Sunday, May 5, 2013

COOL ARTICLE: "In Defense Of The Automobile" from BARRACUDA MAGAZINE

"In Defense Of The Automobile"

There’s a disturbing trend afoot where the automobile is being demonized in the press and by environmental types as a scapegoat of the impending global warming crisis. The automobile is being unfairly portrayed as a foul, pollution-spewing dinosaur with no redeeming qualities that is the sole culprit behind global warming.

Lay off the automobile, ingrates! It doesn’t deserve to be vilified in this way. The automobile is one of the greatest inventions of the last 100 years. The automobile has literally powered cultural, social and economic change in this country. Every single person in this country has benefited and continues to benefit from the personal mobility that the automobile provides. So let’s not take it for granted and don’t act like the internal combustion engine and fossil fuels haven’t made your life better.

Aside from obviously providing an incredible amount of mobility to us on a daily basis, with any halfway decent used car and not too much money, any resident of the U.S. is capable of personally relocating to anywhere in the contiguous 48 states within one week. Imagine your employment prospects if you didn’t live in a big city and were limited only to the jobs that were available within 15 minutes of your home.

Before the advent of the car, Americans were either stuck in urbanized areas or isolated on a farm in outlying rural areas. Most Americans died within 25 miles of the place where they were born. Let us not underestimate the effect that this kind of isolation had on hindering everything from the free exchange of new ideas to commerce.

Fossil fuel automotion does more than get us to work in the morning. (Although many of us go to work to create the goods, services and technology that we all take for granted.) It powers trucks, trains, airplanes and cargo ships. These all make it possible for goods and services to be transported nationwide and globally in relatively short periods of time.

This equals an increase in commerce and affordable goods, which contributes to a healthy economy and technological advancement. Most shortages of vital goods and supplies around the world are caused not by a lack of production, but by a lack of distribution, which is dependent on transportation.

As Henry Ford once said, “It is not prosperity that makes the automobile, so much as it is the automobile that makes prosperity. It gives momentum and diversity to the people’s activity which tends constantly to increase and is most difficult to stop.”

The Myth of “Clean” Transportation and The Economics of Ecological Smugness

The demonization of the automobile shows not just an appalling lack of appreciation for what the automobile has done for this country historically, it also overstates the feasibility and cleanliness of the current alternatives.

A recent issue of EVolution Magazine told the story of an electric vehicle owner named Kris, who managed to drive an EV across the country. (This was all with the aid of charging stations specially set up just for him, of course. GM’s EV1 has a relatively short range before needing to be recharged for five or six hours.)

EVolution told of the driver’s stop at the Grand Canyon, where the National Park Service is considering a ban on internal combustion vehicles because of pollution problems. The magazine crowed, “He drove to the canyon rim knowing his vehicle shared no blame for fouling this natural wonder. ‘It’s good to know you’re the only one whose car is not polluting the air,’ [Kris] says.”

This example shows the condescending attitude and oversimplified understanding of ecological problems shared by many armchair ecological do-gooders. They are quick to point a finger at internal combustion cars while holding themselves completely blameless for contributions to pollution and global warming simply because they drive an EV.

Contrary to popular belief, electricity is not “clean.” EVs absolutely do generate exhaust gases that contribute to global warming, you just don’t see the emissions coming out of a tailpipe.

Where does the electricity to charge the batteries in EVs come from? The majority of electricity in this country is generated by burning coal, which happens to be a fossil fuel, which happens to have emissions that contribute to pollution and global warming.

So, the exhaust gases generated to make an EV run are simply shifted to some far-away smokestack at a generating plant, rather than out of a tailpipe on the car. This is not a case of clean transportation, it is a case of out of sight, out of mind.

An argument can clearly be made that electricity generated at a plant is a cleaner and a more efficient use of the potential energy of a fossil fuel than gas burned in a car’s engine. But, does that make our cross-country EV driver completely blameless, as he would like to believe? Does that make an EV truly a zero emissions car? Hardly.

Consider an EV’s exhaust gas contributions, very specifically, solely in terms of the emissions generated by a daily commute. If we compare those emissions to a similar internal combustion-powered commuter, yes, an EV is contributing less exhaust gases to the atmosphere. But that is much different from saying there are no emissions whatsoever. (And all of this assumes that these commutes are taking place over relatively short distances in an urbanized area — the only place where EVs are practical.)

However, if you want to address the issue of exhaust gases seriously, and in terms of whether the EV driver in our example can back up his claim of absolutely un-sullied ecological karma, the equation gets much more complicated.

Excerpted from Barracuda issue #09.


Oscar said...

Can't argue with that.

Albie The Good said...

OSCAR: Indeed... cars are cool. :)