Whether you love it or hate it, it’s now well known that Europe has committed to the electric car being the only car within 20 years. Possibly within that time frame, or soon after, the richest segments of Asia will follow (Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong, and parts of China). North America, due to its size will take quite a while longer to reach that stage, but I believe it will happen.
At the moment, we seem quite far from countries filled with electric cars being the norm. Not only do we have to overcome public opinion, which rightfully criticizes the usefulness of modern electric cars for extended road use, disposal of hazardous batteries, crash safety, and poor infrastructure support, but we still have to develop cheaper, more functional electric car technology, and much faster charging stations (or an alternative like solar charging panels that can be formed to a car’s shape).
These will happen, of course, largely because of Europe’s commitment. What I mean is that, having the national commitments codified means industry now has the luxury of a single focus to their goals, rather than the three or even four directions they’ve currently been split between (petrol, diesel, electric, hybrid). In addition, car manufacturers will undoubtedly gain access to the lucrative government subsidies that aid the development of so-called ‘green’ technologies. Unfortunately, they can only develop as quickly as the support technologies such as charging stations and battery size/life.
There are many advantages to countries of electric cars. As someone who is primarily a cyclist and pedestrian, I welcome the cleaner emissions that mean I won’t be forced to inhale car exhaust during my bike rides. Electric cars are also quieter, which is a mixed blessing. On one hand, there’s less noise pollution. On the other, it will mean paying more attention at street crossings because it’s almost impossible to hear an electric car approaching. Arguably the largest benefit to moving toward electric cars, however, and the most world-changing, is the reduction of our dependence on fossil fuels from the Middle East.
The benefits of this don’t take much looking to see. We reduce our spending on foreign-sourced fuels and we reduce the funding of governments that support terrorism and have horrible human rights records all at the same time. But as Newton famously said, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Much of the Middle East is a chaotic, wild place and we do not know how the oil rich nations there will respond to the massive decrease in Western money coming in. Will they turn to selling oil cheap to developing nations? Will there be new waves of terrorism against the West? Will the regimes collapse to the point that Western values can grow? It’s too early to tell any of this and I won’t speculate here (although I do in some of my upcoming books).
And what of other parts of the world? The developing nations may well be stranded at that time, if they haven’t begun converting away from fossil fuels, because the car manufacturers, all in rich, developed nations, will have been forced to transition to the new norm. Of course, this does open up opportunities for both old and new car manufacturers in the developing nations, creating a global polarization with the new polluters being the developing nations. One wonders how the politically correct will react to that. Nevertheless, it will be a real and important divide. Especially important will be the role of the United Nations in managing this divide and finding ways to transition developing nations quickly and reasonably through the industrial state of their evolution.
Finally, at least for the discussion here, the commitment to electric cars pave the way for the wide-scale implementation of autodrive cars. Autos, as I’ve taken to calling them, have many challenges to their development including the technological, ethical, social, and political, of which I’ll be discussing more in another article. Governments, however, are almost certainly interested in their chief benefit, namely the potential for increased road safety. In fact, other than a totalitarian enforcement of purchasing habits, it’s most likely going to be insurance companies that drive the switch to Autos. As the saying goes, it doesn’t have to be perfect, just better than what we have now, and Autos should have a much better safety record than human driven vehicles since they should have much greater awareness of traffic and road conditions.
Of course, the reality of electric cars is not without it’s down side, and I’ve mentioned many of them in this article. One more I’ll add here is that, regardless of how good they turn out to be, it’s almost guaranteed they’ll be the next target of the green movement, most likely for the type of waste produced by their disposal. Still, I’m looking forward to a quieter, safer, cleaner future with cars. Nevermind the fact that I may not have to go through the terrors of drivers education training with my teen by then.
But where do you stand on electric cars? Are you loving the look of the future, or loathing the loss of the past? Let me know in the comments.