Back in 2018, we asked sarcastically, why it seems that while there are plenty of good faith and constructive criticisms to be made and analyses done on electric vehicles, every pundit that attacks them in some white paper or op-ed has ties to or is funded directly by the fossil fuel industry. So when we first saw a piece in the Financial Times’ Alphaville blog on Monday reacting to Lyft’s announcement that it’s aiming to have 100% electric vehicles by 2030, by a name we didn’t recognize, and who didn’t appear to be a cog in the Koch disinformation machine, we thought maybe we’d finally found the exception to that rule.
The piece, with headline blaring about the “electric delusion” of Lyft’s EV goal, is authored by Dr. Ashley Nunes, whose byline describes him as “an academic” at MIT and Harvard, and previous lead researcher for DOD and DOT projects. Sounded legit. And maybe, we thought, he would be talking less about EVs and more the many legitimate grievances against ride hailing services, from their inherent opposition to cheaper and greener public transit, to passenger safety risks. Indeed, upon first glance, the top of the piece does reference some of those issues, and even links to some good sources, like UCS! He also acknowledges that fossil fuels are harmful to public health and the climate, which is not exactly standard operating procedures for fossil fuel flacks.
But when it comes to the body of the piece, and the arguments themselves, things get much more suspicious. Dr. Nunes does not believe that the government will provide sufficient subsidies, nor that manufacturing prices for EVs will fall far enough fast enough for all Lyft’s drivers to be able to afford to drive them. This is where he starts to sound like a standard oil man, pointing to (inflatedly) high costs of EVs, making the industry’s beloved point that subsidies for EVs are subsidies for the rich, and suggesting the cost of certain minerals required for batteries won’t ever fall low enough to make them widely affordable (they already are.)
These points are so easily debunked, one doesn’t even have to leave the page to find them. Instead, just scroll down and see, in something of a bizarre twist of convention, on-topic and generally very intelligent comments that, in more reassuringly normal fashion, absolutely wreck the argument that Dr. Nunes (attempts) to put forth.
“Poorly written article,” concluded one comment about aspects of ride hailing services Dr. Nunes “fails to acknowledge.” Another pointed out that even though they agree with the main point of reducing reliance on cars, his “reasoning doesn't seem very sound.” A third got specific with the failures of logic, identifying that “the author is guilty of a fallacy of composition,” while another explained how it might “have been valid if written ten years ago without knowing how much efficiency and costs would improve.” User “Scourge of Economists” lived up to their name with a lengthy five-point debunking summarized by its opening statement that “this is a very weak article,” a point echoed by another commenter who said it is “one of the weakest articles [they] have ever read in the FT. Referring to nickel, lithium, and cobalt as ‘rare earths’ is scientifically illiterate. That error alone should disqualify this author from a spot on these pages.”
Yikes! Never a good sign when commenters are doing a better job fact-checking than a publication’s editors.
How does an MIT/Harvard academic commit such grievous errors, usually reserved for the fossil fuel industry’s paid hacks?
Well, we dug around a bit, and what do you know! Dr. Nunes appears to be involved with MIT’s Energy Initiative, which was founded by oil giants Eni, ExxonMobil and Shell, with “sustaining members” including Chevron, Total, and others.
Phew. For a moment there we thought we were going to have to reconsider our axiom that anyone making stupid attacks on electric vehicles probably isn’t just misinformed, but more likely actively and intentionally spreading the fossil fuel industry’s propaganda because they’re part of the fossil fuel industry’s network of funding recipients.
But we do have to rethink some things, because as it turns out, sometimes you should read the comments!