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Electric scooters aren't as green as you may think (latimes.com)
49 points by clairity 75 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 76 comments

There’s always someone who’s going to tell you how something is not as green as you may think.

Maybe we should just forget about global warming for a little bit and try to remember how dirty the air is from gas vehicles.


ownership is one way to bypass half the emissions issue (of cars having to pick up and drop off rental scooters) as well as the associated shortened-life issue.

i own one of the xiaomi scooters initially deployed by bird and mentioned in the article, and for little round-trip errands, it's hard to beat the convenience. you can ride literally door-to-door, without even looking for parking, since you can bring it right into most businesses (even bikes don't have that convenience in most cases).

Curiously, that’s the opposite of what they say about cars

To be fair it's not hard to find somewhere to park a bike, even when cities don't invest in proper stands. You can just use lampposts and street signs.

I think this article is pretty fair. Some serious problems need to be solved for these scooters to be green, but it does seem like a very real possibility that they could be solved.

Fine but the scooters are mainly replacing journeys on foot and cycle not car...

> Maybe we should just forget about global warming for a little bit and try to remember how dirty the air is from gas vehicles.

Scooters aren't displacing cars--it's bikes and walking that scooters are replacing. And, relative to those, scooters are a big loser.

The interesting part is the fact that scooters look like a loser relative to buses and mopeds. In particular, losing relative to a moped is quite surprising.

I would also point out that generally when I see scooters being picked up, the pickup truck being used is generally pretty old--meaning that it is contributing a not small amount to air pollution.

They are displacing cars. In the article it says that ⅓ of people who took one would otherwise have used a car.

> biking (8 g) or walking (0 g) [per mile]

This is simply wrong. It doesn't take into account the CO2 footprint of the person doing the biking or walking. Biking is more efficient than walking per km. Since anyone biking, running, walking would be eating more to cover the exercise this can have a significant footprint based on what their diet looks like. A running beef eater vs a running vegan looks very different.

I used to bike 65km/d round trip to work. Wonderful for my mind and body, but I had to eat at least one extra meal every day for the periods I was active, around 200-300g total.

Normally I would replenish with fried eggs and potatoes at a guesstimated 4x (CO2 equivalent mass ratio), which is (meh) reasonable? Giving around 13g/km footprint for biking (just from my food).

Assuming I would be eating lamb or beef at somewhere around 30x impact, that extra meal would give a biking footprint around 92g/km just from my food!

Correct my numbers or methods if you disagree.

[edit]: Comparison to my (tiny) car at the time burning 4.5l/100km, (2.3kg CO2 / litre petrol), the car would be around 103g/km, which is not much higher than me on a bicycle if I kept a shitty diet !!

If you are taking into account the food consumption of the participants, why stop at one mode? What about the food consumed by the people involved in the production and fuel for cars and scooters? How much would you include? Is it the same for someone sitting at a desk vs someone working on a production line somewhere? Does the existence of a regular job on a car production line encourage larger families? It gets nuts fast which is why it doesn't really make a lot of sense to try to take into account food intake for various transportation modes.

If you do manage to convince someone to take their car rather than their bike then how can you be sure they are not going sneak off and get their daily exercise some other way? Normally exercise from walking/biking reduces the need for other exercise. In a sense the extra food cost is free.

Re: the car, don't forget the impact of producing the car, and the totalt impact of the fossil fuel production chain.

Absolutely. But I already had the car, and it was later replaced due to old age and not due to distance driven. But the baseline metabolic burn of the 20min car ride should be taken into account, and was, since I was only comparing the extra meal I had to eat vs the extra gas I would have burned.

The total impact of the fossile fuel production chain is something I've been looking for, but not found any good numbers on yet.

I assume that petrol from saudi shallow wells is drastically different from canadian tar sand?

Anyone with reliable data on this?

Found some info from late 2018, but paywalled and incomplete, focusing on oil wells.



Older data from 2013 regarding tar sand production is much worse


Then, in the end, general refineries have ca 85% energy efficiency for petrol and diesel, discounting other factors.

> It doesn't take into account the CO2 footprint of the person doing the biking or walking.

This is carbon neutral because all the CO2 we exhale comes from atmospheric CO2 captured by plants (and then through the food chain up to us).

