Electric vehicles are not a green option in a city like Hong Kong

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 21 March, 2017, 4:31pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 21 March, 2017, 9:39pm

Derek Tom’s riposte (“Electric cars lead to lower pollution levels”, March 14) to my support for the government’s decision to cut the tax discount on the purchase of electric vehicles (“Electric vehicles harm environment and don’t deserve a tax discount”, March 6), raises interesting issues. But, in the end, his argument reveals a common misconception held by EV owners and supporters. He misses the forest for the trees.

While it is true that all of our actions, no matter how small, can impact the environment in negative ways, the ownership and regular driving of a car, electrically powered or otherwise, has an outsized negative effect on our environment, especially here in Hong Kong.

I agree with Tom that it is unrealistic to expect everyone to use public transport, but that doesn’t mean those who choose to drive EVs should enjoy privileged status when Hong Kong has one of the best public transport systems in the world.

In effect, choosing to lug oneself around in a 2,000kg electric vehicle is not an environmentally sound form of transit.

Now when EVs are driven in countries like Denmark where much of the electricity is generated by renewables such as wind and solar energy, Tom may have a point.

But in Hong Kong, where electricity is powered by the burning of fossil fuels, coal (53 per cent) and natural gas (22 per cent), as well as nuclear power (23 per cent), EVs are arguably little different from petrol-powered vehicles in terms of their environmental impact. And this doesn’t even consider the carbon footprint produced by the manufacturing of the raw materials from which the vehicle is manufactured.

The simple truth is, Tom, and others who have criticised my position in these columns (and complained to me personally), have difficulty accepting that the eco-friendly narrative they have constructed around EVs is a deeply flawed one in Hong Kong. With well over 90 per cent of the city’s population somehow coping without owning a car – which is probably the single best thing the average person can do to help the environment – it is this vast majority of the population without cars who are the real eco-warriors.

In essence, our government, in reducing the tax discount on EVs, demonstrates that its former myopic view of the trees has become a more informed vision of the forest.

Paul Stapleton, Ma On Shan