A billion new autos by 2030 will kill climate change

Preface. The article below argues that electric cars aren’t going to replace gas and diesel vehicles enough to lessen greenhouse emissions.

The average electric vehicle requires 30 kilowatt-hours to travel 100 miles — the same amount of electricity an average American home uses each day to run appliances, computers, lights and heating and air conditioning. If electric cars expand, a U.S. Department of Energy study found that increased electrification across all sectors of the economy could boost national consumption of electricity by as much as 38% by 2050, in large part because of electric vehicles  (Brown 2020).

I would argue that since two-thirds of electricity is still generated with natural gas and coal, emissions will certainly go up.  Wind and solar won’t put much of a dent in that 66% fossil usage in the future either, because the best areas for solar and wind power have already been built, and the new transmission lines cost far more than the solar and wind power generated in more distant unexploited areas.  Also, when natural gas and coal are burned to generate electricity, two-thirds of the energy contained in them is lost as heat, so only one-third of their energy makes it onto the transmission grid, where another 6 to 10% is lost over the wires, so as little as 23% of the fossil energy reaches your electric socket. Better to just burn the natural gas directly in cars perhaps.

And finally, until we have massive energy stored in batteries and pumped hydropower, we simply have to have natural gas to balance intermittent wind and solar power or they’ll bring the grid down.

Do the math: expensive electric cars that only the top 5% can afford are not replacing natural gas and coal.

Alice Friedemann   www.energyskeptic.com  author of “When Trucks Stop Running: Energy and the Future of Transportation”, 2015, Springer, Barriers to Making Algal Biofuels, and “Crunch! Whole Grain Artisan Chips and Crackers”. Podcasts: Collapse Chronicles, Derrick Jensen, Practical Prepping, KunstlerCast 253, KunstlerCast278, Peak Prosperity , XX2 report


Jolly, D. December 7, 2015. Despite Push for Cleaner Cars, Sheer Numbers Could Work Against Climate Benefits. New York Times.

The number of automobiles on the world’s roads is on pace to double — to more than two billion — by 2030. And more likely than not, most of those cars will be burning carbon-emitting gasoline or diesel fuels.

That is because much of the expansion will be propelled by the rise of the consumer class in industrializing parts of the globe, especially in China and India, as hundreds of millions of new drivers discover the glory of the open road. Those populous and geographically sprawling countries might be hard pressed any time soon to assemble the ubiquitous electricity grid required for recharging electric vehicles; and much of the electricity China and India will produce in coming decades will come from coal-fired power plants that are some of the planet’s biggest emitters of carbon dioxide.

Given the limitations of electric cars so far — including their limited range between charges — many experts predict that most of the billion additional cars predicted to be on the road in 2030 will have internal combustion engines that spew greenhouse gases.

But virtually everyone who studies the issue understands that transportation, which is still 95% reliant on petroleum, is the world’s fastest-growing energy-based contributor to greenhouse gases. About three-quarters of the total comes from motor vehicles.

But optimists argue that even in the case of cars with internal-combustion engines, carbon dioxide emissions can be cut significantly by measures like increasing fuel economy and introducing smart-driving technologies to make cars move about with greater efficiency.

The countries with the most cars today have set aggressive goals for improving fuel mileage. The United States, under President Obama’s fleetwide standards for carmakers, is aiming for an average of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025, up from about 30 m.p.g. now. China is aiming for 50.1 miles per gallon, and the European Union 60.6.

Still, the math is daunting. If the number of cars doubles, and the average mileage improves by only 50%, all of the fuel-economy gains would be offset by the emissions from the new vehicles.

And that assumes the auto industry does its part to comply with the new standards and that national regulators diligently enforce them. Recent revelations that Volkswagen, for one, deliberately misled regulators, and that European Union air-quality standards and enforcement have been far from rigorous, do not inspire confidence.

“But the automakers are attacking these standards as we speak, both in Congress and through a review of the program they demanded from the Obama administration,” Mr. Becker said. “Similar attacks are underway in the E.U.”

