Mitt Romney recently called the Chevrolet Volt an “idea whose time has not come.”
I agree with him. And since every issue in 2012 is ultimately a political issue, and I understand why some might think that coming out against the Volt is a losing strategy, I’m not so sure about that.
There are lots and lots of unanswered questions with electric and hybrid cars. To blindly accept the popular narrative that “green is good by definition” is a bit reactionary. And most of these questions lead naturally into questions about energy policy in general.
The most obvious point is that for the last 20+ years, the modern petroleum-fueled car runs so clean that it is essentially pollution-free (excluding the first 2-3 minutes after starting a cold motor, and even then they produce very little in the way of air pollution, especially compared to big diesel trucks that put all the black smoke and particulate matter into the air). So what problem are we fixing, exactly? If air quality is the goal, the car is not the problem.
Air quality is better than ever, even without electric or hybrid cars, at least in the United States, and in most of the world. For many years, the air around us has been getting cleaner, not dirtier.
Next, we should expect electric cars to increase electricity consumption, and electricity is mostly produced (in the U.S.) by burning coal. So, burn more coal, burn less gas, is that a good trade? I don’t know. Maybe it’s worse. Coal is bad, remember? Acid rain and all that?
Is it cheaper to burn more coal, with coal’s inherent disadvantages, especially since the EPA has declared war on electrical plants by driving up costs with insane levels of regulation? How much will these cars lower demand for oil? How long would it take, and how much would it cost, and who will pay for it, to build out an infrastructure of recharging stations? How can we safely dispose of the dangerous and environmenatlly-unfriendly batteries that power the cars? How “safe” is it to sit on top of 2000+ pounds of batteries when you get in an accident with a Dodge Durango?
But aren’t we running out of oil, you ask? Known as the “peak oil” theory, this is an arguable point of view, not a fact. Go argue about it with David Yergin, he knows a lot more about it than I. Like he says there:
Just in the years 2007 to 2009, for every barrel of oil produced in the world, 1.6 barrels of new reserves were added. […]
The idea of “proved reserves” of oil isn’t just a physical concept, accounting for a fixed amount in the “storehouse.” It’s also an economic concept: how much can be recovered at prevailing prices. And it’s a technological concept, because advances in technology take resources that were not physically accessible and turn them into recoverable reserves.
Maybe there are even some good answers to some of these questions, I don’t really know. And that is exactly the problem: we’ve been sold on an idea without vetting it. A very important, potentially very expensive idea. As a nation and a culture, we are awfully quick to assume everything is on the up-and-up, and if somebody – especially in government – tells us how great a thing is, we are too quick to believe it.
One gets the distinct feeling that the left hand doesn’t even know what the right hand is doing with “green energy”. Like sheep, we just see the marketing buzzword word “green” and we think warm, happy thoughts about puppies and rainbows. It just isn’t that simple.
We need a clear strategy for our national energy picture, and we sure don’t have one right now. And one of the primary goals should be near-total indpendence from foreign sources of oil, gas, and any other form of energy. We have abundant natural resources that are the envy of much of the world, and that could provide thousands of jobs and better national security, yet we act as if none of this really matters all that much. This is not very smart.
Products that truly save energy are wonderful and I’m happy to embrace them, as long as they survive because the consumer market demands them. This is the only sustainable way to sell any product or service: the consumer must see real value for their dollar. Is that the case with the Volt? How many people would buy them without the incentive created by a huge tax credit (paid for by you and I)? What does the taxpayer gain by subsidizing it? What evidence exists that these subsidies are worth it? Does it make sense to, on the one hand, have the EPA use pure insanity like “CO2 is toxic” to justify over-regulating and driving up the costs of electricity generation, and on the other hand, drive up demand for electricity which will drive up prices for the consumer? You can’t do both without risking shortages from both increasing demand and reducing supply. So, who’s up for brownouts in February in Minnesota?
My complaints are not about the idea of trying to change our behavior regarding energy usage. This can be a worthy goal, indeed. But using government coercion is the absolute worst way to do it. Try educating us and appealing to our adult selves. People respond better to respect than coercion. Even people like me, who always recycle and sometimes hesitate to throw things away because they just end up in a landfill somewhere. I’m on your side on this, to a point. I’m a sensible conservationist at heart, and don’t want to destroy the planet or waste money on silly things like green dreams that help nobody except the politicians and corporate cronies that stand to gain from green policies.
And in the big picture, that’s what green energy seems to be mainly about: crony capitalism, hip-deep in corruption and waste and designed more to line the pockets of politically-connected companies and individuals than to fix anything that regular people would ever notice or should care about. It has all the earmarks of a scam.
I’m fine with the idea of using less energy, for all kinds of sensible reasons. I’m not fine with being hectored and lectured and forced to subsidize crony capitalism and graft for little or no apparent gain.