Now, of course food production has a carbon footprint because of harvesting, transport, processing, etc. but it quickly gets hugely complex to measure.

In any case, for the purpose of comparison they obviously restricted to the impact of the mean of transport. Your food or your carbon footprint in general does not change anything about that.

That is an absurd argument. The modern food chain is not carbon neutral [0].

If I start running to work, I have to consume more food. If I have a vegan diet I am eating the direct result of photosynthesis. That is, we could imagine the embodied carbon of my apple resulted directly from my previous exhalation of CO2. I do not dispute that some part of the 'life cycle of food' is a closed loop in this regard.

Yet I can't just 'eat an apple'. I also require someone to grow the apple (with fertilizer and its GHG emitting production chain), protect it (likely with pesticides), clean and package, transport, store and sell the apple. By the time I chew into the apple I have already contributed to the demand of GHG emitting processes.

So if you want to rigorously compare scooters with walking, running or riding a horse (all which affect quantity of food consumed), you need to take into account the carbon footprint of food. Just as when you look at GHG emissions of fuel, you don't just look at its combustion - you look at the supply chain.

If you only look at where carbon is added (e.g. fossil fuel combustion) or removed (e.g. carbon forest sinks) from the cycle, you miss out on learning about how individual actions or choices affect the rate at which addition or subtraction occurs.

[0] - https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Henk_Westhoek/publicati...

The biological food chain is perfectly carbon neutral, whether you eat meat or not.

But, as I wrote in my previous comment, the industrial production chain may not be, and in fact isn't.

In any case, this is a red herring because that makes no difference when comparing means of personal transportation: Whether I walk or ride an electric scooter I will have to eat very close to the same, close enough to be a rounding error.

> I have to consume more food.

Most people probably don't, and many people could afford to both run to work and eat less.

My environmental studies prof did an experiment cycling and getting the bus to university on both the amounnt of money spent and energy consumed. He found that he would spend more if cycling than the bus fare on food to keep the same energy input equal.

People also generally cannot sustain eating less continually but obviously there's a health benefit from some changes.

The ecosystem approach to food energy and carbon brings some surprising convulsions too. For example wrapping and selling fruit in plastic bags is better than buying them loose. This doesn't make sense unless you think about the whole picture.

I suspect that the recent HN craze for indiscriminate feel good tree planting is also ecologically and sustainably suspect if looked at holistically.

You're right that a lot of people eat more than they should, and exercise less than they should. We aren't efficient in this regard.

Yet when a human exercises, they breathe more, and produce more CO2. There is an internal carbon cycle that must be maintained. If any person exercises more without changing their diet, their rate of 'carbon accumulation' (to be kind) will decrease. For someone like myself who isn't in the habit of accumulating carbon - a long-term impact of riding to work will be that I will lose weight [0]. As a carbon-based life form, if I don't change this to be non-negative, I'm clearly down a path of self-destruction, and will need to increase my food intake eventually.

[0] - https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/f407/588843385c964c7de0bc9e...

I think you underestimate the fossile fuel expenditure from agriculture, transportation, wastage, etc.

But it is true that if I walk into a forest and eat a wild grown apple, that CO2 is then from and in the normal carbon cycle and not any added fossile carbon.

[1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2935130/

[2] https://foodprint.org/issues/agriculture-energy-consumption/

Perhaps it would be better if I clarified my statement as GHG-(CO2 equivalent)?

Wasn't the CO2 in fossile fuel also ultimately captured from the atmosphere by plants?

Yes, fossil fuels are originally from organic life, which resulted directly or indirectly from photosynthesis.

Plants do their best to suck up all the CO2 in the atmosphere. Yet CO2 is being added to the atmosphere faster than photosynthesis can capture it. This is why CO2 levels are rising. Human activity contributes a lot to the addition of CO2 (and equivalent greenhouse gases) and plants can't keep up with us.


Yes, but fossile carbon is out of the carbon cycle, stored underground until we dig it up? This is a fairly fundamental pillar in the discussion around environmental impact of GHG emissions?

Yes, captured and stored at a time when there was many times as much CO2 in the atmosphere. Release it, and you return the atmosphere to its former condition.

> I think you underestimate the fossile fuel expenditure from agriculture, transportation, wastage, etc.

