Dec. 9, 2013

Faculty agree on viability of electric cars at screening

Environmentalist activists, automobile enthusiasts and curious filmgoers gathered in the Plant Science Auditorium Dec. 4 to see director Chris Paine’s 2011 documentary, “Revenge of the Electric Car.”

Paine, who introduced the film, said that the film was a sequel to his critically acclaimed 2006 documentary, “Who Killed the Electric Car?,” which chronicled the rise and fall of a gasoline-free electric car.

“When we first heard the electric car was coming back, we saw this as a unique opportunity to film in what is usually a very closed-off industry,” Paine said.

In contrast to Paine’s first documentary, “Revenge” presents an optimistic picture of the future of the electric car, which has seen resurgence in popularity among manufacturers since Great Recession.

The film details the battle being waged between General Motors, Nissan and Tesla to dominate the electric car market.

The electric car is presented in the film as an alternative to the models that currently populate our nation’s streets and highways and that Paine considers inefficient and environmentally damaging.

The screening was followed by a panel discussion and debate among Ricardo Daziano, the David Croll Fellow Assistant Professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering; Arthur Wheaton, extension associate at the ILR School’s Worker Institute; and Robert Howarth, the David R. Atkinson Professor of Ecology and Environmental Biology.

The panelists sparred over such issues as long-term environmental and financial sustainability of the electric car industry but largely echoed the documentary’s optimistic outlook for the future of the “green” automobile industry. Wheaton, however, noted that the primary source of electricity used to power electric cars continues to be coal, not renewable energy.

“I anticipate the electric car as a bridge to the car of the future; I don’t see it as the car of the future,” Wheaton said.

Howarth, who recently co-authored a plan to rid New York state of fossil fuel use by 2030, argued that electric cars could run entirely on clean energy in the near future: “Electric cars are a really big part of the solution, because they’re far more efficient than our gasoline cars.”

The panelists also discussed potential stumbling blocks for increased electric car use in the United States, especially the impossibility of traveling long distances without recharging the battery. Recharging can be arduous, making it difficult to market the electric car to consumers, Wheaton said.

Paine said he hopes the film will educate consumers about the potential for electric cars, even if the model hasn’t been perfected.

“We wanted to create momentum for the electric car with this film,” Paine said. “The gasoline car is a massive nightmare for the environment all over the planet. It’s not that the electric car solves all problems, but it’s a technology that has the potential to run on clean energy.”

Laura Carver is an intern in the ILR School Communications and Marketing Department.