Are Electric Cars Really More Environmentally Friendly?

[INTRO ♪] Telling people that buying an electric car is a great way to fight climate change is a pretty reliable way to start an argument
in some circles. People will say that you still burn fossil
fuels with electric cars – it just happens at the power plant instead of the engine. And while that’s at least partly true, over their lifespans, electric cars don’t
consume anywhere near the fossil fuels that gas-powered cars do — especially in the
United States. With electricity getting cleaner all the time, they’re even better than you might expect. There are a few variables to keep in mind
though, starting with the cars themselves. In the US as of 2016, the average pure-gasoline passenger car goes about nine kilometers for each liter of gas it burns, or about twenty-two miles per gallon, but that’s just an average. Some go four kilometers or so; others go fourteen. But the fuel efficiency hits higher highs, and lower lows, when we start talking about hybrid cars or trucks on the interstate. Plus, the act of manufacturing a car leads to greenhouse gas emissions — whether it’s electric or not. So does refining gasoline. But the major complicating factor here is
electricity. And where you live determines how clean your electricity really is. Most electricity in the US uses a combination of natural gas, coal, and nuclear fission
– with a bit of water, wind, solar, oil, and a few others thrown in. But those numbers change from state to state, and depend on things like local natural gas
sources or how windy it is today. For example, Alaska has plenty of natural
gas and hydroelectric resources, so its power
plants create very little waste when generating electricity. That means a full electric vehicle charge using Alaskan electricity creates roughly the same emissions as a gas engine that drives 48 kilometers per liter or 112 mpg. That’s roughly five times the national average, and two or three times better than even some of the best hybrids. It’s pretty efficient! But at the other extreme are places like Colorado, which, energetically speaking, is one of the dirtiest states. Sorry Colorado. About half of Colorado’s electricity is
from coal, which produces more emissions than just about any other source. But even there, electric cars still outperform gas cars. A full charge off of Colorado electricity equates to about twenty kilometers per liter
(46 mpg) – about double the national average, based on
2016 figures. That’s pretty good. Better still, most of the country is closer to Alaska’s numbers than Colorado’s. It comes down to this: Power plants are just better at making power than car engines are. One reason is that they’re simply bigger. Bigger things don’t waste as much energy
staying hot — and that makes them more efficient. And the story is similar across most of the
world, although again the details change depending
on where your electricity comes from. In countries that tend to use more coal, like India or China, electric cars break even with the average gas-powered car in the US
— although they’re still less efficient than the average Indian gas-powered car. But in water-powered Paraguay or geothermal-rich Iceland, gas engines need to get more than 90 kilometers per liter to beat an electric
one. So are electric vehicles really more efficient
than gas? Yes, they absolutely are – unless you have some very dirty electricity. So much for the “well, actually”s. But climate change isn’t just one problem; it’s a hot mess of many problems at once. And it’ll take some pretty radical changes from people all over the world to keep that hot mess from getting even hotter. Thanks for asking. Before you go, you may or may not be aware that I wrote a book! And that book… is out in paperback now. I didn’t tell you about it when it was just
hardcover, but now you can get it in value discounted, not-as-hard edition! It’s a book about a girl who gets famous
on the internet, which is something I know a little bit about. And it’s also about like, space aliens,
some. So if sci-fi mixed with fame destroying people sounds like an interesting story to you, check it out! It’s available wherever books
are sold. It’s called An Absolutely Remarkable Thing. [OUTRO ♪]

100 comments on “Are Electric Cars Really More Environmentally Friendly?”

  1. slightly annoying person says:

    No life cycle analysis? I was expecting more

  2. Cuntmobile 69 says:

    Do a video on if wind and solar energy is actually better for the environment

  3. Katie Twyman says:

    The EcoGeek at work!

  4. Poverty Chef says:

    Do an episode of the benefits of Climate Change.

  5. Julia Benson-Reazin says:

    Were trying in Colorado, in my area we just built two solar farms and we have one electric car charger in the mall parking lot. So I guess baby steps.

  6. Shawn McGilvary says:

    The Alaska power production numbers are not even close. In Fairbanks most power is coal, 34%, followed by oil 29%. Natural gas here is 3rd at 27%.

