Mike Ko Personal Portfolio


Home-School Education
Hong Kong

University of Durham
Bachelor of Science
United Kingdom

2017 - 2018
United Kingdom

    Being Green

        Tesla was founded in 2003, with a rather ambitious goal: to introduce to society viable electric cars and more generally move away from using fossil fuels. Today, the company is still quite far from its original aims. The automotive industry is still very much entrenched in the combustion engine-fossil fuel model. Yet technology has advanced within the last decade, such that the prospect of having electric cars and other vehicles is much more tangible. Tesla has managed to produce and actually market several fancy cars, from the Tesla Roadster to the Model S. Other companies are also following suit, a notable example being the comparatively modest Nissan Leaf. Practical manufacturing matters aside, however, the electric cars’ increasing success is perhaps anchored to society’s search for ‘green’ solutions. Unlike the much-maligned fossil fuel-burning conventional cars, electric cars do not emit noxious pollutants and greenhouse gases. The electric car, silently and gracefully gliding along our roads, might be the environment-friendly solution to minimise the damage we are undoubtedly wrecking upon our planet.

        Yet for all the hopes or even hype that are pinned onto electric cars, are they actually ‘green’? As some have pointed out, the technology still ultimately requires electricity, which mostly comes from power plants that generally burn fossil fuels. If they burned coal, the electric car might potentially be more polluting than a conventional car. Furthermore, the more advanced components like batteries, motors and other electronic components involve metallic materials that could be toxic if released into the environment.

        A similar argument can be applied to another ‘green’ technology: renewable energy like wind or solar power. These methods may produce zero emissions and waste during energy generation, but the production and disposal of the equipment required may not be.

        This is not to condemn these technologies as a dirty technology. What this possibility highlights is the need to consider everything in the energy and resource equation. The idea of a ‘green’ mode of living can perhaps be thought of as one that minimises its damage to the environment. That in turn could mean reducing pollutant emissions as well as resource and energy consumption. Of course, such calculations can be difficult to make. Consider the hypothetical decision of choosing either a tissue paper or a bare hand to cover a sneeze (disregarding the somewhat unhygienic handkerchief or the inconsiderate open sneeze). Which would be the ‘greener’ option? Using tissues would require wood while a bare hand would (hopefully) require water for a hand wash. The question then becomes how much energy and resources are required to produce the two options. Obviously the figures would very much depend on the various local conditions.

        Though complicated, a detailed input-output calculation is ultimately needed to decide whether any given option is truly ‘green’. It may be misleading to pursue apparently ‘green’ initiatives if the final figures do not show any actual reduction in damage throughout the whole production and disposal processes involved. Thus society might have to look beyond the electric car’s clean image and pay more attention on the cold practical maths.

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