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18 July 2017

Oil Lobbyists’ Video Takes Cheap Shots At Electric Cars

If a disinformation and error-filled video co-sponsored by a front group for oil merchants the Koch Brothers has its way, people will want to think twice about “dirty” electric cars.

Making the rounds by a coordinated effort including sponsored Facebook posts widely disseminated, and being picked up here and there by media, the video decries their toxicity and makes them complicit with the exploitation of children in poor nations.

The product of Fueling U.S. Forward, a pro-fossil fuel advocacy founded August 2016, and presently focusing its message on lower income Americans, the video titled “Dirty Secrets of Electric Cars” has clean-car advocates on the alert.

Exploited children work in horrendous conditions so the wealthy can drive a Tesla or Leaf, implies the video. “Electric cars are one of many environmental issues where we need to start having a more honest conversation,” say the video’s producers.

Fortunately for EV fans, the video is debunked easily enough, but potential damage done by what is being called propaganda is being noted. Undiscerning people who may be on the fringe of understanding about automotive electrification, it is feared, may be taken in.

The video opposes what otherwise is the technological direction being promoted by a majority of nations to clean up their air, and reduce dependency on petroleum. A stated goal of pro-EV regulatory bodies in Europe, and even California, is to work toward a pure zero-tailpipe emission future before the middle of this century.

FUSF

Fueling U.S. Forward’s website invokes the name of established media outlets and even human rights advocates in seeming to sign off on the allegations of its minute-and-a-half video.

“Electric cars are not as green as we have been led to believe,” writes the website without byline. ”And the evidence is piling up: everyone from The Washington Post and 60 Minutes to Amnesty International have exposed the horrendous costs of electric cars to people and the planet.

“As the following video explains, unlike regular cars, which run on gasoline-powered engines, electric cars require expensive batteries. Electric car batteries are made from toxic, hard-to-find metals called ‘rare earths’” continues FUSF. “These rare earth metals, including lithium and cobalt, are mined primarily in places like China and the Democratic Republic of Congo, where pollution is rampant and thousands of children are forced to work in the mines.”

Regarding the FUSF’s second paragraph, they were able to squeeze in no less than six outright factual inaccuracies.

1) None of the metals in modern electric car batteries are classified as being a human or plant toxicity concern; (2) None are considered particularly rare in occurrence or hard to extract; (3) None are classified as ‘rare earths’; (4) Lithium is not a rare earth metal; (5) Cobalt is not a rare earth metal; (6) Only cobalt is mined primarily in China and DRC, and the rest of battery metals (which make up the majority of the battery) are extracted elsewhere. And many other countries produce cobalt, including Canada which produces almost the same amount as China. And hand mining only makes up a very small portion of extraction and is already being banned by Apple and others. So the notion that electric cars depend on the mining shown in the video is misleading.

A report by the Huffington Post in February 2016 first publicized the formation of FUSF with a desire to spend up to $10 million annually on the promotion of fossil fuel energy.

In its description, FUSF, a 501(c)(6) business association, says it is a “non-profit organization dedicated to educating the public about the value and potential of American energy, the vast majority of which comes from fossil fuels.”

It is led by former lobbyist Charles T. Drevna who told DeSmog that it is indeed working with Koch industries. The extent of its funding is not otherwise known. It’s believed other front groups are working in parallel, and unclear is how large the threat may be.

Further Debunked

“This is an electric car / Car companies say it’s a clean alternative / But electric cars are more toxic to humans than average cars.”

 

In order to make the above false claims, “Dirty Little Secrets” implies the majority of environmental advocates are either lying or uninformed. That’s because advocates overwhelmingly have shown cradle-to-grave analyses favor EVs over internal combustion engine (ICE) cars now, with their prospects looking only better as conditions improve.

As for the notion EVs are “toxic,” ICE-powered vehicles use rare earths too, and compound things by emitting all sorts of toxins from their tailpipes. Ironically, these adversely affect lower income people the most by creating health-threatening pollution in regions where housing is closer to roadways, especially crowded ones such as in urban regions.

“Their batteries are made of rare earth metals / Like cobalt, lithium …”

 

“Despite the rush to mine cobalt, only 1 percent of cars in America are electric,” says FUSF. “Yet many environmentalists want to see millions more electric cars on the road. That would mean more demand for cobalt and lithium, and more human rights abuses that come with mining these foreign metals.”

It’s true cobalt and lithium have issues, but one sloppy assertion easily batted down is that these are “rare earth” materials. They are not.

And, while The Washington Post and Amnesty International did decry unsafe and under-paid conditions for as many as 40,000 poor children mining cobalt, the responsibility goes well beyond those “dirty little” plug-in cars that threaten industries dear to the propaganda film’s sponsors.

Lithium-ion batteries are actually ubiquitous and power most cell phones and laptops, as The Washington Post pointed out.

Regarding cerium, this rare earth used in NiMh hybrid batteries is not problematic for EVs as it is not used in their li-ion batteries – but it is found in all ICE vehicle catalytic converters. Exposure to inhaled cerium has been traced to health threats, and so the technology used to scrub emissions creates a secondary threat even as it tries to deal with greenhouse gases.

“This makes electric cars toxic / For both people and the planet.”

 

The video says EV batteries are dumped. This is incorrect, and really, it is too early to talk about a large-scale processing of post-use li-ion batteries. Presently, plain lead-acid starter batteries are recycled at up to 90 percent, and it’s believed post-consumer li-ion batteries, as NiMh have as well, will be recycled as their components yet have value.

FUD By FUSF

As with certain marketing, the assumption is that by simply presenting fear, uncertainty, and doubt, some will accept it as factual. Or, it may at least make consumers take pause over EVs that are still working against a 100-plus-year entrenched industry.

Responses on Facebook have shown the tactic is to some extent working. After viewing the video, one poster in New England said it was enough to make him put the brakes on a purchase.

“I was about to buy an e-Golf,” said the poster, though he did ask for someone to tell him whether the allegations were true.

Drevna says Fueling U.S. Forward will target the “real people who have the most at stake” such as low-income folks or minorities.

But at this stage, we’re not talking front page ads in major media, but more likely strategic activities to make best use of what really are limited funds.

Another nearly sophomoric video “reimagines” what Apollo 13 might have been of there had been no fossil fuels.

Meanwhile, the “Dirty Little Secrets” video is enough to upset people working to educate the public on the actual pros and cons of EVs.

One advocate, who asked to remain off the record spoke of “intentional lies and deceptions” seen in the video.

“By presenting EVs, through their batteries, as environmentally unpalatable and perhaps even shamefully harmful to poor children,” said the EV advocate., “it makes those about to consider the switch to an EV start to ponder if maybe it’s better to stick with the ‘known’ evils of gasoline (though also not well known by the public).”

Of greater concern in this era where we hear of “fake news” is what else might come forth by interests wanting to throw a monkey wrench into the perception of EVs, if only to slow down, if not stop their increase.

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