of electric vehicles could be a great thing, but it depends on a large scale shift to a clean energy source: nuclear energy.