The EV “Solution”:  Not a Silver Bullet

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Most of the time this space focuses on the steady stream of misconceptions, errors and  deliberate untruths promoted by right wing conservatives and populists. (Hello Donald Trump, Boris Johnson, Pierre Poilievre and Danielle Smith). However it must be recognized that these far right ideologues do not have a monopoly on the practice of never letting the facts get in the way of their opinions.

True, their purpose is quite different from progressives. The goal of radical conservatives is to foment anger and distrust among the electorate as a means to achieve power. The last thing they are interested in is the public good. Indeed, as Pierre Poilievre has repeatedly demonstrated, they rarely have any concrete policy objectives. Progressives, on the other hand, generally mean well. They promote policies they believe, rightly or wrongly, will benefit citizens. Nevertheless it occasionally becomes only too obvious that they too can have misconceptions, and while they do not as a rule deliberately mislead, they can sometimes be driven by willful blindness, otherwise known as wishful thinking. Nowhere is this more likely, it would seem, than in the case of environmental policy initiatives.

Virtually everyone except the radical conservatives recognizes that climate change is a reality. Virtually every progressive politician wants to do something about it.  But the desire to “fix” this problem, as quickly as possible, has sometimes led to poorly thought out band aid solutions, or, worse still, to dramatic ones that have far-reaching and unintended consequences. This is true not only for some economic policy initiatives to combat climate change, but even for some scientific ones. Take, for example, the desire to promote various alternative energy solutions in order to reduce dependence on fossil fuels. Considerable political capital and financial investment have been focused on wind, solar, hydrogen and biomass, all of which have been helpful to some extent but, even taken together, have proven insufficient and in some cases impractical or prohibitively expensive. Yet the option of nuclear power as an additional tool to achieve their objective is vehemently rejected by many progressive politicians and environmentalists, often for reasons that fly the face of expert opinion and scientific evidence. In some cases existing facilities are actually slated for decommissioning, thereby increasing the amount of alternative energy required from other sources.

A classic example of this was provided recently by Germany, where the Green Party is a partner in the coalition government. Nevertheless, threatened by Russian plans to cut off crucial gas supplies to Europe over the past winter, the German government extended the life of coal generating stations scheduled to be shut down, all the while proceeding with the planned closure of nuclear power plants despite the strenuous objections of the scientific community.[i]    

Then there is the problem of potential drawbacks. Progressives have been known to ignore such inconvenient issues, or, alternately, to dismiss an option outright if it turns out that it is not an ideal solution, rather than spend any time on possible improvements. The once widely-hailed solution of methanol for transportation (especially in cars), is a case in point. At one time methanol was frequently described as the ‘fuel of the future’. But difficulties quickly emerged. As a leading scientific journal noted, methanol was far from a silver bullet. “When burned, natural gas produces carbon dioxide, a powerful greenhouse gas. Originally it was thought that a better way to use natural gas would be to convert it to methanol, a liquid fuel that burns more cleanly and can be used to produce gasoline and plastics. But converting the methane found in natural gas into methanol requires a lot of heat and pressure and generates a significant amount of carbon dioxide itself.”[ii] Unlike politicians, scientists take the long view. Many are currently exploring possible ways of reducing the problems associated with converting natural gas to methanol and believe their work is promising. Nevertheless political enthusiasm for this solution has cooled dramatically and it is rarely mentioned among the tools available to mitigate climate change.

There is also the problem of collateral damage. Take the widespread introduction of wind turbine “farms” in Europe, and more recently in North America. Although insufficient on its own to fill the fossil fuel gap, wind powered energy has been a demonstrably effective tool in the catalogue of renewable energy sources. Yet this option has been heatedly opposed not only by many of those directly impacted by the turbines, such as farmers and nearby residents, but also by a significant subset of politicians and environmental conservationists. In their case the objections are based on the equally demonstrable and seriously negative impact these machines are having on bird and wildlife populations,[iii] thereby adding to a separate environmental crisis outlined in the UN’s latest report on biodiversity. [iv] 

This latter case is, in fact, classic proof of the immutable first law of public policy, namely, that all policy options have unintended consequences. These need to be recognized, not ignored, and evaluated to determine whether the benefits outweigh the disadvantages. Then and only then can other measures be introduced to minimize those disadvantages if it is decided to proceed. But if something is presented as an optimal solution – a type of “silver bullet” — it is extremely difficult politically to deal with negative fallout after the fact. And there will certainly be negative fallout.

