The ZEV Panacea: Evidence Of A Reckless Remedy

Oct 8th, 2022 | By | Category: Featured Issues, Politics & Current Events

The mission of Issues in Perspective is to provide thoughtful, historical and biblically-centered perspectives on current ethical and cultural issues.

In late August, the California Air Resources Board approved a rule that established a year-by-year roadmap so that by 2035 100% of new cars and light trucks sold in California will be zero-emission vehicles (ZEVs), including plug-in hybrid electric vehicles.  Many states and nations have set targets and goals to phase out the sale of internal combustion cars.  California is the most aggressive state to establish a definitive mechanism to meet required ZEV sales of vehicles.  Arguably ambitious, the goal of California is to substantially reduce the carbon footprint of cars and light trucks.  Is this goal reasonable?  Is this goal wise?  Does this goal actually reduce the carbon footprint?


Bjorn Lomborg, president of the Copenhagen Consensus and visiting fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, poses several poignant questions:  “We constantly hear that electric cars are the future—cleaner, cheaper and better. But if they’re so good, why does California need to ban gasoline-powered cars? Why does the world spend $30 billion a year subsidizing electric ones? In reality, electric cars are only sometimes and somewhat better than the alternatives, they’re often much costlier, and they aren’t necessarily all that much cleaner. Over its lifetime, an electric car does emit less CO2 than a gasoline car, but the difference can range considerably depending on how the electricity is generated. Making batteries for electric cars also requires a massive amount of energy, mostly from burning coal in China. Add it all up and the International Energy Agency estimates that an electric car emits a little less than half as much CO2 as a gasoline-powered one.  The climate effect of our electric-car efforts in the 2020s will be trivial. If every country achieved its stated ambitious electric-vehicle targets by 2030, the world would save 231 million tons of CO2 emissions. Plugging these savings into the standard United Nations Climate Panel model, that comes to a reduction of 0.0002 degree Fahrenheit by the end of the century.”  Lomborg is skeptical that ZEVs alone are the remedy for reducing the carbon footprint of human beings:


  • “Electric cars’ impact on air pollution isn’t as straightforward as you might think. The vehicles themselves pollute only slightly less than a gasoline car because their massive batteries and consequent weight leads to more particulate pollution from greater wear on brakes, tires and roads. On top of that, the additional electricity they require can throw up large amounts of air pollution depending on how it’s generated. One recent study found that electric cars put out more of the most dangerous particulate air pollution than gasoline-powered cars in 70% of U.S. states. An American Economic Association study found that rather than lowering air pollution, on average each additional electric car in the U.S. causes additional air-pollution damage worth $1,100 over its lifetime.”
  • “The minerals required for those batteries also present an ethical problem, as many are mined in areas with dismal human-rights records. Most cobalt, for instance, is dug out in Congo, where child labor is not uncommon, specifically in mining. There are security risks too, given that mineral processing is concentrated in China.  Increased demand for already-prized minerals is likely to drive up the price of electric cars significantly. The International Energy Agency projects that if electric cars became as prevalent as they would have to be for the world to reach net zero by 2050, the annual total demand for lithium for automobile batteries alone that year would be almost 28 times as much as current annual global lithium production. The material prices for batteries this year are more than three times what they were in 2021, and electricity isn’t getting cheaper either.”
  • “Even if rising costs weren’t an issue, electric cars wouldn’t be much of a bargain. Proponents argue that though they’re more expensive to purchase, electric cars are cheaper to drive. But a new report from a U.S. Energy Department laboratory found that even in 2025 the agency’s default electric car’s total lifetime cost will be 9% higher than a gasoline car’s, and the study relied on the very generous assumption that electric cars are driven as much as regular ones. In reality, electric cars are driven less than half as much, which means they’re much costlier per mile.”
  • “This is all why electric cars still require such massive subsidies to sell. Norway is the only country where most new cars are electric, and that took wiping the sales and registration tax on these vehicles—worth $25,160 a car—on top of other tax breaks such as reduced tolls. Even so, only 12.6% of all Norwegian cars on the road are electric. The country has the wealth to pay for them partly because of its oil revenue, and the trade is dubious: To cut one ton of CO2 emissions through the subsidization of electric cars, Norway has to sell 100 barrels of oil, which emit 40 tons of CO2.  Needless to say, other countries’ car stocks aren’t likely to be anywhere close to 100% electric anytime soon. The U.S. Energy Information Administration estimates that barring new legislation only about 17% of all new U.S. cars will be electric by 2050, which translates to 13% of the total American car stock. As consumers continue to vote with their wallets against electric cars, it is hard to imagine places like California continuing to demand that they can purchase only electric ones.”

Lomborg concludes that “Electric vehicles will take over the market only if innovation makes them actually better and cheaper than gasoline-powered cars. Politicians are spending hundreds of billions of dollars and keeping consumers from the cars they want for virtually no climate benefit.”

A refresher on the stewardship responsibility of humanity over the physical world:  God created the physical world as a deliberate act and takes pleasure in His physical world.  This is clear from the Creation Ordinance in Genesis 1 and 2 and from 1 Timothy 4:4: “For everything created by God is good and nothing is to be rejected, if it is received with gratitude.”   (See also Psalm 104:31 where we see God rejoicing in His works).  The point is that if the physical world is important to God, then it must be to us–His creatures–as well (see also Job 39:1-2, Colossians 1:16 and Psalms 19:1-4).

As Ron Sider points out, it is likewise imperative that we note that God has a covenant, not only with humans but also with nonhuman creation.  After the flood, God made a covenant with the physical creation: “Behold, I establish my covenant with you and your descendants after you, and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the cattle, and every beast of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark (Genesis 9:9-10).  The physical world has dignity, worth and value quite apart from its service to humanity.  Furthermore, God’s plan for redemption has a cosmic quality to it.  As Sider states, “This fact provides a crucial foundation for building a Christian theology for an environmental age. “ The biblical hope that the whole created order, including the material world of bodies and rivers and trees, will be part of the kingdom confirms that the created order is good and important.  Romans 8:19-23 demonstrates that at Christ’s return the groaning of creation will cease, for the creation will be transformed: “The creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God” (v. 21, NIV).


Since we are God’s stewards over His creation, what should be our motivation?  Are we good stewards for pragmatic reasons or for moral reasons?  The pragmatic view posits that we should be good stewards over God’s world because our very survival depends on it.  For example, if we farm the hills irresponsibly, we will lose topsoil and harm our ability to produce food.  If we wantonly kill snakes, eventually we will be overrun by rodents.  If we mine copper irresponsibly, we will cause horrendous erosion that harms the waters.  If we burn the rainforests, we pollute the air and destroy oxygen-producing trees, which in turn threaten our supply of oxygen.  But the Bible rejects this as the motivating force for good stewardship.

Instead,  Scripture implores humans to exercise good stewardship over the physical world because to do so demonstrates honor and respect for God’s created order.  The physical creation should not be exploited, because it is morally wrong to misuse God’s created order.  Having God’s perspective, we responsibly farm, we shun wanton destruction of animal life, we responsibly mine copper and we cease burning the rainforests because we respect and honor that which God has honored and respected.  We show honor to the physical world with which God has a covenant relationship.  Christians should, therefore, be the leaders in responsible environmentalism.  As God’s theocratic stewards, we represent Him when we honor His physical world.

See Bjorn Lomborg in the Wall Street Journal (10-11 September 2022) and James P. Eckman, Biblical Ethics, pp. 89-95.

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