Rowan Atkinson, the British comedian perhaps best known to international audiences as Mr. Bean, has also been a life-long car fanatic, and spoke out questioning electric vehicles’ benefits.
Atkinson wrote an opinion piece for The Guardian Sunday, in response to proposed legislation the United Kingdom that would ban the sale of new petrol and diesel cars by 2030.
“Electric vehicles may be a bit soulless, but they’re wonderful mechanisms: fast, quiet and, until recently, very cheap to run,” he wrote.
“But 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.”
The actor, who received a degree in electrical and electronic engineering from Newcastle University before receiving and advanced degree in electrical engineering from The Queen’s College, Oxford, says he was an early adopter of electric vehicles, but sees some issues with the proposed ban.
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“Electric cars, of course, have zero exhaust emissions, which is a welcome development, particularly in respect of the air quality in city centers. But if you zoom out a bit and look at a bigger picture that includes the car’s manufacture, the situation is very different,” he said.
He cited a video released by Volvo in the lead up to the Cop26 climate conference in Glasgow in 2021, which noted greenhouse gas emissions from the production of an electric car are 70% higher, due to the lithium-ion batteries currently used in electric vehicles.
Atkinson explained other alternatives are still in the works, such as solid-state or hydrogen based fuels, but explained that it’s society’s relationship with cars that needs as much an overhaul as the engineering.
“The biggest problem we need to address in society’s relationship with the car is the ‘fast fashion’ sales culture that has been the commercial template of the car industry for decades,” he said, citing three-year lease models that encourage people to shop for new vehicles when “with tender loving care,” a new car can last for 30 years.
Atkinson concluded that he’s not against electric vehicles by any means, but feels they need more work and offered advice to those on the fence.
“Friends with an environmental conscience often ask me, as a car person, whether they should buy an electric car,” he wrote. “I tend to say that if their car is an old diesel and they do a lot of city center motoring, they should consider a change. But otherwise, hold fire for now.”
“Electric propulsion will be of real, global environmental benefit one day, but that day has yet to dawn,” he said.
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