Readers’ Forum: In defense of the combustion engine


You turn the key. VROOM! The engine revs to life. As you stomp on the gas pedal, the car screams, rocketing forward, tires squealing. Each shift is buttery smooth, and the sound keeps crescendo-ing and then dropping with each gear change. The landscape is now whipping by, the car roaring, and you feel alive, invigorated, excited. This is what an electric car can never replace. The raw feel, the sound, the experience of driving a combustion engine car is all simply irreplaceable.

As the world attempts to transition away from fossil fuels to cleaner forms of energy, one of the most popular changes is to electrify the car industry. However, this won’t have as large of an effect on emissions as people think; electric cars have their own environmental impacts, and combustion engines have uses that can’t be replaced by electrical vehicles (EV).

The first problem with electric cars and the idea that they’ll fix climate change is that even though they aren’t fossil fuel powered, much of the energy they use isn’t clean, meaning they still have a carbon footprint. If the energy that the electric cars are using comes from fossil fuels or other dirty sources, then it still is converting fossil fuels to make the car move. What should be a priority before making cars electric is making our electricity generation clean. Once the energy is generated from clean sources, then electric cars can actually make a difference. But until then, they are still effectively burning fossil fuels, just indirectly.

In addition, many politicians and much of the media portray a switch to electric cars as a major shift that will solve climate change. The issue with this narrative is that it simply isn’t true. Cars becoming clean is important and would be beneficial, but it shouldn’t be the top priority as there are many other things that need to change. Electric cars aren’t going to save the world. According to the International Energy Agency, cars account for roughly 12% of global emissions. That is significant, but even if that went to zero there would still be a lot to be done. So, it does deserve some attention, but it shouldn’t be hailed as the solution to the crisis.

Electric cars also have their own unique environmental impact. Car batteries require many minerals and motors require rare earth minerals. These materials have huge impacts when they are mined – both on the landscape as well as the atmosphere. Mining operations decimate local habitats. They also produce large amounts of carbon dioxide emissions. Estimates state that an electric car needs to be driven for around five years before it is more emission friendly than a gas-powered car due to the large carbon footprint of making the car and its components. And that doesn’t factor in the fact that most of the energy they use is still dirty.

Finally, it’s just not realistic to expect a full switch to EV’s because they can’t handle what combustion engines can. The US government reports that new electric cars have ranges quoted around 200 miles on average. A full gas tank, on the other hand, lasts around double that, with an average range of roughly 400 miles. But not only do they have more range, it’s also much easier to refill a gas car than to recharge an EV. A ten-minute stop at a gas station can fully refill a tank, while batteries can take hours to charge. And that’s if drivers can even find a charging station. The range of batteries can also fluctuate a lot. Testing conducted by consumer reports found that weather at freezing and below can drop EV ranges between 25% to 50%. Electric vehicles simply aren’t as capable or dependable as combustion cars.

Many people don’t care about the driving experience of their car, or the sounds it makes. Many people don’t need lots of range. Many just use their car to drive around town. For those people, feel free to buy an EV. But I beg you, don’t force everyone to switch to electric vehicles.

Some owners need a car for purposes than an EV just can’t satisfy. Some people have a passion for cars and their driving experience. We beg you, don’t kill the combustion engine. It will only hurt some people while the issue of climate change remains unsolved.

Many politicians support EV’s because it makes them look like a forward-thinking climate activist. However, it isn’t the magical problem solver that they make it out to be. Allow people to choose what type of car they want; don’t force them into a sad, EV dominated future. We must raise our voices to save the combustion engine. Let the government and car manufacturers know, we still want combustion cars.

Kimball McMullin

Belmont, Massachusetts

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