  7. oaney says:

    I might have missed it, but how are you converting between MPG in a gasoline car and… i am guessing MPWh (miles per watt hour) in an electric car? Are you converting based on carbon emissions per some unit measure? I would have liked to see a bit more detail there. I'm not disputing the premise, I just don't see where you explained how 1 gallon equals 'X' watt hours, what constant or variable you are using.

  8. GnarGang says:

    lol I got my answer in the first 30 sec

  9. Matías Risso says:

    What the real huge potential few talk about is attacking a great weakness of renewable sources, that is inconsistent generation. If you have large numbers of electric cars plugged into the grid you can use them as backup batteries for short term supply, voltage stability and frequency regulation. Basically what Elon Musk installed in Australia.
    Plus you could make some money from your car charging when electricity is cheap and selling when expensive, say parked while you are working or at home and there is peak demand.

  10. z0vc says:

    I’d like to get an electric car, but the main reason I probably won’t at the moment is because from what I could find, my states electricity is 92% produced from coal. That’s very dirty and horrible, honestly probably the worst in the country. With Colorado power about 50% coal powered, its still better to go electric over gas cars, but I’d say it’s much worse at near 100% coal

  11. Matthew Oldfield says:

    Thanks for keeping it actually a complicated question.

  12. m9078jk3 says:

    I use an electric motorized bicycle for transportation and get around 900 MPGe if I don't pedal but I usually do to often double my range and get healthy aerobic exercise at the same time.
    It's around roughly 10 times more energy efficient than electric cars per distance traveled and substantially less expensive as well for the vehicle.

  13. Owen Whitman says:

    Did your fame destroy you, Hank?
    I predict your fan base to be a little more level-headed than your typical pop star's.

  14. Adrees Mukhtar says:

    If all of California or all of the world used solar panels, how much heat or temperature decrease would we experience?

  15. Roger Gagnon says:

    At 3:25 the Earth is rotating in the wrong direction.

  16. ice bread says:

    Okay… A few very important things are missing, but the video was Informative anyways

  17. Papa Filth says:

    So yes, obviously electric cars are better for the environment. When they make one that can tow my boat and haul air conditioners for my business, then I’ll get one. But til then I’m driving a truck with a big ol bumper sticker that says “no I won’t help you move… you chose to buy an electric car… not me”.

  18. Scott Roberts says:

    considering the title of the video was "is electric more environmentally friendly" and not "do electric cars produce more emissions per kilometer/mile" i think you should have gone far more into the overall life cycle impacts, including the manufacturing and disposal of batteries, manufacturing emissions ect to get a more balanced view of it overall.

    from what i understand, if you already own a relatively new, efficient and well maintained gasoline car, environmentally your impact will be less to drive that car through to its end of life usability than buying an electric car, but if you drive an older car that's due for replacement anyway, go electric.

    But of course i'd like to see more info on both sides, this video just seems to be biased without going into enough detail.

  19. L F says:

    colorado is one of the dirtiest states 😂

  20. Ellen Power says:

    What about battery production, life and disposal? Curious to hear more about that side of electric cars!

  21. Ginés de Pasamonte says:

    Electric movility using batteries is in the end just a way to take the pollution problem somewhere else, at least in most cases. There're no simple solutions for the mess we are in. I think bio fuels made out of non edible raw products like algi and hidrogen can be part of the solution too…

  22. LBurhenn says:

    Wind power. When does the electricity made from wind overcome the carbon footprint and cost of actually making one of those giant windmills?

  23. abz520 says:

    What about the carbon footprint from producing lithium ion batteries and disposing of them every 10 years or so?

  24. chris roberts says:

    What happened to the water powered car? I guess that idea disappeared after a few well picked assassinations and big business buy outs to the rights.

  25. Nekminute says:

    Humanity isnt environment friendly and should be eradicated

  26. Lee Yy says:

    Even though the world somehow fully replaced with electric vehicle, global warming is not going to stop. Yes, you can go greener with electric transport, in the end it's just a hobby rather than an act to lower carbon footprint by a significant amount, because there are one more industry that produce much more greenhouse gases than all of the transport combined.

  27. Faisal Hafeez says:

    What are the environmental consequences of mining for metals?

