My blogosphere colleague Brandt Smith of Wealth and Wisdom commented on yesterday’s post on hybrids and electric cars in a way that intrigued me. He was responding to my belief that electric cars and hybrids are the only cars that have a future in our carbon-constrained world.
“Ahh, a topic for the engineer in me. . . . the biggest issue [with electric cars] is the charge time. It’s fine for most daily drivers. It falls short if you are going longer distances. This is an area where technology needs to catch up.”
I’m sure most people, engineers and otherwise, see it as Brandt sees it: cars are supposed to go long distances. Our cultural assumption is that engineers and technology will always let our cars go long distances — if not on gasoline, then on another fuel source like hydrogen fuel cells that we unthinkingly expect will give us what petroleum has given us: abundant travel.
But I see no evidence that assumption is based in reality. Hydrogen fuel cells, for instance, have been “twenty years away” for at least ten years now. Our emotional attachment to travel is clouding our thinking. Because we like to go long distances at will (and I admit I enjoy travel as much as anyone) we expect the energy sources in the world to support that preference. But that’s circular reasoning. It’s like a child saying, “I like ice cream, so the world has to arrange itself to deliver ice cream to me.” Don’t we need to scale our expectations from a more adult perspective?
I suggest rethinking our belief we are entitled to travel. I suggest that given the reality of current fuel sources and how they drive global warming, we learn to be happy staying closer to home.
I realize many will reject this idea, from the travel industry to the oil industry to engineers understandably excited by the challenge of developing new technologies. But I’d be interested to hear objections that are grounded in the reality of global warming, rather than driven by emotion-based desires to keep profits, industries and careers entrenched in the current status quo. The current status quo is a carbon-based economy and set of lifestyle expectations that are taking us over a cliff.