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Biden is touting giant EVs. Are they actually good for the planet?

The electric Hummer’s carbon emissions record is mixed, to say the least

President Biden took the wheel of an electric Hummer during a visit to General Motors "Factory Zero" plant in Detroit on Nov. 17, 2021. (Video: Reuters)
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President Joe Biden has made driving very large electric vehicles a signature move of his presidency. When the all-electric Ford F-150 Lightning came out, the president zipped around a racetrack wearing aviator sunglasses. On Monday, the president’s Twitter posted a picture of him behind the wheel of a Hummer EV, with the caption: “On my watch, the great American road trip is going to be fully electrified.”

The focus on electric cars makes sense. Almost 30 percent of the United States’ carbon emissions come from transportation, and the nation’s roughly 250 million gas-powered cars, trucks and vans create a huge portion of that carbon pollution.

But the president’s focus on some of the biggest vehicles around — the Hummer EV, the Ford F-150 Lightning — has raised some eyebrows.

And for good reason. For right now, these huge electric vehicles pollute the planet more than small gas-powered cars.

The new Hummer EV weighs 9,000 pounds; its battery alone weighs about 3,000 pounds, or almost as much as an entire Honda Civic. The Ford F-150 Lightning clocks in at about 6,000 pounds. That weight means not only that gigantic EVs pose a threat to pedestrians (in general, the heavier the vehicle, the more fatalities it creates on the road), but also that it takes a lot of energy to drag around the car on city or country streets.

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And more energy means more carbon emissions. EVs emit different amounts of carbon dioxide depending on the electricity mix where they are charged; an EV charged in a state where the grid is packed with renewables will emit less carbon dioxide than one in a state filled with coal. (In almost all geographies, though, EVs emit less carbon dioxide than equally sized gas-powered cars.)

According to an analysis by Quartz, a Hummer EV driven on the average power grid in the United States emits about 276 grams of carbon dioxide per mile; a Toyota Corolla running on gasoline, meanwhile, emits 269 grams. Small EVs on the other hand — like the Tesla Model 3 or Chevy Bolt — release around 97 to 108 grams of carbon dioxide per mile.

So, despite Biden’s enthusiasm, the Hummer EV can hardly be considered a “green” vehicle. But the president may be taking a strategic approach to getting Americans into electric cars. For years, just saying the words “electric cars” sparked visions of the Nissan Leaf or Chevy Bolt — small, sensible cars popular with middle-class environmentalist types. The Hummer EV is something else — an attempt to get people who aren’t remotely environmentalist to get on board the transition to a more climate-friendly world. The question is whether it will be worth it.

More on climate change

Understanding our climate: Global warming is a real phenomenon, and weather disasters are undeniably linked to it. As temperatures rise, heat waves are more often sweeping the globe — and parts of the world are becoming too hot to survive.

What can be done? The Post is tracking a variety of climate solutions, as well as the Biden administration’s actions on environmental issues. It can feel overwhelming facing the impacts of climate change, but there are ways to cope with climate anxiety.

Inventive solutions: Some people have built off-the-grid homes from trash to stand up to a changing climate. As seas rise, others are exploring how to harness marine energy.

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