This leads us to the case that is the central topic of this article. It is well known that evidence-based decision-making is considered the trademark of progressives everywhere. So how, then, to explain the current widespread obsession with electric vehicles (EV), aggressively promoted by many governments as an essential and possibly single most important element of any emission-reduction strategy? And this despite the growing body of evidence suggesting that, while EVs may prove a useful component of such a strategy, there are definitely a number of problematic issues  — practical and environmental, as well as economic — that must be recognized and addressed. There are also some increasingly obvious unintended consequences that may actually prove counterproductive to the main objective. But these potential drawbacks are rarely mentioned by most proponents of EVs. Some go even further, recognizing but aggressively dismissing any such concerns as unfounded. Others characterize them as deliberate fear-mongering on the part of those who oppose any climate change initiatives, or have vested interests in the fossil fuel economy.[v]

Indeed, enthusiasm for this ‘ideal’ solution has led progressive governments everywhere to promote an ambitiously rapid transition to an EV-only vehicle scenario, either through a variety of tax incentives and subsidies, and/or by introducing restrictive regulations. Take Norway, currently viewed as the world leader. In that country EVs account for over 80% of new car sales (compared, for example, with 2% in the U.S.), and comprise more than 20% of all passenger vehicles in the country.  It achieved this stunning statistic in record time. On the surface, then, clearly a success story and a role model for others. So how was this done?

Simply put, it pays to drive an EV vehicle in Norway.[vi]  Carrots, not sticks, are the order of the day. From the removal of all import tax or VAT and decreased registration fees, to exemptions from all road tolls, free parking and free ferries, and access to all bus lanes, no self-respecting Norwegian driver could resist these many incentives offered by their government. In addition the government has invested heavily in the charging infrastructure necessary to support the EV vehicles. By 2015, the government had built 10,000 charging stations along Norway’s network of highways. But with 72,000 EVs on the road, this was still deemed inadequate. As a result, a second massive round of government investment produced 5,000 more stations, along with several supercharger prototypes in rural areas, and free access to municipal chargers in most towns and urban centres.

Against this backdrop it is important to recognize other factors crucial to Norway’s EV success story, most of which are which not applicable to other countries.  To begin with Norway has been, and remains, the biggest oil producer in western Europe and the third largest exporter of natural gas in the world. This has provided the government with enormous revenues to fund all the costly EV incentives. At the same time, it was the perceived need to compensate for the high level of emissions from the oil and gas industry that led the government to place this emphasis on EV in the first place, in order for overall emissions to decrease so the country could meet its UN commitments. (It is also worth noting that the government’s parallel plan to “develop, not phase out” the petroleum industry, by placing this emphasis on EV, has hardly been a similar success. The stated goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 55% from 1990 by 2030 is wildly off track, with only a 4.5% reduction achieved by 2022.)[vii]

Then there is the issue of initial cost of the vehicles themselves. We have seen how Norway has heavily subsidized both consumers and the EV industry. But, perhaps not surprisingly, this extremely generous incentive approach has not been nearly as widely adopted elsewhere in Europe because it is simply too costly. In the EU, (of which Norway is not a member), which has also announced a plan to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050 based heavily on the adoption of EV, such cars are still unaffordable for most Europeans. At an average price of roughly 54,000 euros, the ideal EVs as defined by such plans –battery-powered and plug-in — are nearly twice the cost of an average petrol-powered passenger car (28,000 euros) and in many cases the much higher price does not include the battery (12,000 eros) which must either be purchased separately or rented. These prices, in turn, are for cars such as the N10 made by China. European models such as Mercedes and BMW routinely run to more than 75,000 euros. [viii]  Meanwhile the average postpandemic salary in the more prosperous northern part of the EU is 32,000 euros. As a result, these full EVs accounted for only 12% of passenger vehicle in the EU by the last quarter of 2022. Instead, it is alternatively powered hybrid vehicles (APVS) that have been more successful there, accounting for nearly half of the total number of EVs by 2022.

