Promise of change without changing at all: The electric car as a talisman of false hope

In the public imagination, the electric car – and the hybrid car before it – has been hailed as a key solution for consumers to reduce their environmental impact and help slow climate change.

As one indicator, web searches for Tesla are up over 450% from 2012 to 2018 peak, and the company is now valued at over US$54 billion on the stock market. The cars are selling, too: Tesla sales are up seven-fold from Q3 2015 to Q3 2018.

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On embodied emissions, exploitation and the unsustainability of consumer products

One core feature of globalised capitalism is that supply and demand, production and consumption are geographically separated. Consumers buying physical products have very little visibility into the supply chain and the participating organisations beyond the maker (the public brand) and the seller (the place of purchase). As consumers, we tend to stick with the story crafted by marketing and advertising, and assessing the sustainability of a product beyond this superficial understanding is a challenge we are not encouraged to take on.

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Undo capitalism or it will undo us

Let’s start with an assumption:

We want to live meaningful lives on a healthy planet and we want the generations to come to be able to do the same.

And a related definition of true sustainability (Ehrenfeld 2009):

[Sustainability is] the possibility that humans and other life will flourish on the planet forever

We are currently using 1.7 Earths each year. This means that ‘we use more ecological resources and services than nature can regenerate, through overfishing, overharvesting forests, and emitting more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than ecosystems can absorb’ (source).

Our current way of life is deeply unsustainable.

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