Where exactly does the anti-electric car fake-news come from?

In la Tribune 8/12/2020

In recent years, we have seen a growing number of converging criticisms against the development of electric vehicle to fight global warming: higher pollution than gasoline and diesel models in terms of CO2 balance; increasing use of rare earths and other metals for batteries, which will accelerate the depletion of our mining resources and make us dependent on China; environmental and human damage (child labor in the DRC is regularly pointed out by NGOs).

A recent documentary I watched, “À Contresens : Voiture électrique, la grande intoxication“, directed by Jerôme Piguet and produced from Switzerland by Jonas Schneiter and Marc Muller of NousProduction, shows after investigation that these allegations are unfounded and are rather fake news.

Although RTBF, the Belgian television network, is preparing to broadcast the documentary, the French public will not be able to watch it immediately. On the contrary, Arte and France-Info, in their recent programming, give pride of place to anti-electric vehicle.

However, if you are eager to learn more, this post by Claudio Rumolino “spoil” the subject.

Thus, the film provides facts and testimonies on cobalt and child labor in the DRC, on the shift from oil to metals, on lithium, on battery recycling, on the unreal “metals war” confused with the “Great Game of Metals“. It also reminds us that “rare metals” do not exist, that “rare earths” are not rare, and that contrary to what is hammered out, they are little mostly out from electric vehicles but on gasoline and diesel cars. In short, this is a convincing refutation of fake-news against electric vehicle  that will no doubt be extended later on to hydrogen.

In addition, two sequences in this documentary attract attention even though the subjects are only mentioned.

The most important one: is the spread of fake-news against the electric car linked to the oil lobby?

In the middle of the documentary, the journalists wonder in particular about the activity of the extremely rich Koch brothers, of Texan origin, oil businessmen and traders, activists and financial backers of Donald Trump. They financed an anti-electric vehicle thesis whose orientation espoused so much those of the current anti-electric car spokesmen who radicalize opinion and discussion, that the film cannot help but bring them closer together. The viewer then wonders on the one hand about the financial or other interactions that could link the pro-oil people to the anti-electric vehicle, and on the other hand about the media that relay these theses without examining, without studying the contradictory, without looking at the facts, without questioning themselves, and that favor sensationalism, deleterious emotion, and caricature. Television channels, radios, newspapers are certainly not accomplices of a lobby, but have they become the victims of its sans nuance messengers? A sequence in the film is moreover comical when the mystification and ignorance of such a bullhorn, celebrated by many media, are revealed. And what will be said when such a journalistic investigation overturns this anti-electric house of cards by examining the conditions of publication of an infamous book on metals?

Another revealing moment in the film: the the anti-electric vehicle ready to use tools for media. Notably the studies supposed to establish that electric mobility emits more CO² than gasoline or diesel cars. The expert who is interested in this subject is struggling to establish its sources, and therefore its financing. Studies focus above all on the metals contained in the batteries. However, they are taken up in a loop by a number of bullhorns self-proclaimed specialists in energy, metals and the green-washing of electric cars. It is therefore not surprising to hear them quoted on the mainstream media: LCI, France 5, BFM, Eric Zemmour even giving them his own weight on Cnews, etc.

On the contrary, the documentary by Jonas Schneiter and Marc Muller does a real job of verification. For example by going to the Democratic Republic of Congo, where the world production of cobalt is concentrated, or to Chile for lithium. All the actors explain their point of view, rather nuanced and far from the clichés seen from Paris. In the same way, scientists and businesswomen and businessmen respond in a substantiated way to false information that by dint of being repeated without being verified becomes media “truths”. As such is the example of this professor from the University of Lucerne who deconstructs the famous study claiming that a Hummer pollutes less than a Toyota Prius: incomprehensible method, data without source origin, biased presentation, opaque calculation of results and therefore hidden errors.

And in the long run, a return to reality will be necessary. Electric vehicles are already a success in Europe and Asia, as evidenced by the growing number of sales. This is not yet the case in the United States, where lobbies, particularly from the oil sector, which has benefited from the support of the Trump administration, are still very powerful.

Be that as it may, the anti-electric vehicle disinformation and manipulation plus the trauma on the integrity of information provoke such uneasiness in the viewer mind that the whole thing will undoubtedly remain a textbook case to be taught in journalism and info-warfare schools!