No, I'm saying that this is irrelevant when comparing means of personal transportation...

The fact remain that the biological food chain is carbon neutral. As I already said, and as you also mentionend, it is the industrial production chain that is not.

For the extra energy you can and probably would eat the lowest carbon food available which is going to be stuff like rice and pasta. You are not going to have the digestive capacity to metabolize a lot of extra meat just for energy which you would tend to avoid for economic reasons.

Just existing takes the majority of energy for warm blooded creatures so the percentage increase due to an increase of physical activity is relatively small.

Physical activity is the cure for many medical conditions. Medical treatment has a carbon cost, probably a significant one.

> like rice

Rice has pretty high carbon footprint.


The article actually talks about methane and nitrous oxide emissions and gives no numbers to allow any sort of comparison.

Eh. We're currently at a stage in which we sort of have the tools to go carbon-neutral but aren't fully there yet.

For example, producing an EV currently involves releasing a bunch of CO2.

I can't name all of the reasons why but I imagine it'll be stuff like mining equipment being fossil powered, the trucks that transport the cars, the power that goes into refining stuff, etc.

Eventually all of that can be made carbon neutral; the only processes I can see potentially being an issue would be if like, actually digging the soil released CO2.

It would be literally impossible for the first EV to be made using only renewable energy by definition because it's the first.

Location matters too.

Sweden's electrical grid averages ~10-20g of CO2 per kWh because it's mostly nuclear/hydro.

The UK is at about 300g.

Trucks, vans, trains, etc should all be electrified as soon as possible. A last final burst of CO2 in order to create all of that, then we stop, perhaps sequester some, and off we go.

One can hope.

> perhaps sequester some

We need to sequester decades worth of output already, and soon, to avoid truly catastrophic effects within the next 100-200y. Just going neutral will not be enough.

One can hope that we can free ourselves from the individual car driver paradigm. We have the tools to go car-free, but aren't fully there yt.

Do you have children? The idea of going car free when you need to take 50kg of stuff with you everywhere is terrifying.

My baby doesn't weigh 50kg. Once he's that heavy, he can walk himself.

What are you taking everywhere?

The car seat and isofix base together must be the best part of 20kg. Then there's prams, nappy changing bag. If we're staying overnight, travel cot and chair etc.

I don't mean this in a rude way, but the fact that you just tried to justify cars primarily by the need to transport car seats may be a hint that your thinking might be a little too set in the car paradigm. A lot of the problems solved by cars, are also caused by cars.

My partners parents live, according to Google, 38 miles or 53 minutes away by car

Alternatively, 3 hours, 2 trains and a bus away.

It's completely impractical with a small child.

Okay, that's a reasonable complaint, but travel time is a distinct and separate issue from the point we were discussing, which was the need to transport paraphernalia of which nearly half was car-related in the first place.

Nevertheless, it's another example of cars creating the problems that they solve - this kind of disparity can only be caused by a terrible public transport infrastructure, which in turn is caused by inadequate funding, which is caused by lack of demand due to cars (and lobbying of course). In most places in Europe, bus+train is much faster than driving for long journeys, especially intercity. Trains can go at speeds than would be unsafe on roads, and don't have to worry about traffic jams, while buses are frequent and often get dedicated lanes in cities.

I like cars and own quite a fast one.

Having said that, the way you explain this sounds like some sort of extreme first world problems thing. You don't need any of that, it's just convenient.

I spent almost my entire childhood brought up on crappy public transport (e.g. not London, Tokyo, etc) in a medium sized town. Things like "staying overnight" just barely ever happened. I wouldn't have remembered it even if they did, so who cares?

I couldn't careless about cars and have a small economical one with sliding doors.

I also have a motorbike.

There also exist strollers that double up as a car-seat without any extra attachment needed [1]. I've used it travel with baby via night train to a far away land where we got a rental car for shorter trips.

[1] https://www.shopdoona.com/products/doona-car-seat-stroller-c...


No car no car seat.... Baby goes into pram - unless being carried in sling. Nappy bag hangs on pram. Other baby stuff goes under pram or in side thing. You may sometimes need a backpack. I don't recommend backpack because it limits baby in sling opportunity.


And we employ a Sherpa to carry our own luggage right?

