Thursday, 27 July 2017
So, the future is bright; the future is electric? The government announcement that by 2040 the petrolhead will be dead has garnered much comment over the last 24 hours, much of it based, quite rightly, on who is going to pay for it all. Well, who do you think? The government has no money of its own so this is yet another pesky green scheme whose targets will quietly be pushed further into the future and whose benefits may turn out to be minimal.
Nebulously linking that long-ago discredited 40,000 premature deaths to the use of fossil fuels for transport is just another project fear tactic. If you really want people to switch you need to pay them, not punish them. Introducing punitive taxation to now reverse previous government policy is showing too much of the stick and far too little carrot. With oil and gas more plentiful and thus cheaper than it has been for a long time, surely the shorter term answer is to continue to develop emission control.
But research into making safer oil-fuelled engines will stall if there is no future in it; the new gold rush will be battery technology and all the eggs will go into the single precarious basket of an all-electric world. I have no objection to electricity; indeed, I make my living from it. What bothers me is how ready those who lead us are to purchase new clothes for the emperor, without regard for the crowds who have to watch him parade in them.
Where, for a start, is all the ‘leccy’ going to come from? What if I don’t have a driveway and have to park my car on the roadside a hundred metres from where I live; how do I charge up? I can fill my tank in five minutes; what will the queues be like at the charging stations of the future? And will fast-charging affect battery life? Talking of battery life, there are studies that suggest the lifetime environmental cost of battery power may actually be more harmful than doing what we currently do. Has this been properly investigated before policies have been formulated? I very much doubt it.
Nobody knows the future, but we have survived the past; the devil we know. The taxes raised by selling petrol and diesel and by levying a road fund licence will vanish, so how will the government recoup lost revenues? Charging for road use, via traffic-strangling toll collection? Or by mileage, in which case how will this be monitored; trackers in every vehicle? Will our cars become part of the Internet of Things and if so with what consequences for individual liberty?
And sooner or later, you can guarantee it, somebody is going to claim that electric cars give you cancer. With more electricity around there will be more electromagnetic radiation. With more use of rare elements in batteries, more people will come into contact with materials never normally encountered before. What of those who make the batteries; what of those who dispose of them? Has anybody even thought of this?
No doubt all these obstacles and more will arise and be surmounted, but in just 23 years? That seems like a lifetime – in fact it is - if you are in the 18-24 group who will uncritically applaud this apparently planet-saving move. But in infrastructure spending terms this could put HS2 in the shade and that’s been hovering about for decades already and still nobody knows what, if any, real economic benefits it may bring. Are you sure you are ready to pay for all this, kids? Until I can see a saving, I’m sticking to diesel.