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California, the epicenter of environmental religiosity, leads the nation in purchasing electric cars. These zero-emission vehicles not only make their owners serious candidates for eco-sainthood, they also bestow on them a number of more tangible benefits.

Being allowed to drive in carpool lanes with only a single occupant is one nifty perk. Other bonuses are the steep government subsidies given to purchasers. The feds dole out up to $7,500 in rebates while the oh-so-green Golden State could kick in an extra $2,500.

Despite these emotional and financial incentives, 2012 sales for electric vehicles came in at only about 50,000. These numbers make President Barack Obama’s nationwide goal of a million EVs by 2015 as unlikely as achieving a balanced federal budget by that date.

The good — or bad — news is that the environmental efficacy of EVs has been vastly overstated. This conclusion comes not from an oil-industry analyst but from “skeptical environmentalist” Bjorn Lomborg. Lomborg’s recent Wall Street Journal article on this topic focuses on the entire life cycle of electric vehicles, not just on their post-production carbon dioxide emissions.

Taking into account the carbon emissions needed to produce a vehicle, electric cars begin their exhaust-free existence with more than twice the emissions required to make a conventional automobile — 30,000 vs. 14,000 pounds. Then there’s the problem of recharging, a process that typically employs electricity produced from fossil fuels.



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