June 19, 2024
The problem isn’t cars with internal combustion engines; the problem is cars.

All-electric cars? Hold that thought.

First, let’s give Vivek Ramaswamy some credit for one of his answers during the Republican primary debate last week.

The question was awkward. Fox News host Martha MacCallum asked all eight aspirants for a show of hands: “Do you believe in (sic) human behavior is causing climate change?”

Ron DeSantis saved himself and six of the other candidates from a public commitment about their positions on this critical topic: “Look, we’re not schoolchildren. Let’s have the debate.” Then he launched into a grievance about how “the corporate media treats Republicans versus Democrats” and segued into a complaint about President Joe Biden’s trip to Maui. He never made it back to climate change.

Ramaswamy, on the other hand, was unequivocal: “The climate change agenda is a hoax.” Elsewhere Ramaswamy has argued that “we need to abandon the cult of climate change.”

Ramaswamy gets points for a candid, straightforward position that highlights the ambiguity about climate that many Republicans wish to maintain.

Let’s be clear: Ramaswamy is almost certainly wrong about this. The “cult of climate change” includes the overwhelming majority of credible climate scientists. It encompasses the implicit testimony of the animal world, in which species are expiring, corals are bleaching and birds, lobsters and mosquitoes are migrating north.

Climate change denial requires the casual dismissal of the dramatic events that we’re currently experiencing: record heat, record wildfires, record ice melts, record rainfalls. It also dismisses common sense: The question isn’t whether pumping billions of tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere has had some effect on the climate; the question is “How could it not?”

It’s ironic. The essential theme of the Republican Party — whether flogged by Donald Trump or the eight candidates on the stage last week — is threat and fear: The nation is in decline! Criminals and fentanyl are flooding across the southern border! Jack-booted thugs will break down your doors and take away your guns! Your children are being indoctrinated in schools!

Yet the existential crisis of our time — or any time — got fewer than five minutes of attention during the two-hour debate and no clear commitment by any candidate on what we should do about it or whether it’s even real. Except from Vivek Ramaswamy.

Which brings us to our subject: all-electric cars.

Of the meager five minutes that the Republican debate allotted to climate change, much time was devoted to the notion that Biden’s support for all-electric cars is a very bad idea. They have a point.

All-electric cars appear to be a powerful tool for reducing greenhouse emissions. But a developing line of argument holds that they are less effective at curbing global warming than hybrids or cars powered by internal combustion engines. While all-electric cars emit no carbon from their tailpipes — they don’t even need tailpipes — the electricity that drives them may have been produced by burning coal. Furthermore, they require absurdly heavy batteries constructed with scarce minerals largely mined in places such as China.

In fact, the Swedish carmaker Volvo recently announced that the carbon emissions required to produce its all-electric vehicle are 70% higher than its gasoline equivalent. Volvo says that its all-electric car would need to be driven up to 68,000 miles before it breaks even on carbon emissions.

Here’s the real problem with all-electric cars: They lull us into believing that we can solve the climate crisis without significantly modifying the way we live. The problem isn’t cars with internal combustion engines; the problem is cars.

The fact is, our headlong descent into climate chaos is very, very likely to continue and accelerate unless we change fundamentally the way we live, which probably means fewer cars, smaller homes, much less air travel, less red meat and, frankly, less comfort and convenience.

Unless we’re willing to face up to these hard realities, are we being any more honest than the seven Republican candidates on stage last week who were unwilling to commit on climate change? Or are we tacitly joining Ramaswamy in the intellectually dubious but comforting illusion that it’s all a big “hoax”?

John M. Crisp is a Tribune News Service columnist. ©2023 Tribune Content Agency.

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