Congress, in an effort to make the United States more energy independent, passed a law in 2007 mandating a 35 m.p.g. auto-fleet standard by 2020. But before that, there had been no official change to American fuel-economy standards in more than 30 years.

“The U.S. auto industry was successful between 1975 and 2007 in preventing any improvement for mileage standards for CO2 emissions,” Mr. Becker said. “They exploit every loophole in the standards, making more SUVs, pickups and other light duty trucks than cars because trucks have weaker standards than cars, and more large vehicles because large vehicles have weaker standards than smaller vehicles.”

But Mr. Becker, at the Safe Climate Campaign, points out that electric vehicles are only as environmentally friendly as the electricity that recharges them. China, though it is rapidly adopting nuclear power plants, is still heavily reliant on coal-fired electrical plants.

And India, where the biggest growth in automobile ownership is expected to occur as the country industrializes and its population surpasses China’s by 2030, might actually increase its reliance on coal-fired electrical power plants between now and then.

“At the end of the day, when you talk about transport emissions for transport in general, including for freight transport, they increase when the economy is growing,” he said. “So what are we going to say, we’re going to stop the economy to stop emissions?”


Brown, A. 2020. Electric cars will challenge state power grids. Boston.com

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13 Responses to A billion new autos by 2030 will kill climate change

  1. Kevin M. says:


    I think this should be the car of the future. Cities would have to create protected lanes for it and/or only allow it on certain roads but there would be a lot of benefits environmentally and financially. Even in the U.S. I imagine that if cities made it legal and safe to ride these there would be a lot of people who have trouble affording a car that would give them a serious look.

    • energyskeptic says:

      Since we’re going back to horses and walking and maybe bicycles a while, anything to start redesigning roads for non-combustion transport is exactly what we should be doing now to prepare for peak oil.

  2. Kevin M. says:

    The Type of vehicle is called a velomobile there are a lot of different designs but if we are going to get serious about global warming we need to create policy for these pedal and electric powered vehicles.

    Sorry to double post but there is no way to edit…

  3. AsiaSlowerTrans says:

    People in Asia are showing the world a glimpse of what is coming soon [back from the past] – Single Cylinder Diesel Engine-Powered Future…

    Millions of these on the roads today only produce a fraction of all the CO2 produced from constructing new Tesla factories in Munich, Shanghai and probably elsewhere – yet alone the CO2 from manufacturing, repairing and charging Tesla/other EVs!

    Why so? Less Energy conversion from one form to another, tiny simplified single cylinder engines/gearboxes and much lowered maximum driving speed!


  4. Fred Justesen says:

    When it takes too much oil to get the oil out of the ground and transport it to where it is needed, then we won’t be using cars of any kind. Why is it so hard to grasp the simple fact that oil is everything we do. With out it we don’t make the so called renewable energy infrastructure to power the cars or for that matter the car…tires, bodies, electronics, everything. How about the highways? Same for rail roads and trains. Same for all modern infrastructure, including houses. We are all in denial or we except the fact the we are going to ride this horse until it drops out from under us….Ive been there, literally. That’s when you start walking. A huge reduction in the human population is in our future. When that happens a huge reduction of human induced causes will occur, but it may not change the trajectory of climate change. So even if a small portion of humans make it through the bottle neck of resource depletion climate change will get the rest.

  5. Kevin M. says:

    I still don’t see why we can’t get radically efficient. Reading the science news it’s not all roses but it’s not all gloom and doom either. If are hitting an EROI of more than 10 on solar, wind, hydo, etc and get either good battery storage or really a efficient catalyst that gives us a liquid fuel we should have a sustaining economy. It would have to be an extremely local economic system for most things and there might be more manual labor. But to get there we need to buy time and transition to a far lower energy society. I’m talking permaculture, bicycles possible with battery assistance (we probably can’t grow enough feedstock for most people to have a horse).

    Of course even if we do these things we still need to sink co2 possible by farming seaweed as a food/fertilizer, iron fertilization of the oceans or other means.

    Our kind authors here are really good with the numbers and as I have asked before if we aimed to get really efficient this decade where would we be in terms of co2, energy consumption, and remaining resource stock.