I don't... This was friendly advice from one parent to another. Sarcasm was not required.

It sounds like your circumstances require a car for some journeys. But some journeys does not have to mean all journeys.

In megacities we should probably just ban cars.

Taxis should exist for the disabled or high profile targets.

In most of the world by land mass though cars aren't really an issue other than splitting nature corridors and maybe stuff like microplastics from tyres (it seems plausible for that to be fixed).

I have heard the idea floated that we should clump together in one continent or something and rewild the rest of Earth. I don't see that ever being politically palatable, but it is out there.

A bunch of brand new junk whether it's teslas, electric scooters/bikes, or anything else that's new and green is obviously bad for the environment. What's bad for the environment is excess consumption of anything. All these new green products only offer marginal improvements over their "non" green counterparts and never address making the manufactuering process green, which counts for the vast majority of the emissions of almost all goods.

If you care about the environment cut back your consumption of new shit. Go fix that bike in your garage and ride that to work.

> All these new green products only offer marginal improvements over their "non" green counterparts and never address making the manufactuering process green, which counts for the vast majority of the emissions of almost all goods.

Not for cars, not by a long shot. The vast majority of carbon emissions of a car are after it rolls off the assembly line.

  The carbon footprint of a new car:
  6 tonnes CO2e: Citroen C1, basic spec 
  17 tonnes CO2e: Ford Mondeo, medium spec 
  35 tonnes CO2e: Land Rover Discovery, top of the range
Assuming you drive them for 120,000 miles, that works out as 28.8/79.86/164.4 g/km, which for the first two [1] is less in all cases than their fuel consumption, and for the third that’s still true for all but the most efficient models of that brand.

Secondly you (and the article) are assuming that the car gets scrapped rather than sold secondhand when the owner replaces it.

Thirdly, what are the CO2 costs of maintenance? This is important in particular if you believe the manufacturing is the primary concern, because the replacement parts have to be manufactured.

[1] I just checked Mondeo and am confused why their CO2 emissions vary from 99 to 254 g/km — why does such all broad range of vehicles share the same model name?

This is very much an estimate... and I can't just take things like this:

> If we do this, and then divide by the total emissions of the auto industry by the total amount of money spent on new cars, we reach a footprint of 720kg CO2e per £1000 spent.

as true by default. They don't show why would that relation be true either. For example, you can find options that cost you many thousands more and amount to a few extra chips and different software.

It is an estimate but a close enough estimate to counter the claim that the vast majority of emissions are after production of the car.

These scooters are quickly becoming a hazard on the streets. It's not designed for one person, I have seen couples riding, multiple teeagers, parents with kids riding them for joy without any protection for head or body. These idiots are putting themselves and others at risk and when the ride is over then just drop them at random places and move on. Hell I have seen some parked in the middle of side walk blocking the way. At night people and cyclists can slam into them.

I am amazed why the hell it's not illegal and it not saving anything as these are fun rides.

Most of the concerns are potentially lessened as they mature.

The vandalism they refer to will certainly be reduced as people come to accept them. There can be charging stations around the city where riders can plug them into to get a discount or credits, reducing the need to collect them with a truck and drive them around. I imagine there are ways to mitigate people abusing them, such as making them easier to replace damaged parts or making them better able to detect when users are throwing them around and such.

Are there really people out there who believe that these things are "green"? It was well known before that the life expectancy those scooters is measured in months. It is also well known that electric vehicles with lithium batteries are "green" only if you use them for a very long time. IIRC for electric cars that would be something like four years of daily use -- mostly due to the pollution caused by the fabrication of the batteries. But of course, it isn't your city that gets polluted but some distant area where these things a built.

If you want to be green, use a bike or some non-motorized scooter.

the xiaomi scooters that most companies started out with have a 280Wh battery. Teslas have an 60-80kWh battery.

if you are saying it takes 4 years of daily use the make the manufacture of a 60kWh battery greener than driving, then it only takes ~80 days of use for a scooter battery.

And the average scooter survives less than 80 days.

Meanwhile most of the journeys on scooters where I live are replacing walking or cycling...