These hybrids, while less expensive, rely on petrol for a significant percentage of the time. As a result they are viewed by ordinary Europeans not only as far more affordable but, equally important, they are not dependent on charging infrastructure. However this popular preference for hybrids over EVs — even among wealthier or more environmentally conscious citizens– will not result in anywhere near the reduction in emissions expected from the ideal EV passenger vehicle component of the EU’s net zero plan. (In Canada the government’s current objective is 60% of new passenger vehicle sales to be EV by 2030, but as of 2022 that figure stood at 5.8%, of which nearly one-third were actually hybrid rather than fully electric. According to the Canadian Automobile Association and the Royal Bank of Canada, the average cost of all EVs available in Canada is $82,000, while most hybrids are located in the $45,000 – $60,000 range.)[ix]

Quite apart from vehicle cost, this latter issue of charging infrastructure is in fact a crucial one. It also serves to reinforce the problem of wishful thinking and willful blindness on the part of many proponents. Defenders of the EVs’ silver bullet potential frequently devote considerable time and effort to rebutting the claim by critics that the charging stations for these vehicles will drain the national power supply, thereby requiring increased energy production by various means including fossil fuels. Yet that whole debate is in fact premature. The immediate problem proponents should be addressing is the lack of anything resembling a sufficient charging infrastructure in the first place.  Or, as one major study of the situation in Europe concluded, “the biggest stumbling block to an electric car future is the charging infrastructure, or lack of it.”[x]

Here, too, Norway’s small geographic and demographic size are significant. With a total population of 5.4 million, the country’s road network is 72,000 kilometers, of which 664 km are auto routes.  By contrast France, with a population of 67.8 million, has a total road network of 1.1 million km while Canada, (population 40 million) has a similar total network of 1.06 million km, but much of this is over far more difficult and isolated terrain. The implications for charging infrastructure are obvious.

Take the EU. One comprehensive report commissioned by the European Commission concluded that, to achieve a fully EV passenger fleet, the number of public charging points would need to be increased from 300,000 to at least 6.8 million by 2030. This would mean installing some 14,000 new charging stations every week from now until 2030. The current rate is only 2,000. Nor does this figure take into account the need for fast charging stations for commercial transport trucks, or the current uneven distribution of such stations across EU member states. Currently more than half are located in the Netherlands (90,000) and Germany (60,000), for example, while large countries such as France (currently only 100,00 of its objective of 400,000) or Romania, which accounts for only 1.4% of such charging stations, are far from ready,[xi] making seamless transport throughout the EU highly problematic.

Needless to say, the Canadian charging infrastructure situation is far less advanced (currently 8,250 stations) with the government’s stated goal of 50,00 more, or less than 1/6 of the existing EU stock, by 2035, evenn though we will need a far more massive network than the EU to achieve a similar objective, given the much greater distances and challenging terrain. The implications for rural and remote areas are even more significant, and likely to reinforce the disparities already in play over existing regulatory measures designed to speed up the transition to a zero-emissions economy. Nor is this exclusively a western Canadian issue, as Atlantic premiers have recently been highlighting.[xii] And, like the decades-long and still unsuccessful efforts to achieve a nationwide highspeed broadband network, efforts to create such charging infrastructure will undoubtedly face enormous physical and financial difficulties outside of the Ontario/Quebec corridor.

Another drawback on the way to an all-EV passenger fleet, and one that is rapidly becoming a serious problem everywhere, is the shortage of key materials needed to build the cars themselves.  Fossil fuels need to be replaced with something, and in the case of EVs both the battery and engine require copious amounts of scarce critical minerals and rare earths. Since many new forms of electronics such as smart phones and computers also require these products, the competition is fierce and getting fiercer, aided and abetted by the control of the sources of these elements by a few nations, and notably China. This problem was considered so serious that Stanford University organized a conference on it in 2018:

Finding and developing sustainable sources of the critical and rare minerals crucial for modern electronics and renewable energy technologies will be one of the “most important topics facing humanity.” Critical and rare metals — which include lithium, copper, uranium, gold, and so-called rare earth elements such as cobalt (REEs) — are prized for their electronic and magnetic properties and play a crucial role in the production of modern electronics. They are important for everything from smartphones and batteries to advanced weapons systems. Rare metals are especially vital for renewable energy technologies, such as electric cars and solar panels. For example, a single Tesla vehicle requires about 15 pounds, or a bowling ball’s worth, of lithium, and thin, cheap solar panels need tellurium, one of the rarest elements on Earth.[xiii]

In the United States President Biden has recognized the significance of this problem and launched initiatives to try and locate domestic sources of critical minerals and/or obtain corporate control of targeted offshore mining companies. However many other proponents of EV remain far less concerned, if not overly optimistic. As one recent article by a leading Canadian environmental group blithely noted, cobalt from the Congo, produced with child labour at the expense of vast swaths of forest, could be replaced with some obtained from Indonesia, and, in any event one EV company, Tesla, has been experimenting with cobalt-free batteries.[xiv] Not mentioned was the ongoing destruction of forests in Indonesia to access mines, and concerns about horrendous labour conditions. Unfortunately security of supply is also an issue, as Biden has recognized, and in the case of Indonesia the rapid expansion in cobalt production has been possible because Chinese state company investors have bankrolled the development, casting doubt on the degree to which western nations, and especially the arch-enemy U.S, will have access to this product.[xv]

