Tesla Cars Aren’t As Carbon (And Taxpayer) Friendly As You Think

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Tesla proponents love to remind people how their vehicles are “carbon free” (in spite of Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s own carbon profligate lifestyle):

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 ‚Äúfuture proofing‚ÄĚ 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?

Note: What¬†would be a “solution” for the “climate change” crowd to push that would actually be honest? ¬†Look no further than the aforementioned TreeHugger.com to fill you in:

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. ¬†

  • alpha_protagonist

    Tesla >>> vaporware.

  • JdL

    As I approached the end of this article, I was afraid you weren’t going to mention the pollution caused by electricity generation needed to power these cars.

    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 ‚Äėnother article on.

    Shouldn’t have worried! Excellent, you hit all the points. I expect Tesla to be in serious trouble by the end of 2017, as their production of Model 3’s falls waaaaay short of the fantasy projections.

    • Duane Norman

      The same problems of raw material cost and net energy production that apply to Tesla batteries also apply to “clean” power generation, and that is before you mention “dirty” sources like coal/gas/oil.

      Again, you could write a whole separate article on it. Nuclear is the cleanest of the bunch, but I’ve already written an article with my thoughts on nuclear.


      • JdL

        I like nuclear power, in spite of its risks. Full disclosure: I worked as an engineer in the design of nuclear power plants in the late ’70’s and early ’80’s, back when they were still being built (and when various problems in original engineering calculations came to light and those calcs needed to be redone). I saw some horrible practices, too, including important information about the weight of valves, necessary to calculate pipe stress accurately, being virtually illegible. I wish more serious work would be done on the use of thorium in place of uranium as a nuclear fuel, as apparently it is less likely to melt down catastrophically if something goes wrong.

        As for Fukushima, I am frustrated by statements (quoted in the article you link to) such as “Fukushima continues to leak an astounding 300 tons of radioactive waste into the Pacific Ocean every day,” and “Fukushima has contaminated the entire Pacific Ocean in just five years.” All this really means is that radiation levels have increased by a detectable amount, which says absolutely nothing about how much genuine damage has been done in areas far from the coast of Japan. We are all bombarded every moment of the day with background radiation, which existed long before humans began manipulating atoms. (I’m sure you’re aware of all this, BTW).

        I agree with nuclear power critics who decry existing legislation which lifts potential liability from operators of nuclear plants: they should be held to account just as anyone should for the outcomes of negligent actions, if they occur.

        And of course there is the nagging question of what to do with nuclear waste, but I don’t see the question as particularly urgent or extremely difficult to solve. Embedding the waste in glass and burying it deep in a mountain seems like a reasonable solution to me, and there probably are many others.

        Enough yammering for one comment. I’m new to your writing but will add you to my list of people to follow.

        • Duane Norman

          My understanding of nuclear power is that boiling water reactors (BWRs) are far more unsafe than newer pressurized water reactors (PWRs). Both Chernobyl and Fukushima are powered by BWR reactors.

          I’m all for nuclear, if the fixed costs aren’t too prohibitive.

  • JdL

    One other thought: would it be a bad thing if carbon dioxide concentrations zoomed up? Hard-core greenies take it as self evident that it would, but apparently atmospheric CO2 was three times its current concentrations in the time of the dinosaurs, and as far as I know the earth wasn’t horribly suffering back then (if you neglect the danger of being eaten by a T-Rex). It’s amazing to me that plants can survive at all when one of their essential nutrients is present in less than one part per thousand in the atmosphere!

    As you’re probably aware, there is solid evidence that CO2 concentrations LAG temperature changes (warmer oceans drive dissolved gas into the atmosphere; colder oceans suck it out of the air) rather than CAUSING them.

  • Robert Callaghan

    Just wait til they drive themselves, by 2020 cars will cause 4.5 Terra bytes of data per day.

    5G is dangerous, and will run 75 billion IOT devices by 2030.

    Nano RFID tracking dust is dangerous and there will be 1 trillion of them by 2030.

    Robots and automated AI will take 50% of jobs by 2030.

    You cannot kill jobs, close nuclear and coal plants, and run all this on solar, wind and batteries.

    All solar panels, wind turbines and batteries have to be replace every 30 years.

    That’s billions of tons of throughput.

    link 1 https://lokisrevengeblog.wordpress.com/2017/08/08/the-art-of-iot-dolls-and-collapse-zen-maintenance/

    link 2 https://lokisrevengeblog.wordpress.com/2017/08/11/white-gold-happiness-rules-the-world/