Friday, September 24, 2010

why I killed the electric car (that's right... it was ME)

I am extremely suspicious of electric cars, and never more so than when I recently watched the commercial for the new Nissan Leaf. In it, a depressed polar bear migrated to suburbia to give a big thank-you hug to some yuppie. The implication being, I suppose, that all the wild things are just tickled silly about Nissan's Automotive Creation, a creation which--if only we buy enough of them--will stop the polar ice caps from melting.

The problems with this theory are multiplicitous. Even if I could ignore the offensiveness of the fact that some advertizing schmooze in Los Angeles thought I would be oblivious to the sad irony of splicing together National Geographic footage of wild bears with shots of a captive, “trained” polar bear being man-handled into unnatural settings to market yet another “eco-friendly” product, the metaphorical fur on my neck is still standing straight up. 


I suppose it wouldn’t be so annoying if I really believed in the world-saving efficacy of the Nissan Leaf, but here is where my suspicion really kicks in: See, whenever anyone starts jumping up and down and screaming wild-eyed about how electric cars are the New Messiah because they use less gasoline, I start to wonder, “well, yeah… but where does the electricity come from?”

Not one to wonder for long when I have an abbreviated, probably-somewhat-inaccurate answer at my fingertips, I googled “sources of electricity in the US” and found that according to a 2009 study, 44.9% of the power in this country comes from coal.

This is fine if you like the idea of scraping the top layer off the earth and running it and all the living things on it through a garburetor and then vomiting it back out into a big, unattractive pile whilst creating tons and tons of noxious fumes and poisonous by-products. But me, I’m a little too fond of clean mountains with their tops on to go in for that sort of thing.

Our next main source of energy at 23.4% is Natural Gas; which, although it has “natural” in the title and is apparently less nasty than petroleum, is still pretty nasty stuff.

And how about nuclear? At 20.3% of our power generation, we are getting a lot of electron-juice by micro-slicing nature, and even though I’m not too fond of the idea that I live fairly close to another potential Chernobyl, nuclear power is pretty clean, right? Well, yeah… if you don’t care about your grandkids and all the still-toxic-for-another-bajillion-years radioactive waste that we’re forcing them to deal with, or the way the ecology of our waterways gets majorly disrupted by the massive amounts of water that nuclear power plants siphon off for cooling and then return to the ecosystem, super-heated and essentially dead.

That, of course, has nothing on the water-killing, ecosystem-destroying capacity of our next-most-prevalent power source (hydroelectric) – but who cares, right? It’s not like we need intact, living, healthy waterways to live. It’s not as though biodiversity is worthwhile for anything other than a little voyeuristic pleasure for a few hummer-driving yuppie kayakers, is it? I mean, geez, if we weren’t designed to find creative new ways to screw with the natural course of things, then what in God’s name are our brains for!?!

But even though I’m angry and cynical about how we have created almost all of our electric power with methods that seem expressly orchestrated to give a big middle finger to the health of the world I like to call home, it can still be argued fairly easily that the problem is not the electric car, but rather our methods of electricity production. If we simultaneously change those methods and develop the electric car, we’ll all come out better in the end, right?

Well, in a word: NO; because our problem goes much deeper than what type of car we drive or how we choose to power it. The problem, as always, lies right down in the core of things – deep down in the human heart. The problem is that we don’t care about the earth that sustains us. We don’t care about our grandchildren, or the people who live downstream. We are, in short, arrogant, selfish, narrow-minded and unloving people who are standing around peeing in the waterways, just because we like the sound it makes.

This makes NO sense, and nothing significant will change until we change our hearts - until we stop thinking that convenience is tantamount to survival. Until that happens, the electric car will be nothing more than another way to trick ourselves into a nice, warm, deluded sense of superiority.

--

Author’s Note: while mulling over the electric car, I came across a particularly apt quote by Wendell Berry:

“ The basic cause of the energy crisis is not scarcity: it is moral ignorance and weakness of character. We don’t know how to use energy or what to use if for. And we cannot restrain ourselves. Our time is characterized as much by the abuse and waste of human energy as it is by the abuse and waste of fossil fuel energy.”

2 comments:

  1. I totally agree Josh ... but I'm wondering about the political ramifications of relying on oil? Those ramifications seem to me to be a little worse than the political ramifications of coal ... I reckon that the real reason that people started making the electric car is because we're running out of oil, not because they care about the earth. Anyway. Maybe the upshot is to use less, and what I use, use it carefully and consider the source? Cars in general kill the earth, surely, but I gotta say I have WAY more contempt for the ubiquitous SUV than I do the electric car. The SUV, over here, gets a tax break because farmers use it ... but where I live there are no farms and A LOT of SUVs. That's the car I have it in for. :)
    S.

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  2. Yeah... I almost, almost, ALMOST went into the political end of things but then didn't for two reasons. First, I make it my business to know as little about politics as possible (I've heard it causes bed bugs) and second, it is sort of besides the point, as you've... er... "pointed" out, Jonathan.

    "Use less, and what I use, use it carefully and consider the source."

    Couldn't have said it better myself. Our default "solution" to problems so big that they don't have solutions is to do nothing, but it is our thousands of little inactions that make our billions of little destructions possible. Baby steps.

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