  28. Jo McWi says:

    Well actually… yeah you completely glossed over the mining, refinement, shipping, manufacturing, and disposal of the batteries in these cars. I would love to see Pt. 2 (which you're gonna make, right? Cuz you're an ethically rigorous scientist, right?)(Also also im big time in support of renewable energies and using those to power vehicles, but the picture is rather complex)(Also also also you rock. Keep up the good work)

  29. Matthew Baynham says:

    petrol cars are far worse than electric cars than this video states.

    This video is only balancing the tail pipe emissions versions the electric car. However to emissions processing the crude oil into petrol are 5.5 more than the journey in the electric car.

    So petrol cars will never break even, even if you exclude the tail pipe emissions the electric car is cleaner.

  30. Karl Ziehl says:

    I didn't know that Hank was once a girl.

  31. Moritz Nesbigall says:

    Electric cars need a lot of rare metals, so I want to ask the following:
    If we were to use electricity from renewable sources to split water, then take the hydrogen and make it react with carbon dioxide to get methane which we could easily store, would a car or plane burning that methane be better?

  32. SotraEngine4 says:

    "Bigger things don't waste as much energy staying hot"
    True, but if I have learned enough in thermodynamics (I got a C, not and A, mind you), your work and efficiency both depends on both heat going in and out of a system.

    But with space and money, one can add extra steps to the process, designed to squeeze as much work or exergy out of the warm/cold ratio as possible
    I'm a little bit disappointed in this hiccup

    While I'm still here. Why not look into using methane as fuel? It's better than gasoline to a surprisingly good degree from a climate perspective due to fewer carbons per hydrogen atom in the molecule

  33. FlyingStrike says:

    Concluding comment: "So are electric vehicles really more efficient than gas?"
    More efficient yes, but that's not what the video has been about (electric vs internal combustion Engines).
    I think the right word in that sentence should've been "environmentally friendly" (like in the title description), or "emit less greenhouse gases"

    Anyway, good and informative video! Always worth summing up the latest info! 🙂

  34. mayhem661616 says:

    Texas uses natural gas on allam cycle making almost zero emission

  35. Robbie Stanford says:

    im gonna check out your book man. I kind of like sci show so maybe it will be fun. congrats.

  36. Kathy Fann says:

    I purchased one in California
    I don’t have to smog it
    I don’t have the oil changes
    I don’t have half the maintenance
    My insurance is 1/2 as expensive
    I love not having to watch the gas prices.
    I have a Nissan leaf had a full charge I have somewhere between 235 miles and 260 I’ve actually had 262 miles on a full charge it’s wonderful.
    With all the savings I am just excited and my car payment is down. You can’t take my joy I love this little Leaf 🍃 Plus

  37. Q-Hack! says:

    For me, the big stumbling block is the battery tax. Having to purchase $5000 worth of new batteries every 5-8 years, makes them the most uneconomical vehicle to purchase. Also disposal of the old batteries isn't exactly eco friendly.

  38. Sophie Bungle says:

    What about manufacturing electric batteries?! What about disposal of those batteries?!

  39. T1Oracle says:

    Not only are powerplants bigger, they also operate at a consistent load, rpm, and barometric pressure. All of which impact ICE efficiency.

  40. BenjaminNelson says:

    3:25 I know that graphic artists AREN'T scientists, but it seems like more than half of all globe animations spin the wrong direction! Darn stock footage!

  41. John Newman says:

    I've heard that, if you still have a working car, the best decision to make is to keep driving it because the environmental cost to create a new car and dispose of an old one is a lot more than the environmental benefits from a new electric car. Can you speak to that please?

  42. Dr. Q says:

    What the hell is John Green doing here. Go back to Crash Course

  43. ozdergecko says:

    We are lucky: 72% renewables (56 Water, 16 Wind&Solar), no fission.

  44. filipsworks says:

    What about energy loss on power lines? And that one on multiple voltage conversions?

  45. Ryan Rittenhouse says:

    Also, as time goes on the grid will only get more and more renewable, whereas fossil fuels are only getting dirtier and dirtier. Most methane gas is now obtained through hydraulic fracturing, a much more polluting and destructive process, and oil is also being obtained more and more through fracking, or else from the Alberta tar sands – possibly the worst fossil fuel extraction process the world has (yet) seen. The whole notion that electric cars could be worse for the environment than gasoline-powered cars has, from the start, just been yet another fossil fuel industry-backed lie.

