Tesla Cars Aren't As Carbon (And Taxpayer) Friendly As You Think
Fact: the Tesla Model S is an environmentally friendly, zero emissions electric vehicle that won’t pollute the air like gas-powered cars. Carbon emissions from a gas car’s tailpipe has a dangerous impact on global warming…. In addition, Tesla CEO Elon Musk explains that, “combustion cars emit toxic gases. According to an MIT study, there are 53,000 deaths per year in the U.S. alone from auto emissions.”
But in reminding people about how they don’t burn fossil fuels, they make sure to omit and/or obfuscate all the other emissions-laden factors that go into production of Tesla automobiles, including the oft-unspoken costs of the vehicles to the taxpayer and to other auto manufacturers.
Start with the power source for the Tesla; their electric power plant uses lithium-ion batteries to store the electricity required to run the car. And while a good amount of lithium is produced at salt lake brines that use chemical processes to extract the requisite lithium…
…a large (and growing) amount of lithium is sourced from hard-rock mining, which is also referred to as strip mining:
This type of mining involves not just all the carbon used to extract the lithium from mines, it “strips” the land of its forests, which is far more environmentally (and carbon) detrimental. And while it is likely impossible to know exactly where Tesla sources its materials from, a closer examination on Tesla’s impact on the mining industry should paint a crystal clear picture:
Should the concept capture the imagination of Americans who are increasingly conscious of reducing their carbon footprint demand for these crucial elements could skyrocket in addition to the already robust global demand for lithium, nickel and copper. Major mining companies are already “future proofing” their businesses for climate change by focusing more investment into commodities that will be required by the renewable energy industry.
You can’t make this stuff up – Tesla and other renewable energy industries are going to save the world by mining its natural resources to excess, without regard for the environmental impact and carbon emissions generated in the process. You shouldn’t be surprised to seldom hear this mentioned by Elon Musk, or the liberal crowd that champions electric vehicles.
It’s hardly the only way Tesla’s manufacturing process is anything but emissions-free. Just take a look at their factory:
Even TreeHugger.com, of all places, muses at the irony of the Tesla plant:
The factory is in the middle of nowhere, really — 23 miles from the nearest city of any size, Reno, Nevada. If we assume that this is the average distance workers are commuting (and it is likely a lot farther), that the cars are powered by gasoline, and that they are average size, then according to the EPA they pump out about 411 grams of CO2 per mile or 18.9 kilograms per round trip. Multiply that by 3,000 and you have 57 tonnes of CO2 generated every day just by the the workers driving to the factory. The average car puts out 4.7 tonnes per year. So every day that the Gigafactory workers drive to work to make batteries for carbon-saving electric cars, they generate as much CO2 as 12 conventional cars do in a year.
And though no one should put it past Tesla to source power for its plant via a “renewable” source, would you really be surprised to find some fossil fuel powered machinery in the plant, given Musk’s own callous attitude towards carbon emissions when it comes to space launches and his own private flights?
None of this even mentions the tax incentives Tesla receives. Electric vehicles are subsidized by the federal government via a tax credit, which is no small chunk of change; $7,500, to be exact:
The federal incentive to purchase an electric vehicle comes in the form of a $7,500 tax credit. In order to qualify for this credit, one must have a tax burden of at least $7,500 and take ownership of a newly purchased electric car before the vehicle manufacturer reaches its 200,000th EV sold in the U.S.
Since Tesla has not sold 200,000 vehicles in the US, the tax credit is still alive and well. Which means that if you say the average sticker price of a Tesla is $100,000 (still high according to estimates), the federal government is subsidizing 7.5% of the purchase price.
And that is before you even count the “Zero-Emission Vehicle” (ZEV) credits that Tesla makes a mint on. Bloomberg explained exactly how important these are to Tesla:
I’m referring to zero-emission vehicle, or ZEV, credits. California and several other states require that a certain proportion of the vehicles sold by an automaker emit no greenhouse gases. These cars earn the automaker credits, and if they don’t have enough to meet their quota, they can buy extra ones from someone who does. As Tesla only makes vehicles that run on batteries and emit nothing, it usually has a surplus for sale.
The profit margin on these is very high, perhaps 95 percent. The implied $95 million of profit equates to about 58 cents a share. Tesla reported a loss of $1.33 per share this week — beating the consensus forecast by 55 cents.
So Tesla earns a subsidy not just from the American taxpayer, it earns a subsidy from all the auto companies that are forced to buy ZEV credits from Tesla in states (primarily California) that force ZEVs upon automakers. And somehow, Tesla still spends more money than it takes in.
That’s correct; in spite of the massive subsidies it receives to operate, Tesla is not even profit-neutral, and the cars are not carbon-neutral, despite what the proponents will have you believe. Of course, none of this even factors in the carbon impact of whatever electricity source Tesla owners charge their cars with, which is a topic you could write a whole ‘nother article on.
Tesla cars are subsidized using a business model that is anything but “dollar-neutral”, and they are built and operated using anything but a “carbon-neutral” process . Can you imagine what could happen if the subsidy “plug” was pulled?
Nothing has changed, which is why this TreeHugger will continue being critical of any kind of car, and will continue to promote walkable cities, bicycles and public transport as the real solutions to the problem of decarbonizing our society.
“Decarbonizing” our society obviously isn’t something I believe in, so don’t expect me to join Lloyd Alter in his carbon-free city. However, I acknowledge that he’s at the very least participating in an intellectually honest discussion about CO2, and not grandstanding about how much he’s helping the environment by plopping himself behind the wheel of a Tesla.