EVs Cause Cancer Meme

By Paul Gipe

Electric vehicles (EVs) probably don’t cause cancer, but that doesn’t stop some people from saying that they do. I came across a bizarre version of this meme a few months ago at a social gathering here in Bakersfield, California.

What prompted me to recount my experience was Dave Laur’s tongue-in-cheek essay on why people shouldn’t buy EVs. I follow Laur’s blog. He’s a good writer, a nerd, and drives a Nissan Leaf. In short, he knows his stuff when it comes to EVs and I pay attention to his advice on driving the Leaf.

Our lease of a 2015 Nissan Leaf has been almost universally greeted with supportive comments–even here in Bakersfield, the oil capital of the state. This was somewhat surprising. Although I didn’t expect the tires would be slit when the car sat unattended on the street, I did expect more negative reactions and the occasional fickle-finger-of-fate on the roadway.

After all, there’s a strident right-wing echo chamber that attacks anything with a hint of a green aura or remotely connected to Mr. Obama. That puts EVs and their green drivers directly in the firing line.

As Laur shows in his essay, you don’t have to have read anything by Breitbart or Limbaugh on EVs, you can wing it and pretty much anticipate what these hacks would shout over the airwaves. You can see the headlines, “another green technology gone wrong,” “the dirty little secret of another green technology,” and so on.

Sure enough, you can find articles with these very titles with a little searching. Even Time magazine got in the game with a 2012 piece on how China power’s its EVs with deadly coal.

Most of the questions raised or the assumptions made about EVs causing cancer derive from the fact that EVs are, well, electric. EVs require powerful batteries and powerful motors. That’s what they are—batteries and a motor on four wheels. We sit right over the batteries in an EV. Our tooshes are just centimeters away from the batteries. We’re being zapped every time we put our foot on the accelerator.

There’s an entire cottage industry built around claiming this or that electrical device cases cancer. Think of the flap a few years ago over cell-phone towers, or cell phones themselves. (After all, you hold a cell phone right up against your head!) Then there’s those claiming smart meters make them sick, or that technicians working on wind turbines are getting cancer.

Everything that’s electric creates electro-magnetic fields or EMF.

EMF, or electrical radiation, is a known phenomenon. It’s been around since the early days of electricity. We’ve had ample time to study it at length. We know what dosage causes illness and what dosage kills. We don’t know everything about how EMF affects the body, but we know the basics.

In short, we don’t sit close enough to the batteries to make much of a difference. Nor are we exposed long enough. It’s another case where when you look close enough the problem may not disappear, but it becomes far less of a concern.

All of this however, has nothing to do with our strange encounter in Bakersfield.

My wife, Nancy, speaks French. She’s a member of a group that gets together twice a month to speak French. I join her. It’s a challenge. Half the time I don’t know what’s being said, but I try to chime in when I can find the words.

We drove Evie, our Nissan Leaf, to the group one day shortly after we leased it. Discussing our EV was a topic I could handle in French. That is until one older woman, a native French speaker, extended her arms in front of her and made a cross with her fingers toward me as though she was protecting herself from the devil. Then she said, “EVs cause cancer.” I understood that very clearly.

This is where it gets bizarre. She proceeded to explain why EVs cause cancer. She asked me if I’d ever heard of Erin Brokovich. Of course, who hadn’t. Brockovich discovered that Pacific Gas and Electric Co. had caused a cluster of cancers around one of its substations. The utility generates electricity. EVs use electricity. Therefore, EVs cause cancer.

I was dumbfounded. There was no way my French was up to explaining to a native speaker that her sequence of seemingly logical statements were themselves illogical.

It was time to talk about the weather instead, always a safe subject in Bakersfield.

I expected to quickly locate this particular strain of the EVs cause cancer meme, but I didn’t. It could be a strain particular to Bakersfield, or, more likely, she got the idea third or fourth hand. In that case, as in most urban myths, the original meaning is lost. EMF causes cancer became toxic chemicals cause cancer. The utility provides the electricity; therefore, the electricity causes cancer because of the toxic chemicals used by the utility.

Here are a few links on the subject of EVs causing cancer, some humorous, some technical, some fanciful, some little more than veiled propaganda.

Why Electric Vehicles are a bad idea

Dave Laur’s satirical take on the question from someone who has been driving a Nissan Leaf since 2011.

Do electric cars cause cancer?

Online discussion of EMF and impact on vehicle occupants relative to tailpipe emissions.

Do Electric Vehicles cause Cancer?

Posting about critics claims that EVs cause cancer in response to an abusive Facebook entry.

Tesla Motors’ Dirty Little Secret Is a Major Problem

Think Tesla’s Model S is the green car of the future? Think again.

The title says it all. Just the kind of foolish commentary you’d expect from the Motley Fool.

Can Electric Cars Cause Cancer?

Short post explaining that we just don’t know enough to say no, they don’t. It then goes on to say we have no choice but to move to electrics for a variety of reasons.

Zombie meme alert: electric cars cause cancer

Sebastian Blanco calls out Slate for posting a piece asking whether EVs cause cancer. A legitimate question, Blanco notes, but it’s a meme that’s circulated by the far right regardless of any evidence.