Source? For either of those two claims

I'd say one important point is that, in many places, public transportation is inadequate, completely overfilled, or both. If people are expected to move from cars to public transportation, many places just don't have the infrastructure to accomodate that transition. I live in Cologne. While we do have public transportation that allows you to reach most places, it's already at a point where the city wouldn't be able to cope with eliminating cars. Car-sharing, escooters, etc., these could be considered necessary extensions to public transport and enable car-users to transition, even if these options aren't entirely as green as using trains or buses would be.

Feels like Moving goal posts.

Of course lithium batteries aren't CO neutral.

Escooters are a great transitional device.

That actual trip somebody’s taking on the scooter — that’s pretty green,” said Juan Matute, the deputy director of the UCLA Institute of Transportation Studies who was not involved with the study. “What’s not green is everything you don’t see.”

This title is misleading and a perfect example of the backlash any new tech that challenges the status quo faces.

A more accurate headline would be “Dockless e-scooters...” but instead the author has lumped together owner driven e-scooters, which have very little carbon impact, with rentable scooters, which by themselves don’t have a large carbon impact but the ecosystem around them does.

I feel like the number of diesel powered ambulances I've seen dispatched to scooter induced accidents alone offsets their carbon footprint


Exactly - I love how people think these scooters are “clean” when piles of them are ferried around in gas guzzling cars every night (farther distances than the scooter should themselves cover “under electric propulsion”).

I have an electric unicycle I absolutely love and recommend the use of personal electric transport to everyone. But scooter sharing is dumb and makes cities look trashy.

If they’re only rounded up once a night by a petrol car, but in the daytime they did four trips each, then they are still saving most of the energy cost of the short trips even before you account for the collection trip by the car being one trip for many vehicles.

Also, they’re not always collected by cars. I was in Vienna recently, and saw someone collecting electric scooters by piling them onto another electric scooter.

The scooters are not replacing what a car would have been used for in the majority of cases. They're replacing walking or cycling.

So no they are not saving energy.

All the people I’ve asked who have used them or considered using them were replacing taxis. If they have a bike, or if the destination is close enough to walk, there’s no need to use something “that expensive”.

They are replacing city bikes in cities with city bikes.

kyruzic 74 days ago [flagged]

Cool anecdote.

Right but the article also says that ⅓ of people who used then would have otherwise used a car. And I'd expect the actual number to be a bit higher because people like to appear healthy and green.

So they are displacing cars.


I have looked at your comments, they appear to consist of rhetoric rather than quantified data. That is an even poorer form of argument than using anecdotes — Anecdotes are data, just not statistically high quality data.

How much CO2 does an electric scooter emit per passenger kilometre over its lifetime? What journeys are they used for? How much CO2 would be emitted by the same people performing the same journeys by alternate means of transport if the scooters did not exist?

kyruzic 74 days ago [flagged]

You're trying way too hard to sound smart.

Imagine this. You tell me people can't get to the moon because it's expensive. Then I say the majority of people I talk to have been to the moon.

Is my argument better because it's "data" based versus your rhetoric based argument? No it's not even close. And an argument backed up by data is not somehow more meaningful than all others forms of argument. You can go look to nearly ever mathematical field for proof of that.

Besides that anecdotes are not data. They aren't just not high quality data, they are not data. You cannot just state something you may or may not have truthfully heard and then call it data.

>How much CO2 does an electric scooter emit per passenger kilometre over its lifetime? What journeys are they used for? How much CO2 would be emitted by the same people performing the same journeys by alternate means of transport if the scooters did not exist?

This is an impossibly complex set of questions. But what you're basically saying is the scooters emit less (CO2 is not the only emissions that matters) than whatever transportation would have been used otherwise.

This isn't true. This is literally what the article this thread is about says.

Sigh. Previous experience tells me that when I face a comment with so many errors as the one you have just written it is literally not worth my effort detailing them and responding to them.

Suffice to say it’s not even internally consistent, more than once. This is not a useful situation for anyone concerned.

kyruzic 74 days ago [flagged]

Lol sounds like you know you're wrong.

Huh? If the carbon saved by not driving cars offsets the carbon generated by those who would otherwise walk or bike but are now using scooters, then aren't we saving on carbon?

Please read the article before asking the exact question the article is answering.

Piling e-scooters on another scooter is dangerous and idiotic... This is not how a majority of e-scooters are picked up and re-distributed...

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