    For example; we are low on phosphorus but if we change to permacuture our usage should drop to a negligible amount. Possible even low enough seaweed could fill the need.

    • energyskeptic says:

      But this whole website is about why everything but fossils have low eroi, batteries can’t be improved much, wind, solar and other contraptions depend 100% for every step of their manufacture and distribution on fossils, alternatives don’t generate high enough heat to make cement, steel, bricks, glass, ceramics and other essential products, and so on. CO2 will be reduced dramatically by oil, coal, and natural gas decline! But yes, permaculture would be super duper.

  6. Kevin M. says:

    I get the main focus here is on energy related issues and I come here because most of the media is blindly optimistic. But I want to pick your brain on solutions and alternatives because at some point some of these issues will become crises and when that happens I want to know what to fight for. Thanks to sites like this one I know being skeptical of our ability to continue to create concrete at scale without fossil fuels is smart but hydro does have good eroi and a long life once in place. So now I think we should be fighting for hydro, bicycle lanes, permaculture, etc.

  7. Fred Justesen says:

    Please explain how permaculture will feed the numbers we have on the planet today. Today we are feeding the billions of people with fossil fuel.
    Oil is what has allowed us to accumulate the numbers we have today. It is estimated that it takes 10 calories of fossil fuel to produce 1 calorie of food on the average. oops! Oil is everything we do. Oil is what we are. Sure, we can use all sorts of cool ways to produce food, but does it scale up to replace what we are doing now? Don’t forget the distribution of food. The processing, the preservation, refrigeration, etc., etc., all of it requires a lot of energy (0il). Presently we are growing food on millions of acres of very marginal farm land that without FF would not be economic to grow food on. Millions of acres also depend on critical ground water supplies that also depend on a lot of FF to pump and distribute the water. How much FF do you think it tames to build a 600,000$ combine, or a 500,000$ tractor? How about all of the fertilizer, pesticides, herbicides,…all FF. Oil is everything. Oil is what we are.

    • energyskeptic says:

      Carrying capacity will be drastically reduced by oil decline. After undershoot it would be cool for permaculture to be used, since it comes closer to replicating a natural ecosystem than organic farming. But if you want to eat and not starve, the organic farming methods suggested by John Jeavons and others is needed too. And a landscape more like Provence, with lots of natural areas between crops for biodiversity and crop pests to live. But we need people to be doing this now, and it is hard for them to compete with industrial agriculture, so I’m not holding my breath for more rational and ecological methods, though industrial agriculture won’t be around either I guess.

  8. Kevin M. says:

    There are people saying permaculture smallholding farms can compete in terms of output. There are a lot of lands that are marginal but in fact many are mismanaged. There are videos of permacuture experts restoring salted desert lands to agricultural use if you look for them. If you have a small holding farm using permaculture methods you won’t often use tractors and combines or fossil fuel derived chemicals. You would try to have as many perennial crops as possible to reduce labor. As to whether it would actually scale it would be difficult to know unless we try, but looking at the situation we are in what choice do we have but to try.

    I think the lands in the west are horribly mismanaged. Most of the water that is used for irrigation is sprayed and evaporates. Many of the crops grown there are ill suited to the region and there is a lot of room for improvement. That being said I don’t know how people will survive in places like Arizona and I find it unbelievable the region has megacities.

    There are a lot of other crops that give better yield under certain conditions there are desert trees that provide legumes for example. Tree crops in general would be a smart move in terms of yield and how they can restore certain damaged lands. I would recommend reading a really old public domain book call Tree crops a Permanent Agriculture. An easy and entertaining way to get an idea of what the application of even some permaculture principles can do with worn out lands is to watch the documentary The Biggest Little Farm.


    I know things are bad but I think we have to fight to make them better and right now we need a lot more people to be informed and to fight with us. If you tell people there is no hope they will give up and tune out.

    • Fred Justesen says:

      You might be right Kevin. I’m just calling it as I see it. Hope springs eternal, as they say, but hope isn’t a solution, it just helps us get by day to day. We are probably just another species facing extinction in the not too distant future. BTW, I HOPE that we avoid it.