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The Path to Zero

August 20, 2016

 

If you live in Los Angeles, like myself, you will notice that the number of Tesla cars are growing exponentially. In this day and age where being green seems to be imperative, the company's eco-friendly appearance widely attracts the masses. Even in their mission statement Tesla states that they want to"accelerate the world's transition to sustainable energy." However, I am not sold on Elon Musk's futuristic and sustainable facade; instead, I believe that the company is magnifying their aim to achieve zero carbon emissions to detract attention from the way in which they intend to reach that goal. 


The first problem with Tesla is the basic concept of an electric car. Fossil fuels are usually burned to generate electricity (67% in the United States), which eventually causes the release of carbon to the atmosphere and the heating of the earth. Tesla's average miles per charge is approximately 230 miles, while an average gasoline car is roughly 476 miles. This striking difference affirms that Tesla needs to charge more frequently, which will generate a greater expenditure of carbon from power plants. Granted, the process of extracting oil is also terrible for the environment, so neither gasoline or electric is optimal. The source of electric vehicles should not be ignored, and Tesla's "zero carbon emission" should not fool you.


The case of the extraction of lithium batteries is another issue that seems to conflict with Tesla's green side. Currently, Tesla extracts lithium out of mines in Jiangxi, China. During the process, they pour ammonium sulfate to disintegrate sand clay and extract a gloppy material. Eventually, they pass this material through an acid bath and 0.2% of the material extracted is used for Tesla's batteries, while the remaining 99.8% of toxic material is returned to the environment. The amount of carbon dioxide released from drilling and transporting can be put in the same category as oil drilling. In addition to the process of obtaining lithium batteries, think about the ways in which one can dispose of them after they are used up. There are many challenges that come with recycling a battery that big, and a solution has not yet been presented to resolve the issue. In my opinion, a car that uses a rare earth metal battery that cannot yet be disposed is neither sustainable nor green, but is indeed damaging to the environment. 


In conclusion, does the zero carbon emission from Tesla outweigh the process of getting there?--maybe. However, it should be important to note that getting that zero carbon emission rate does take a lot of sacrifice. The source of lithium and electricity should not be discounted when considering Tesla's sustainability. If Tesla truly wants to "accelerate the world's transition to sustainable energy," they themselves need to become sustainable and a model for the world's future.

 

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