  46. Ron Maple says:

    I'm used to liter/100km

    km/liter and mpg are both wrong 😂

  47. WerewolfSlayer91 says:

    Frankly i'm disapointed about this video, i'm useally not when it comes to sci-sho. While your at it. Please mention effeciency. Carbon based fuel got much higher energy values and effeciency is low compared to electric. Also while manufacturing the steel for both cars is about the same (gasoline engine- the electric engine). It will also be usefull mention lithium extraction when you mention gasoline refinement. Major points worth to mention.

    Although the video was informative it, i think it is important to take it all the way from "from the material" and into the creation of the vehicle. And also consumption over 10-15 years including the battery change on a car.

    And also interesting questions
    If you used all the fuel a gasoline car uses on 100km, burned it for a generator/powerplant. How long could an electric vehicle drive on that power? ( says something about effeciency in a more material way)

  48. bagoh20 says:

    This is a bit deceptive. In addition to the issues raised by others about battery production and disposal, you are also using the "average gas mileage of gas powered cars that includes vehicles that can far outperform electric cars in carrying capacity and power. There are few if any comparable electric vehicles. A fairer comparison would be small gas cars equivalent in carrying capacity to the average electric vehicle, and using their mileage with a quarter tank of gas which is an equivalent range to an electric. You have to compare comparables, which includes comparable performance and utility. Not to mention a gas car can refill and be back on it's way hours before the electric one. That is something no electric can do. Time and flexibility are very important. Was ignoring all these facts inadvertent or purposeful?. That would be very naughty for a scientist.

  49. bagoh20 says:

    For those arguing that the batteries are recyclable: It's not what can be recycled, but what will be. Recycling in general has become a huge failure becuase the cost is now prohibitive. We are currently being lied to, as most of what we think is being recycles is not anymore, and much of it never was. As the battery technology quickly evolves it is unlikely that the current batteries being used will ever be recycled, at least not entirely, and probably not at all. The recycling argument has over the last 20 years created more waste and CO2 than it has prevented. Government mandates and tax dollars are currently propping up virtually every green technology, which means they do not yet work.

  50. Shootr says:

    Pushing the man caused climate change hoax just cost you all credibility. The "I'll say anything to get my funding" crowd doesn't impress me. Climate gate, models that don't include any factors that go against conclusions reached ahead of time, no accounting of historical data, and flat out lying to create hysteria are all indications the clowns pushing this hoax are self-serving clowns (clowns do strange things for money so the clown shoe fits you).

  51. 神族 says:

    Why is the map of China without Chinese Taiwan?You made a big mistake!

  52. D Jaquith says:

    Mining. Ever think of the huge pollution and ecological damage to the mining? I'm not talking about the 2%-3% of lithium, I'm referring to the rare Earth metals, anodes, cathode and casing metals. An EV trades one finite set of materials with a different set.

    No instead Hydrogen or Algae Biofuels is our only fully sustainable and recyclable future.

  53. diamondflaw says:

    Living in the North West, I've had people try to still use the "fossil fuels just burned somewhere else" reasoning…. Do people really not realize what all those dams are doing?

  54. MaxArceus says:

    Average US car 1:9. Average EU car 1:14.

  55. Afrodisiac says:

    Reminds me of Merkel submitting to the Greens to shut down 17 Nuclear reactors in Germany, and now Germany gets 35% of its energy from Brown Coal -_- So thank the Greens for basically making gas or electric an irrelevant choice in Germany

  56. coffeehawk says:

    Still waiting for Tesla or Musk to put such statements in writing. If your hyped about EV's then why isn't a self-promoter like Musk bragging about the environmental impact? Is this not the biggest selling point? When you check this you will only find him saying "zero tailpipe emissions". Secondly, this video has too narrow of a focus. If you believe man-made CO2 is an issue, is building all these new EVs and infrastructure, with their energy costs, really making a dent, especially when you hear the claims of us having 8 or 12 years left before catastrophe. Is this 20,000 year consistent warming period with it's 400 feet of seal level rise (so far) really man-made and would just planting trees be better?
    Be careful what you read. Using hurricanes as an example: the "union of concerned scientists" likes to start their data in 1970, a record low for hurricanes, and this shows an upward trend AS LONG AS YOU STOP GRAPHING in about 2012. Other graphs start at 1950 and go to 2016, and that shows a downward trend. But for global sized issues even more data than that is needed. The point being some politicians decided to politicize science and that is a man-made disaster, let the data speak for itself.

