Journal Column – Green World by 2030 is a pipe dream

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Green World by 2030 is a pipe dream


The coronavirus pandemic has, and is still having, a devastating impact upon our way of life and the economy in particular.  Indeed, it has recently been reported that our economy hasn’t been this bad since 1709. It’s said government borrowing will soar to £394 billion this year alone. So far around 240,000 people have lost their jobs and a further 10 million are currently being furloughed with many expected to lose their jobs when the scheme eventually ends in March. These are massive numbers and economists are warning recovery could take years, even decades. 


Competing in a global economy was tough enough before covid-19, so it was rather perplexing that Boris Johnson has announced a 10 point green plan that, among many things, is set to see the end of petrol and diesel vehicles by 2030.


While I’m sure the Prime Minister’s intentions are well intent, I have to question both the feasibility, the cost and whether the price is worth paying?


2030 is only nine years away and at present, electric vehicles (EV) account for just 0.3 per cent of cars on Britain’s roads.


We need to be realistic.  The high purchase price for EV, at around £30,000, was a major obstacle even before the current economic slump, so not surprising that zero-emission cars are largely considered a luxury by many. Not only is the initial price of an EV high but, at around £5,000, so is the cost and replacement of EV batteries. 


Then there is the sheer logistics of being able to refuel or charge an EV.  While it takes just a few minutes to fill the tank of a liquid fuel car, it takes around 8 hours to recharge a flat EV battery with a 7kw charging point.  Even a half hour boost with a 50kw charger only adds about 100 miles of range. Fuel stations and motorway service stations would be in perpetual gridlock. Then we have the issue of charging at home.  There are many terraced streets in Newcastle where cars are parked on the roads.  Hundreds of electric cables sprawled all over the streets like spaghetti is simply not feasible. There is also the issue of road safety.  Smart motorways are dangerous enough now and would, undoubtedly, become even more hazardous when littered with stationary EVs with flat batteries. 


There is also the issue of capacity.  While EVs are fine for short commutes they’re simply unsuitable to carry or tow larger loads. Electric motors are not powerful enough to haul a fully laden lorry along a long steep road or a tow caravan across the Scottish highlands.  


Even if the price of EVs could be dramatically reduced and the issue of charging and torque resolved – there’s the consequences of rapidly manufacturing large numbers of them.   


Intrinsic to the manufacture of EV batteries is cobalt and lithium. Most of the world’s cobalt comes from the Democratic Republic of Congo.  Cobalt mining there is largely carried out by children aged between 10 and 15. It’s estimated at least 10,000 children work in the mines often in very in poor conditions for less than £5 per week.  Then there’s the issue of world demand for lithium to make the batteries for our smartphones, laptops and EVs. It’s estimated by 2025, the global demand for lithium is expected to exceed half a million tonnes. The problem is, lithium is largely only available in South America from Argentina, Bolivia and Chile, commonly known as the ‘Lithium Triangle.’


Andrew Barron, a professor of the environment at Swansea University, has estimated that making the switch to EVs in Wales alone would use up all of Bolivia’s annual lithium output. So it’s not unreasonable to conclude that as demand for lithium increases, the Lithium Triangle may well end up yielding geo-political power and industrial influence in a similar way that OPEC does with oil.


However, perhaps the greatest climate oxymoron with mass EV production is the revelation that research has found manufacturing EVs generates 63 per cent more CO2 than making petrol or diesel cars. This means some zero-emission vehicles need to be driven for 50,000 miles before they’re as ‘green’ a fossil fuelled cars.


There are always consequences for every action and this comes to the heart of the more extreme elements of the green movement. Man-made carbon emissions may well be having an effect upon the climate, but it’s sheer folly to think if we were to somehow cease all use of fossil fuels it’ll stop climate change. It may well slow it down a bit, but it can’t be stopped because extreme climate change is a natural phenomenon and has happened many times since the birth of the Earth and it will happen again, sure as night follows day.    


Policies and incentives to reduce pollution, for better health, is a much more realistic strategy.  Frankly, peddling scare tactics about the end of the world via cataclysmic climate change is counterproductive and losing support. Regrettably, the PM’s plan to create a green world by 2030 is frankly an unrealistic pipe dream and sadly more PR virtue signalling than serious policy making. 



 This column was first published in the Newcastle Journal on the 3rd December 2020