Staff ImMaryanne Spurdle holds a Master of Public Policy from the University of Auckland, a BA in Communications from California State University at Fullerton, and is a World Journalism Institute Fellow. She held a variety of positions before joining Maxim Institute in 2023, writing, editing and designing material for mainstream media and non-profit organisations. One of Maryanne's early roles was at a charity that supports vulnerable and homeless adults in the north of England. That experience informed and fuelled her desire to discover and communicate the best ways that families, communities, and governments can encourage human flourishing in a complex world.ages scaling

Only better tech can recharge the EV revolution

By Maryanne Spurdle February 16, 2024

In an environment where we’re driven to take sides, navigating the centre of the road feels as dangerous as riding the median strip in rush hour. And few topics trigger stronger emotions than environmental ones. The Supreme Court’s recent ruling allowing an individual to sue high-emitting companies for climate change reflects how pervasive the topic is in both personal and societal contexts. 

The now-sputtering EV revolution has long promised to address our personal culpability, weaning us off polluting fuels until our roads hum with the sweet sound of sun power. However, propping up the industry with subsidies and quotas may trade one kind of pollution for another, incentivising good PR over real progress. 

Worthy solutions are always messier than the silver bullets marketed by politicians and industries with narrow—and possibly self-serving—definitions of success. They know we love uncomplicated answers that demand little personal sacrifice and even less thought.  

Mining materials for EV batteries continues to have significant drawbacks, both environmentally and socially.

I’m certainly tempted to replace my 2009 Demio, which nature is reclaiming one rust spot at a time, with an EV. The thought of my home’s solar panels fuelling transport makes my frugal, conservation-minded heart happy. Sadly, my next car will probably be another middle-aged petrol compact because I’m also a sucker for facts.  

Mining materials for EV batteries continues to have significant drawbacks, both environmentally and socially, and there still aren’t sufficient materials to supply the demand ambitious governments want to create.  

Running EVs isn’t carbon neutral, either. Even the cleanest energy has waste problems, and our electricity supply is under pressure without plugging a million vehicles into the grid. EVs also weigh more, taking a heavier toll on roads and chewing through tyres—vehicles’ biggest landfill filler—faster.  

Damage to a single battery cell requires either a new battery or, since they often cost more than the car is worth, a new vehicle. 

And if an EV battery combusts, the car will burn hotter and longer than other vehicles. Some transport companies are even asking whether the risk of EVs on car ferries is too great. The old firefighting trick of hosing flames down is so ineffective that the best option is often “monitoring” EV fires—letting them burn out, hoping they don’t reignite days later. As a result, one Norwegian line has banned them.  

They also expire sooner than their traditional cousins. Damage to a single battery cell requires either a new battery or, since they often cost more than the car is worth, a new vehicle. 

Once I reached the lithium elephant in the room—how unprepared we are to recycle the inevitable tsunami of dead batteries—I found myself here, in the middle of the road.  

Let’s be honest—EV technology holds great promise for reducing pollution, but it isn’t ready for mass adoption. 

Do we care about the places where components are mined, and batteries are built, or are we only interested in ticking boxes for NZ’s reputation? Does it matter where toxic components end up, or is that for another generation to worry about?  

Let’s be honest—EV technology holds great promise for reducing pollution, but it isn’t ready for mass adoption. 

If we spent less time on aspirational policies and put more effort into discovering and supporting the best and most necessary innovations, we might find both the consensus and the answers we’re looking for. 

Listen to the podcast

Researcher Maryanne Spurdle explains the thinking behind her column.

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Staff ImMaryanne Spurdle holds a Master of Public Policy from the University of Auckland, a BA in Communications from California State University at Fullerton, and is a World Journalism Institute Fellow. She held a variety of positions before joining Maxim Institute in 2023, writing, editing and designing material for mainstream media and non-profit organisations. One of Maryanne's early roles was at a charity that supports vulnerable and homeless adults in the north of England. That experience informed and fuelled her desire to discover and communicate the best ways that families, communities, and governments can encourage human flourishing in a complex world.ages scaling

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