Electric cars & wind turbines please

Neil Oliver wrote an article in the Sunday Times today where he pines for a past of 'no cars and no electricity' as a roundabout way of saying he does not like wind farms or electric cars. I like the battery/wind future we are heading for, and wanted to question Oliver's arguments.
Posted: Sun 16 Jun, 2019, 14:50
I've been buying the Sunday Times for several years now. Mostly because it is an amusing antidote to the Guardian which can be every slightly too right-on sometimes. The Sunday Times offers an interesting slant with plenty of good (and entertaining) writing (Camilla Long & Jeremy Clarkson), even though I rarely agree with the politics.

Today I read Neil Oliver's column and then had to read it again, so full of misdirection and vaguely concealed climate-change denials, that it was not clear to be exactly what his point was. The article begins by noting that they are set to build a new battery to store some of the wind power generate at Whitelees Windfarm above Glasgow. Essentially, he seems to be saying that although dirty, smelly, noisy, polluting conventional cars are not great, a world of electric cars would simply awful for the environment too. More generally, he seemed to be using his column to throw his hand up in the air and question why we need to use so much electricity?

It's an enlightening article and revealed a view point I was honestly surprised to hear someone articulate. He was vaguely equating the inevitable environmental damage caused a lithium mine in Bolivia, to that incurred by our seeking and usage of fossil fuels. The wrong-headedness of this argument is so clear on so many levels I had to write a quick blog about it.

He says 'I dream of less electricity'. You mean less electricity and therefore continued fossil fuel dependency? Oliver is clearly happier with things are they are and is not in favour of moving to a future of electric cars. This is confirmed by his final sentence, 'We will fill our roads with silent cars and weave our way through forests of windmills'. He couches his 'dream' in a nostalic pining for a past when there was no electricity and we all read by candlelight, but this reveals his true objection is to windfarms and the notion of an electric powered transport future. He says looks, if this is future, can we just not to back to no transport, no lights, no cars. What? I want wind farms and silent cars, thank you very much Mr Oliver.

He is anguished by the environmental damage of lithium extraction - 'We will surely rip up the Bolivian salt flats and make giant batteries'. Sure but this is surely preferable to what we are doing now. There are two enormous differences between lithium versus oil as a fuel. Lithium extraction is like any mining, there is a big hole in the ground. Compared to oil extraction where we are extracting oil at the edge of our capabilities where things can go very wrong, very quickly (see Oil Sands and Deep Water Horizon and many more), it is environmentally negligible. The refinement process is then massively polluting and then of course, the second big difference, the fuel can be used only once and all waste fumes are immediately expelled into our atmosphere. Lithium batteries are reusable and expel nothing. Scotland has enough wind farms that we can be confident of zero CO2 emissions.

Attempting to in any way equate the environment damage caused by fossil fuels to that caused by creating a lithium car battery (or wind farm battery) is disingenuous and wrong. We take responsibility for making our own power on our own shores in Scotland, via renewable energy. And anyway, this is all just a stepping stone (in all likelihood) to solid state batteries that do not even need lithium. Whatever way you look at it, electric is the future. To read an article dismissing this before it is hardly off the ground is mildly alarmist at best and at worst actively perpetuating our dependence of noisy, smelly, dirty cars.

Looking at our array of wind turbines on an otherwise bleak moor makes me optimistic for the future, and yet for Oliver it is a blight on the landscape I suspect. To question the elegant self-sufficiency of this and suggest that conventional cars (or no cars like 200 years ago!) are preferable is nonsense. Oliver clearly objects to windfarms and electric cars, and has engineered some obscure 'why use electricty at all?' argument to make people question whether this is a future we want. The answer is Yes, this is emphatically the future we want Neil. It's so blindingly obvious that only a backward thinking, head-in-the-tar-sands Tory could think any different.