Last night I went on one of those YouTube walk-abouts that makes doing productive things like writing extraordinarily difficult. Some how, in the course of being damned to hell by thiests, poorly represented by outspoken athiests and completely baffled by scientology, I came across a surprising series of videos. Someone had ripped the documentary "Who Killed the Electric Car?" to YouTube in nine parts. The whole thing was astonishing and mesmerizing for a number of reasons.
YOU CAN BUY THE DOCUMENTARY OR JUST GET THE FACTS HERE
In 1996 GM's Saturn division released the EV1, leasing 800 of these vehicles to drivers in California in response to the state's tough environmental legislature. These cars were on the road, in the hands of a test-group of consumers. Honda, Ford, Nissan, Toyota and Chrysler all released electric cars during this brief period between 1996 and 2000. Today, these vehicles are conspicuously unavailable.
The primary focus of the film is the radical lengths that automakers and various other organizations went to not only terminate the EV1 program, but to essentially erase its existence from the American consciousness. The EV1s were reclaimed from their drivers by the GM company, in spite of many offers to purchase the vehicles and assume maintenance responsibilities. They were trucked to GM's proving grounds in Arizona and scrapped. GM, however, assures the public that they were recycled... I guess they just needed the material to make more Hummers.
The documentary delves fairly deep into the issue, figuring out how America's government and industries dropped the ball on what could have been one of the most significant social revolutions of the last 100 years (not to mention the crux of one of America's chief economic and environmental struggles for the next 50 years).
It's dumbfounding that our politicians can get behind podiums and preach non-reliance on foreign oil supplies, researching alternative fuels and environmental initiatives when the primary solution was proven viable more than ten years ago. It's a slap in the face. It's a lie. The technology exists and has existed in one form or another for the better part of a century. Enough verbal slight-of-hand.
In the New Hampshire Republican debates hosted by ABC, Rudy Giuliani made a strong case for reducing dependency on foreign oil production as a matter of national security. He suggested a program comparable to the one that put man on the moon. Guess what? Man's already been on the moon, now we just need to keep him there.
This leads me to something of a personal conundrum, in so far as my political views go. How do I reconcile my desire to see a zero emissions electric car on the market with my view of a free economy driven by market forces and a business owner's right to self-determination? I can't.
I believe that outlawing smoking in bars is wrong. It infringes on the rights of an establishment to determine its environment, and prevents American citizens from engaging in a perfectly legal activity in a public area. Where these ordnances have passed, the business owner has been robbed of the right to offer a specific atmosphere that appeals to a particular group of patrons. All this for the sake of public health and the betterment of America.
I can't argue that cigarettes aren't bad for people, but I cannot in turn approve of any legislation that saps the liberties of citizens to conduct themselves freely. I support the rights of businesses to ban smoking in their establishment if that's the environment they want to offer their customers.
So what does smoking in bars have to do with the electric car? Everything.
My support of the government's right, or rather the government's duty, to mandate that automobile manufacturers have to produce viable zero emissions electric cars stems from the same line of reasoning. The idea that the government can impose restrictions on the nature of the end product or service provided by a business is a slippery ethical slope.
I can make a thousand arguments for the forced production of electric cars, but in the end all I'm doing is playing nanny for a conscienceless industry built on profit margins. In the end though, I have to condone safeguarding the American people against fraud. That's what this is, it's fraud, we are being sold an inferior product at great expense to our environment, our finances and our national security. It's also a message to the American consumer from the American consumer, you're dumb.
If our government was serious about opposing Hugo Chavez, we'd build an electric car. If North Korea was serious about opposing the United States, so would they. Instead, we build Hummers so we can buy oil from nations with significant anti-American leanings and they build nukes to make us look bad when we don't send them food to feed their starving masses. Way to go everybody, let's have a nice slow sarcastic clap for humanity.
I guess what I learned from this documentary is something that I may have already suspected about myself, my ideology is not perfect. Sometimes it becomes necessary to prioritize your beliefs and let one fail so that the other, more important belief, might succeed.
Here's the first of the series of YouTube segments for "Who Killed the Electric Car?" Once again, I encourage you to buy this, and not steal it from the internet, since these people deserve to get back every dime they spent on their documentary. Once again, I will sacrifice one of my beliefs and say... the message of this film is more important than compensating the people who made it. Do what you think is right...
Update: I found this blog post on Oikos that tackles the economic benefit of fuel efficiency.
Oikos: Will fuel efficiency laws save motorists money?
Tuesday, January 8, 2008
Posted by Ryan Placchetti at 2:00 PM