Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Electric Wheels

Although I try to keep this blog light, I do like to read about the world’s big issues now and again. You probably do as well. One of my favorite news topics these days is that of ‘modern electric vehicles’. This issue has a fascinating history woven together with nice blend of economics, politics, and lots and lots of science. I'm going to tell you a bit about it today. First, here are Kate and Lib in our fun little gas-guzzling Suzuki.
Contrast that with these two younger (and more environmentally aware) ladies in a battery-powered vehicle: the ‘Fisher-Price Power Wheels Barbie Jammin' Jeep’.
Americans spend something like 500 billion dollars yearly on the importation of oil from other countries. You and I, and pretty much all Canadians, Australians, and Europeans also behave in this manner. Sadly, we promptly burn our sweet purchase and have little to show for it at the end of the year except for debt and cancer. Oil producing countries, on the other hand, certainly don’t burn our money. They build ‘palm islands’ and ‘km-high buildings’ and I suppose they probably buy up assets all over the world. I would be buying North American real estate now while it’s cheap.

For those that consider this situation a problem, and many wise people do, the most obvious solution to an undesired ‘oil dependence’ is an overhaul of vehicle technology. Many people do not realize that battery powered cars are not at all new. They were on the streets (what streets there were) a hundred years ago and have since simply gone extinct (Go ahead and Google it, along with Thomas Edison). Those of us with climate concerns will quickly point out that ultimately, a battery-powered car must run on energy most likely obtained from power-plant-burned coal – hardly carbon neutral. But this is not true everywhere (not in Ontario for example where we have The Falls and the nuclear reactors). It's good to see that clean (CO2 emission-free) electricity is not that uncommon anymore. But even where the electrical grid is ‘dirty’, driving on home-mined coal seems preferable, for economic reasons, to shipping foreign oil across the oceans.

So to the point: if economic, environmental, and health arguments all point to the benefits of ‘gasoline free’ transportation, and battery cars were invented 100 years ago, then why I am I unable to buy one today? Why, if there is a lithium battery in my cell phone, laptop, and even my golf cart, is my sweet lil’Suzie is always thirsty for more petrol? Of course, this is all changing. But the change is surprisingly slow given how fast some things change in the world today. Why the slow pace? Because no company with billions of dollars in active infrastructure (much of it probably borrowed) should be expected to begin producing something that will quickly outcompete its current line of products and make its expensive factories obsolete. That would be financially stupid.

So what is the simple solution? Your guess is as good as mine. Some tax money would certainly help. Actually, the truth is that it all seems to be working itself out while you and I sit and watch television. Isn't that convenient? I suppose my personal contribution can be this: when I can afford a ‘bigger, faster, and more spacious’ golf cart, I won’t hesitate to buy it. Until then, like I said, I enjoy reading about the topic. If you would like to read more about it: start with this article, or this one.

And on the bright side, even Ford is already taking care of some drivers (and for only about $500):