The argument put forward in a recent issue of The Atlantic magazine — that electric vehicles exacerbate pollution from rubber tires — is intriguing. It’s also borderline fatuous and in some respects, misleading.

The essence of the thesis put forward by author David Zipper is two-fold: that EVs are heavier than internal-combustion vehicles because of the weight of their batteries, and that the “instant power” — the high engine torque —a dds twist to the tires, and hastens deterioration.

Although he allows that “much about tire pollution is still unknown,” he offers this:

“The smallest tire particles, measured in mere nanometers, can enter our lungs and spread to our organs. Various tire components have been linked to chronic conditions including respiratory problems, kidney damage, neurological damage, and birth defects—a particular concern in neighborhoods adjacent to highways, whose residents skew low-income and minority. Tire particles could also affect us through our food because their chemicals can work their way into the algae and grass consumed by fish and cows.”

These are genuinely concerning issues, but when Zipper goes on to indict EVs for making matters worse because they’re heavy, he ignores that gas-powered cars and trucksdiesel trucks used in construction, for example; gas SUVs with room for seven — are heavy as well. In fact, many gas-powered SUVs and pickup trucks weigh as much or more than many EVs — excepting outliers like the GMC Hummer EV — and there are far more of them on today’s roads than EVs.

Regarding the torque issue, companies have been building cars with more power and torque for decades, regardless of what fuels them, not to mention features that can be torturous on tires (see Ford’s line-lock for the Mustang). Zipper even admits this saying, “zero-to-60 speeds have been a mainstay of car marketing for decades.” But power and torque don’t necessarily equate to aggressive tire wear. Even low powered vehicles can chirp and roast tires, just pop them into low gear and floor the throttle. And on the flip side, people can, and frequently do, drive powerful cars gently, and thus not rough on tires.

One cannot presume The Atlantic is using EVs to promote a one-sided and narrow anti-electric point of view here, but here’s one of Zipper’s final paragraphs:

“The threat of growing tire pollution is hardly the only societal danger that the auto industry is foisting on the American public through its large and fast EVs. Tires that wear out quicker present other safety hazards: Braking, hydroplaning, and winter traction could get worse, Stockburger said, and then you’ve got this heavy vehicle spinning out. Such cars could endanger pedestrians, bikers, and other drivers…And the huge batteries they require consume scarce minerals that could otherwise power smaller, more efficient models.”

Put simply, tire pollution is a legitimate challenge that needs addressing, regardless of what powers a specific vehicle. Read the full essay here. Critical thinking encouraged. A subscription is needed.

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