I have long held the unpopular belief that there is no such thing as the “green” car. That elusive beast that will move you around unlimited miles running on grass clippings and empty cans of Bud, is a figmant of the hyper-consumer imagination and the CAW, so get over it.
It is not my intention to start a flame war. My beliefs are consistant and in-line with current global economic thinking. They are not a case of a self-fulfilling prophesy (as I was accused of on the plant floor), but a dose of reality. It is best that we prepare for it (especially here in the Automotive Capital of Canada, where so many of us have relied on the automobile for our higher-than-average quality of life), no matter how jagged and bitter the pill is to swallow.
The methadone treatment that the hybrid and plug-in electric vehicles represent are just that: a stop-gap measure. They should be looked upon as a bridge technology, one that is meant to ease the transition from Industrial Society V1.0 to Post-Industrial Society V2.0. This transition is happening whether we like it or not, as dictated by the collapse of the oil-economy and sub-prime lending.
We cannot escape it.
I have been accused of being a dreamer and utopian because of these beliefs. I counter that the belief of those who think that the personal automobile will be with us forever is the domain of the true dreamer. How much more evidence do they need to shock them into thinking it may be time to change their lines of reasoning?
Much ink has been spilled on the concept that the main problem with the personal automobile is the fuel it uses to propel itself. Auto-based transportation has a built in paradox that ensures that the higher the eficiency of the vehicle, the less of that efficiency we will utilize. This isn’t a new concept. English economist William Stanley Jevons, in his 1865 book The Coal Question, explained “improving energy efficiency typically reduced energy costs and thereby increased rather than decreased energy use“, an effect now known as Jevons paradox.
The more efficient it is, the more we will use it, thereby eliminating the value created by that efficiency. The better we build these alternative fuel vehicles, the more we will drive and the further out into the hinterlands we’ll build our homes.
“Even if we were able to produce a 100 mpg, zero pollution vehicle, we’d still need to maintain the infrastructure of roads, bridges, and energy distribution. That means steel, concrete, asphalt and plastics. Just concrete production alone generates as much as 10 percent of all greenhouse gas. In 2007, the U.S. produced 95 million tons of cement by burning fossil fuels and, according to the EPA, is the third largest source of greenhouse gas pollution in the U.S. (Scientific America, August 7, 2008) The production of asphalt – a petroleum product – also creates carbon. As does the production of motor oil, tires, and on and on.”
…Alec Dubro writes in the latest issue of the Alt-Fuel bible, EVWorld. This surprised the heck out of me, as this publication is responsible for getting the hopes up of many a tech-geek car-guy. So when he goes on to propose;
“Without divine intervention – which seems to be the basis for most energy reduction schemes – there is simply no way to maintain both the atmosphere and personal transportation. Even if the population were frozen at its present level, even if economic growth stopped the sheer number of people wanting – and under the present regime, need – personal transportation makes any plan to reduce car pollution by increasing efficiency is futile. The personal automobile must be abandoned, and quickly.”
…this auto-town must stand up and take notice.
The fuel used to propel our vehicles is only one small part of the equation that is leading us to heat up our planet, divide and conquer our neighbourhoods, pave over invaluable agricultural land, and get morbidly obese at the same time. All these factors are being reinforced by our municipal infrastrucure priorities as well as the federal stimulus packages being touted both here in Canada and by our neighbours to the south.
Unless we realize that this treacherous path we’re strolling down will do nothing but delay the inevitable (whether we can turn this ship around this late in the game or not), our politicians will continue to feed the illusion that technology will save us. Society needs to come to the collective conclusion that we are not suffering from a lack of technology, but a lack of awareness and political leadership.
Until the electorate reaches this conclusion, our reactionary politicians, at every level, will continue to stoke the fire that technological advancements in hybrid and electric vehicles (and the infrastructure needed to run them) will save us.
It will not.