March 14, 2012

The coveted "Zero Emissions Vehicle" label.

Talk about green hype. There is no doubt that zero tailpipe emissions helps keep down smog, one of those nasty side effects of operating millions of cars in a tight space like a metropolis. I hope by now you've realised that even most electric vehicles (EVs) are not really zero-emission vehicles (ZEVs) unless they're powered by sun, wind or water.

But the ZEV label gets bandied about anyway: it sounds so - green. It's pleasing to the green-leaning ear, and pleasing to regulators who want to keep smog down in their large cities, and so what if the coal-powered electric plants powering the EVs still emit soot and carbon dioxide elsewhere.

Let us be clear about it: zero is zero. It is not low. It is not very low, and not even ultra-low. It's zero. Zilch. Nada. 0, the unique and magical number.

Let me be brutally clear about it: Zero is like pregnant. Either you are pregnant, or you are not pregnant. You can't be partially pregnant. Similarly, either you have zero emissions, or you don't have zero emissions. If you cause even a teeny puff of greenhouse gas emissions, even far away from your tailpipe, you don't have zero emissions.

But the ZEV label is so highly coveted that, pretty much meaningless to begin with, it is now plastered on cars that have a highly dubious claim on the label. That's greenwashing for you.


While all literature on electric vehicles jubilantly proclaim "Zero Emissions", I propose they really ought to be labeled "Emissions Elsewhere Vehicles".

Owners may present the proper paperwork proving that their electricity is obtained from sources emitting no greenhouse gases to get an upgrade to the "ZEV" sticker. This sticker entitles them to a hefty tax rebate, zero-toll lanes on all toll roads, tunnels and bridges, preferred parking spots at malls, and other perks that turn regular drivers green with envy. Maybe green enough that they also get a car like that.


There are now lots of wannabe-ZEV cars that sport the PZEV label, some of them brazenly stuck on the rear. It stands for the mathematically ridiculous "Partial Zero Emission Vehicle". Some of these cars don't even do all that well on fuel efficiency.

That's like wearing those fake leather jackets that are basically vinyl plastic treated with a synthetic "leatherette" smell: ugh. Or a fake Rolex watch. It would be fairly simple (and a great hack on your green-snob neighbour) to add stick-on letters to make the label read NRZEV, for "Not Really a Zero Emission Vehicle".


As any child can tell you, excluding is mean, and not tolerated on most playgrounds. Why shouldn't even the largest trucks and SUVs be allowed to play? Let them have the DNZEV label; I bet that would help sales. Even if the label would mean "Definitely Not Zero Emission Vehicle".



  1. At the risk of stating the blindingly obvious, not even a pedestrian is zero emissions...


    1. Not if the pedestrian is CelloDad after a nice meal of beans and onions....

      I do get your point, Rupert; but a pedestrian is not being labeled "Zero Emission" ad nauseam. It's the hype I object to, not the EV.


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