How In Spite Of Cool Advertising, Electric And Hybrid Cars (Also) Damage The Environment

By Hema Vaishnavi

A BMW i-3 electrical car is refuelled at a power station for e-cars in the city centre of the western German city of Koblenz, March 1, 2016.         REUTERS/Wolfgang Rattay  - RTS943D
Image source: REUTERS/Wolfgang Rattay

Going green is the new fad now, and electric cars have taken the fancy of most people around the world, including the likes of Barack Obama and even Leonardo DiCaprio taking efforts to promote them.

So what’s all the hullabaloo about these so-called green cars that even the Indian government has decided to exempt them from the special cesses that it levied on all the other conventional vehicles?

The electric vehicles, dubbed as the green cars, are 100% eco-friendly and they do not emit toxic gases or smoke in the environment as it runs on electricity. And hybrid vehicles, which run on gas, do produce emissions, which are again very minimal compared to the conventional vehicles.

In the Union Budget, announced by Arun Jaitley, the government has decided to exempt the new-age cesses on electrically operated vehicles, hybrid vehicles, hydrogen vehicles based on fuel cell technology and motor vehicles.

The announcement from Jaitley comes with a statement saying that the pollution and traffic situation in Indian cities is a matter of concern, which has brought him to levy an infrastructure cess on petrol, diesel, LPG and CNG cars, which stems from the hope that people would eventually make the shift from the conventional vehicles.

But are these green cars really green? Let’s debunk the myth. The green cars do not pollute the areas that they are being used in because all they are doing is move the pollution from the point of movement to the source of electricity.

A lot of studies point out that electric cars are merely coal-powered vehicles, since most of the electricity is generated by coal.

Following this line of thought, let’s have a look at the power generation statistics in India. According to a report by the Energy Information Administration, as of May 2014, India generates most of its power, as much as 59%, from coal-fired power plants and another 10% from natural gas and diesel. Suffice to say that about 70% of the power generation in India is responsible for polluting the air around the power plants, which are heavily clustered in and around Maharashtra and Gujarat.

Now, moving on to the life cycle analysis of an electric car, the manufacturing process isn’t nearly as clearly as clean as the conventional cars. A study conducted by the Norwegian University of Science and Technology study found that these manufacturing units emitted more toxic waste than conventional car factories.

According to another report published by the team in the Journal of Industrial Ecology, which did a life cycle impact of the electric and conventional vehicles, the global warming potential from electric vehicle production is about twice than that of conventional vehicles.

The report also found that the production of batteries to run the electric cars, require a lot of toxic minerals, such as lithium, copper, nickel and aluminum, which directly translates to a much higher acidification impact on the environment.

In fact, a report by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Design for the Environment program, concluded that the use of these mineral-based batteries gave rise to more negative environmental impacts, like mining, global warming, environmental pollution and human health impacts.

The study also found that the electric vehicle is responsible for about 30,000 pounds of carbon-dioxide emission, even before it hits the road, whereas the conventional car is responsible for 14,000 pounds.

Add to this already over-burdened carbon footprint, the source of electricity, which further increases the carbon footprint far behind, leaving the carbon footprint numbers of the conventional cars far behind.

Does this mean that electric cars need to be dismissed to altogether? No, not at all. There are places where they work wonderfully, places that derive most of their electricity from cleaner sources of energy.

For instance, take a look at the figures below. India, which has the highest number of coal-fired power plants is not a great place for electric or hybrid vehicles. While on the other hand, we have countries like Paraguay, which mostly run on hydroelectric power plants offer a better place to run electric cars.

electric cars graph

Getting back to the topic at hand, the exemption of cess that stems from the line of thought that this would lead to better environmental consequences is an illusion. The tax exemption is nothing but a popularity move that is a far cry from the much-needed solutions to address environmental concerns. The tax exemption also looks like an excellent PR for players who are keen to get into the market and the government hasn’t been subtle enough since it pretty much looks like it is appeasing the only big player in the market, Mahindra.

It is high time the government put some serious thought into its environment policies. Irrespective of which party is ruling, serious decisions need to be made as the government is responsible for millions of lives, and these kinds of half-baked solutions are definitely not the way to secure the future of the nation.

The need of the hour is for the government to start consulting different experts and getting research teams in place so that before anything, they are at least scientifically informed before acting on policies.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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