And cobalt is only one of the long list of crucial components mentioned above. Lithium is now considered the next important challenge by EV carmakers dependent on lithium ion batteries. Their desperate drive to obtain more of the scarce commodity through direct contracts with obscure foreign mining ventures is now well known.[xvi] With the exponential increase in access to new computer and cellphone technology by developing nations, the competition EVs will face for components can only increase exponentially as well, particularly as western countries attempt to ensure only EV passenger vehicles are in operation in the near future. Even Norway has concluded that this continues to represent a major drawback to its ambitious plans.  Not to be deterred, it now intends to mine the seabed near Svalbard, its Arctic archipelago. An official in the country’s Ministry of Petroleum and Energy recently stated that this invasive activity would “help Europe meet the desperate need for minerals and rare earths to make the (energy) transition happen.”[xvii]  Several other countries have announced plans to follow suit, and the International Seabed Authority is under considerable pressure to issue licenses for undersea search and mining operations. Experts have warned that one unanticipated consequence of this activity could be a different environmental crisis, namely the devastation of marine plant and animal life, and disruption of ocean water quality, as well as the release of large amounts of carbon, the very thing the EVs are designed to prevent. Not surprisingly, some 700 scientists have signed a petition calling for a “pause” in this headlong rush to mine the seabed until an environmental risk assessment can be conducted.[xviii]

Last but hardly least, it is important to examine this enthusiasm for EVs in light of the bigger picture. For example, in the UK the city of London has mandated that all new taxis must be zero-emission to be licensed in 2023 and all taxis must be electric by September 2024. Needless to say there will be economic consequences, as many licensed drivers have already indicated they will leave the industry at that time due to what they consider to be the prohibitive cost of the new models and the high cost and insufficient number of charging stations.[xix] Perhaps equally significant, though, are the potential environmental consequences, beginning with the disposal of the decommissioned cabs, which will somehow be scrapped regardless of their age or roadworthiness. Multiplied by more urban areas following suit, this admittedly small problem becomes a major one.    

What is even more surprising is that this is occurring in London, a city like Paris that has taken definitive steps to reduce the actual amount of vehicle traffic in the urban core. Many critics of the headlong rush to EVs argue that, if successful, the end result will likely be even more cars on roads.  This in turn produces demand for more highways, more autoroutes, more parking, and so on, at the same time that other environmental activists are desperately trying to focus government attention on the need for better public transit, bicycle lanes, and the concept of the 15-minute city in urban cores, and more highspeed rail for intercity travel.

In the end, just as highspeed rail is the most effective environemtnal ‘solution’ in the Quebec City/Toronto corridor but air travel is still the only practical alternative for far longer cross-country travel in a country the size of Canada, so EVs – at least in their present state — may be most helpful in large urban areas and for short distance intercity travel, something the Royal Bank of Canada study has emphasized in its own efforts to educate its customers [xx]

In short, while they will undoubtedly play some role in the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and the drive to net-zero, EVs are neither a comprehensive nor a problem-free solution, but one of many possible options. Climate change is a classic example of the wicked problems increasingly faced by governments and progressive politicians – extremely complex and interwoven with many other important concerns. A single silver bullet solution is unlikely to ever prove feasible. In this context the headlong rush to promote EVs as a game-changer appears to have been adopted with good intentions but insufficient attention to evidence-based decision-making, something we, and the planet, can ill afford.    

[i]  and







[viii] “Europe’s Electric Opportunity” The Economist. May 27, 2023. p. 41

[ix]  and

[x] Europe’s Electric Opportunity” The Economist. May 27, 2023. p. 41

[xi][xi] Europe’s Electric Opportunity” The Economist. May 27, 2023. p. 41

[xii] Graney and Jones. “Atlantic Premiers Warn of Higher Fuel Costs”, Globe and Mail. June 29, 2023 p.B2


[xiv] R, Miller. “In Defence of Electric Vehicles”. Canada’s National Observer. March 8, 2023.


[xvi] Krauss and Ewing. “Lithium Scarcity Pushes Carmakers into Mining Business to Keep Up in EV Race”. Globe and Mail. July 4, 2023. B3.

[xvii] E. Reguly. “Your Next EV Could Be Made from Metals Extracted from the Seabed – a Potential Disaster.” Globe and Mail. June 17, 2023. B2.

[xviii]  and