  57. Nicholas Aikens says:

    When you charge a car, you use a lot of power. As we use more electricity we will need to generate more electricity. The consideration should be a combination of what electricity is present, and what is currently being installed as electric cars will not only last for some time using those sources they will accelerate the production of those sources.

  58. Octothorpe says:

    Well the problem is that the car batteries themselves are not very clean environmentally speaking.

  59. Suzana Lima says:

    How about a car with a solar panel?

  60. Austin Martín Hernández says:

    You're triggering Americans now for using liters 😂

  61. Austin Martín Hernández says:

    The problem is that electric cats don't work for everyone. They only work for people living in big cities really. They wouldn't work for a person living in a small town where charging stations don't exist.

  62. Steven says:

    So why would Obama buy a $15 million house on an island if he was really worried about "climate change" ?

  63. MyRedDobey says:

    No it takes a lot of fossil fuels to make them and recently I drove 2000 miles across the US from California to Georgia and I stopped at a dead end town Holbrook Arizona and there were Tesla charging stations there which was hilarious because there’s so much nothing out there and what do you know a Tesla comes flying up and the guy runs to plug in his car like it was close to dying! They can’t go on long road trips and take several hours to charge so get hybrid because the range on electric cars suck and on top of that lithium isn’t recyclable so the batteries are bad.

  64. DanielSangster says:

    I own a Soul EV and have solar on my house. So my EV is 100 percent green to drive.

  65. Brevin Ainslie says:

    22mpg? laughs in 5.7L Hemi

  66. S0dap0pb0ttle says:


  67. Dan says:

    Anyone who says electric cars are good for the environment is very uneducated. Look up what Cadmium is and how it's made and disposed of. That process has a WWWWWAAAAAAAAAAAAYYYYYYYYY bigger carbon footprint than even an 8 cylinder gas guzzler.

  68. Better Worse says:

    They're EXTREMELY inefficient. Moving electricity from point A to point B is already an inefficient process. Storing it in lead or other extremely harmful chemicals called batteries is insanely polluting and inefficient.

    >with electricity getting cleaner all the time

    Are you dumb-asses implying wind turbines are clean? They ruin environments down wind because they literally steal the energy out of the wind, killing it.

  69. B Mendes says:

    Why no mention of batteries? Lithium mining and battery manufacturing are the opposite of environmentally friendly and should be taken into account, in my opinion.

  70. Michael Hayward says:

    I'm not getting involved.

  71. Spicy Artisan Hipster Salami says:

    We plan to buy a hybrid or electric as soon as our current car gives up. It gets good fuel mileage and we don’t want to create pollution by buying something else… we’ll buy used though, as the financially smart thing to do, especially with cars

  72. roguedogx says:

    0:48 I'm curious to know just how much the crossover craze is dragging that number down.

  73. John M says:

    And how about all the lithium that must be mined to produce all those batteries???

  74. Vineeth Unni says:

    With renewable energy and a more environment friendly battery technology than current lithium ion, there'll be very few arguments against electric cars.
    With time I think both these things will happen

  75. Michael Farese says:

    @Hank! I grabbed your book on audible… Looking forward to it!

  76. Johnny James says:

    co2 does NOT drive climate change so I don't give a tinkers damn in hell about co2. Water vapor is 30 times more potent than co2 as a green house gas and there is not a thing anyone can do about water vapor. Without that water vapor, the average temperature on earth would be 0d. f. Hence no life. You Mr. author of this piece would do well to learn some real science instead of believing in the left's straw man. Start with Dr. Willie Soon.

  77. Ken Shackleton says:

    Nuclear power baby! That's the way to make the electricity to charge up your car.

  78. Alberto Martinez says:

    Seriously if you don't talk about cradle to grave cost of ownership and emissions you're talking nonsense to me and it never ceases to amaze me the omission of the the little detail that there is no such thing in a globalized market as zero impact money & energy. Each dollar from the global economy have a part of the global emissions.

