In matters of ecology, we should above all practice semantic sobriety. As we discussed recently in these columns, the terms “free returns” or “recyclable” are often misused for returns that are anything but free and for materials that are not recyclable, such as plastic. This is also the case with the undue use of the term “clean car” which has become synonymous with an electric car through a sleight of hand.
In matters of ecology, we should above all practice semantic sobriety. As we discussed recently in these columns, the terms “free returns” or “recyclable” are often misused for returns that are anything but free and for materials that are not recyclable, such as plastic. This is also the case with the undue use of the term “clean car” which has become synonymous with an electric car through a sleight of hand. However, it would rather be a case of hyperbole, the stylistic figure of exaggeration. Because if the electric car does not have an exhaust and is therefore “clean” in terms of local pollution since it does not emit greenhouse gases while driving, to qualify it as clean, c is happily ignoring other parameters that enter into its energy slate. Its manufacture, for example, which is energy-intensive. It takes more CO2 to manufacture an electric car than a thermal vehicle, in particular because of the batteries mainly made in China with energy from coal. So, if the electric car indeed limits local emissions, it generates more important ones on the place of production. To fill this energy differential, it is reasonably estimated that an electric vehicle would have to travel 40,000 to 50,000 kilometers to reset the counter to zero when faced with the pollution of a thermal car. Similarly, the energy needed to recharge the battery does not fall from the sky: it generates a significant carbon footprint, especially in countries where electricity still largely comes from coal. Other factors also come into play, such as greater obsolescence compared to thermal models. Not because of their engine, which can last a very long time, but because of all the technological equipment subject to a more frenetic pace of innovation. As Nicolas Meunier, journalist at Challenges magazine, explains in his essay The clean car scam (Hugo Doc): “Buying an electric car today means buying a video recorder just before the arrival of DVDs” . And in fact, electric cars risk following the obsolescence curves of our smartphones. Another parameter feared by specialists to take into account: a “rebound effect”, namely an increase in the use of the electric car because we are convinced of “clean driving”. A vicious circle inherent in any virtuous effect well known to economists and sociologists: an increase in uses generated by certain advantages (environmental or financial) and which in fact cancels these advantages. As we buy more products during the sales, we will drive more while thinking of polluting less. But after all, isn’t it the qualification of “clean car” which essentially constitutes an abuse of language? An oxymoron, this figure of speech which associates two opposite terms as when one speaks of “deafening silence” or the “dark clarity” of the stars. “Car” and “clean” are two irreconcilable terms so far. Before the combustion car, it already polluted when the 175,000 horses that were counted in New York produced mountains of manure spreading gas and diseases on the city. And after her, whether electric or hybrid, she is still not clean. So the first sobriety would be to avoid polluting our language with the abusive term “clean car”. And to save it for the day when we will have truly invented a car that is, from its manufacture to its destruction through its use.