Is the Electric Car One of the Biggest Mistakes in World History?

By: Thomas Ström 5/3/22

I'm one of those who really want and hope that Sweden will succeed in achieving the goal of a fossil-free vehicle fleet as early as 2030.
Right now, the loudest voices in the Western World are saying that the future of vehicle transport is electric, both for passenger cars and for commercial traffic. This is the direction taken by political decisions, for example, and it is also the one most often highlighted in media.

But if you want to go fossil-free quickly and without putting a lot of people's health at risk, there are other options such as biogas, biodiesel, ethanol and hydrogen, because I'm not entirely sure that in 2030 we will say that electric power was the single best option for achieving that goal.

The car companies say that the electric car is the big solution to reach our goal. But a unilateral focus on electric cars risks creating other major environmental problems. The new electric cars use much more so-called rare earth metals than petrol cars. A report by Radio Sweden (Sveriges Radio) a couple of years ago, which I have recently read, shows that the extraction of these rare earth metals causes serious pollution and health issues where they are mined.

The majority of all rare earth metals are mined and processed in China, and watercourses and land are being polluted in connection with these plants. The slag, which is a by-product of this extraction, has been dumped in nearby ponds and the like for decades. The main problem is that the slag contains, among other things, the radioactive substance thorium.

Chinese official reports show increased health problems and mortality in the villages around these areas.  No definitive link to the contamination has been proven, but significantly elevated levels of radioactive radiation have been measured.

Radio Sweden's investigation is based on interviews with sources who have a very good understanding of the rare earth industry in China and is supported by several scientific reports. They show serious environmental problems in the vast majority of mines that extract earth metals in China.

According to Radio Sweden, the Chinese government does not want this to be exposed, and speaking openly about the problems can be dangerous. Parts of the population are protesting against pollution from the mining of earth metals, but these demonstrations are quickly silenced by police violence, which we in the West rarely find out about.

It is this, in particular, that makes me doubt that powering our vehicle fleet with electricity is the only and best way forward. But there are also other things that make me uneasy about electric cars. One of them is what happens when they catch fire.

More on that in future posts.