  79. Rob Rod says:

    Its not that they are – its that they can be. Electric cars are much more adaptable than gas powered vehicles.

  80. BackYardScience 2000 says:

    Colorado doesn't have crap on Kentucky, who uses coal to produce around 80%-85% of their electrical power needs. Truly one of the dirtiest states.

  81. AtarahDerek says:

    Manufacturing the power cells for electric cars requires very damaging pit mining for some very specific minerals. And we know how well pit mining works for the environment. How's that Clark Fork water coming out of Butte tasting for you, Hank?

  82. Libertine Productions says:

    Refining petrol is also very electricity-intensive

  83. Dante Bond says:

    Yeah Colorado, both in environment and in personality.

  84. Tahoe Jones says:

    So where is it getting hotter?
    Is it on a magical hold status?

  85. facepalm486 says:

    OI SCISHOW — do us a video on Molten Salt Reactors? I mean if we're going down this path of climate change, why not bring up next gen nuclear reactors

  86. im the funny one says:

    My problem is how long they take to charge what happened if you need to quickly fill up and go you can't sit there for 20 to 30 min while charges. And plus if you need to charge at home your electric bill is going to sky rocket

  87. MrRoverpilot says:

    Why don’t you talk about the nickel metal foam That his mined In order to produce the batteries and the fact that every few years probably about five, the batteries have to be replaced. Not to mention the waste of only individual cells going bad and you have to replace the entire battery. And that same nickel metal foam is produced in countries with very high poverty and as a result the people doing the work have almost no form of protections against the toxicity they are working around. Of course the vast majority of people buying green cars only care about what’s in their backyard i.e. a Tesla

  88. kassemir says:

    9 Km/L
    That was honestly shocking to me.
    America. You gotta start buying smaller cars!

  89. SithLordBishop says:

    Does this account for battery manufacturing, recycling or disposal?

  90. ĐÂŅÝŁ ĢÁŁÀ says:

    ReaLLy Love This cHaNNeL!

  91. infinitecanadian says:

    For American cars, it is best to use miles and gallons, since it otherwise confuses people who have not been brought up on the metric system.

  92. MrCaptainkirk1984 says:

    And I will continue to thumb down any and all of your videos remotely related to climate change or if I hear emphasis on the word "diversity."
    Please keep up the good work.

  93. George III says:

    neither but . . . what do I know .

  94. xq39 says:

    What about riding in a bus, or carpooling? 4 People in a car that gets 30 miles per gallon like mine is twice as efficient as people travelling alone in 4 EV's. People who drive electric cars think they don't have to give up any privileges or freedom to be environmentally friendly.

  95. radzewicz says:

    One thing that you never considered: How far away from the power plant are you? The further away from an electrical power plant you are the more electricity is lost to transport. Electricity efficiency numbers can range from over 90% to under 30% and you must factor that in to the electrical vehicle's power usage. Try redoing your numbers with this in mind: Likely you'll still come out ahead with electric vehicles bur not by as much as you think.

  96. Gray Vickery says:

    A couple things you overlooked – the first is transmission loss. Up to 15% of the energy generated at a power plant is lost as heat as it makes its way to an outlet. This is simply the second law of thermodynamics at work.

    The second is the fuel source. The simple fact is that in the U.S., most of our electricity comes from coal, which is inherently dirtier than natural gas. Coal burning dwarfs natural gas in terms of net CO2 emissions, and is also a leading contributor to methane emissions. This cannot be disputed, if you don't believe me check the EPA's 2019 GHG inventory. As I am writing this, the overall most efficient single occupancy vehicle you can buy is a high efficiency hybrid. Unless of course we all move to Alaska :0

  97. Erik Freeman says:

    Just ride a bicycle

  98. Observing Rogue says:

    "But at the other extreme are places like Colorado, which, energetically speaking, is one of the dirtiest states."
    …I wonder if there will be a South Park episode or reference about that.

  99. Douglas Hanson says:

    We already have a way to Reduce Carbon Emissions by 95% OverNight– we just have to make sure only 5% of us wake up tomorrow.

    OR…..(here's the 40-year-Plan… Mass–Sterilization. I Dare you to submit any one single idea that can solve every major global issue so completely, thoroughly, and easily.)

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