I feel duped: 'Mr. Bean' actor Rowan Atkinson on electric cars

Ahead of World Environment Day, Atkinson shares his thoughts on the environmental impact of electric vehicles

Rowan Atkinson (photo: Dave J Hogan/Getty Images)
Rowan Atkinson (photo: Dave J Hogan/Getty Images)

Amarabati Bhattacharyya

Mr. Bean actor Rowan Atkinson on Saturday, 3 June, said that he 'feels duped' by electric vehicles, considering some of its negative impacts on the environment. The actor — who happens to also be an electrical and electronics engineer by training — urged people to continue using their petrol vehicles, and claimed that his own 'honeymoon with electric cars is coming to an end'.

Writing an article for The Guardian, published over the weekend ahead of World Environment Day, the 68-year-old highlighted that although electric cars have zero emissions while being driven, greenhouse gas emissions during production and manufacturing are 70 per cent higher than for petrol vehicles, due to the extremely heavy lithium-ion batteries which require rare earth metals and massive amounts of energy. He adds that the shelf life of these batteries is only 10 years — making it a 'perverse choice of hardware' with adverse effects on the environment.

'...increasingly, I feel a little duped. When you start to drill into the facts, electric motoring doesn’t seem to be quite the environmental panacea it is claimed to be,' he wrote.

With a bachelor's degree in electrical and electronic engineering, a master's degree in control systems and a 'lifelong passion for the motorcar', Atkinson switched to an electric hybrid 18 years ago and a pure electric nine years ago, and says that he has 'enjoyed his time with both very much'.

However, in light of the progressively worsening climate crisis, he believes that the usage of even electric vehicles (EVs) must be limited. He mentions that only when the heavy-metal batteries are replaced with solid-state batteries or a hydrogen fuel cell will the benefits become truly beneficial for the planet.

'JCB, the company that makes yellow diggers, has made huge strides with hydrogen engines and hopes to put them into production in the next couple of years. If hydrogen wins the race to power trucks — and as a result every filling station stocks it — it could be a popular and accessible choice for cars,' he writes.

He says that EVs will have 'great environmental benefits one day, but that day has yet to dawn', since we have been rather slow on the development and mainstreaming of greener technologies associated with their manufacture.

Moreover, Atkinson raises a concern about the 'fast fashion' way of purchasing cars. He points to the typical three-year leasing model of the United States, for example. 'As an environmentalist once said to me, if you really need a car, buy an old one and use it as little as possible,' he says. Possibly not the attitude to make Elon Musk a happy man.

In conclusion, Atkinson urges environmentalists to promote a more sustainable business model for cars, for nations to continue developing hydrogen and other synthetic fuels, and for car owners to wait before switching to electric.

At present, the transportation sector contributes to one-fifth of global greenhouse gas emissions. As per the International Energy Agency (IEA), the global numbers for EVs is expected to grow five-fold, from 10 million in 2020 to 50 million by 2030. By 2050, the number of EVs on the roads is expected to touch the 1 billion mark.

Over the past few years, EVs have rapidly become popular and almost synonymous with 'green' vehicles. However, several experts around the world believe that only when these vehicles are fully decarbonised will they emerge as zero-emission agents.

If not the lay user, many businesses focused on a low carbon footprint or on the use and adoption of electric vehicles seem aware of the conundrum, too. Writing in Mint, the Indian business newspaper, on 3 June, Nimish Trivedi, CEO and co-founder of Evera Cab, an an all-electric cab service provider in the Delhi NCR, seems to echo Atkinson: 'The transition to electric vehicles is not a stand-alone answer to environmental problems. It must be accompanied by an all-encompassing initiative to decarbonize the electricity sector and encourage the adoption of renewable energy,' he wrote.

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