The blessingcurse of this discussion is that it's a critical thinking fire drill. Blessing in that it enrolls the reader into the wild and wooly world of externalities; curse in that it reveals just how political/philosophical/theoretical our chosen boundary conditions are and that really, when you make your system large enough you're doomed to rediscover the second law of thermodynamics, recognize our eventual doom and spend the afternoon staring into the void.
One of the biggest beefs the coalrollers have with electric cars is fuck you, 33% of US energy comes from coal. To which the fartsmellers respond fuck you, an electric motor operates at 95% efficiency while an Otto cycle 4-stroke runs at 30 to 40. To which the coalrollers respond fuck you, lithium and manganese and Pit of Despair/Fires Of Mordor. To which the fartsmellers respond fuck you, tetraethyl lead and oxides of nitrogen and diesel particulate.
The article is disingenuous - fuck you, Tesla cars are as green as you might think. Maybe greener. But they get more clicks with that title than "you haven't really thought about what green means because doing so will give you a headache." Washington State prides itself on the fact that 90% of the power up here is 100% pure, clean, renewable hydro. Except fuck you, hydro sucks for salmon. What we should really do is convert to wind power except fuck you, windmills are bird murderers. Except maybe we shouldn't worry about that, because fuck you your goddamn car kills 1000 times as many, your fucking house kills 3000 times as many and your fucking cat kills 12,000 times as many.
Mother Earth News ran an article once arguing that the greenest car you can drive is an ancient Chevy pickup because its crimes against the earth have been amortized by outlasting its expected depreciation envelope. Fuck the fact that it has no emission controls and gets maybe 12MPG and that, by the way, you need to add lead additive to it. They also profiled a guy who converts trucks to run on FOREST.
(smells like smug)
The greenest car is the one you don't drive. The greenest energy is the stuff you leave in the wall. I mean, I'm a super badass - I commuted 3,000 miles by bike last year. I'm also literally Hitler: I commuted 26,000 miles by mutherfucking jetliner. The 'wingers took Al Gore to task because while he wrote An Inconvenient Truth, he also lived in a 4000 square foot house and flew by jet on book tours. Meanwhile, U2 offset the carbon costs of the Zooropa tour by buying up swaths of rain forest which, to Greenpeace, was the worst example of "corporate greenwashing" because if I do it, I'm an angel but if you do it, you're Satan unless you're sitting in the dark in the cold eating macrobiotic soil or some shit.
I used to work for a company that designed geothermal heating. At the time, they were called ground source heat pumps. We did open loop and closed loop. And they were badass, and it was a good thing one of our principle clients catered primarily to the Phil Knights of the world because the cost premium on a GSHP was about 600%. We got to do all sorts of fun shit under LEED because you get points for smug; this allows you to justify amortization schedules that push break-even out into legend. We had a furnace at one project that recouped its expense in I-Shit-You-Not 2300AD. But hey - it was taxpayer money so no harm no foul, right?
I test-drove a Leaf. They're stupid cheap right now. It was joyless. I passed a lifted Jeep Cherokee this morning. It made me drool. In the long run? It doesn't really matter because I put less than 5000 miles on my car in the past three years. But I've thought through the externalities enough to know that God is dead, black is white, and Cash for Clunkers killed the Spotted Owl.