“Those who never retract their opinions love themselves more than they love truth.” — Joseph Joubert, French moralist and author of Pensées (Thoughts)
In these days of Internet echo chambers, writing an opinion column can be an exercise in frustration, doubly so if the subject at hand is as politically charged as climate change, or for the purposes of this column, the automobile’s contribution to it. Try to find some reasoned, practical, middle-of-the-road consensus — say, positing that not every car in the future need be battery-powered — and the Teslarati, for whom Elon Musk has almost become a deity, will brand you an ICE-worshiping troglodyte. Question whether every commuter from the suburbs needs a diesel-powered dually pickup truck for their traffic-jammed trudge downtown and you’re decried as a freedom-hating, left-leaning Libtard. And you don’t actually have to express an opinion to be accused of it: Posit, just for instance, that while carbon pricing may or may not be a good idea, the Trudeau government’s implementation is plainly poorly crafted and you are, if the commenters last week on Driving were any indication, the worst kind of climate change denier.
So, in the interest of clarity — which you should read as: “If I am going to be accused of offence, at least let the crime be real rather than imagined” — for all those who come to my columns for their daily exercise of intolerance, here, in bold, above-the-fold type, is Motor Mouth’s take on climate change, the future of the automobile and how to alter our behaviour.
The question of whether climate change exists would seem painfully straightforward. Is our planet warming? Plainly, yes. Are we humans responsible for some of that change? Equally affirmative.
Whether we are responsible for all of said temperature fluctuation — and here is where I suspect the chants of “see, I told you he was a climate change denier” will spring anew — is at least questionable. Simply put, denying the possibility of cyclical temperature change is as stupid as positing that humans aren’t contributing to the problem. In the end, though, it actually doesn’t matter. Occam’s Razor — which I interpret to always counsel the most cautious as well as the simplest alternative — would seem to dictate that erring on the side of mindfulness, i.e., reducing our carbon footprint, is always the wisest way forward.
The question, then, is how much and how fast must our carbon reductions be. Therein, my friends, lies the rub. You see, while scientists are extremely precise in their analysis of current situations — hence the environmentalists’ “you can’t ignore the science” refrain — they are remarkably poor at predicting its consequences. For instance, scientists equally capable as today’s once trumpeted a “peak oil” shortage of cataclysmic proportions. Fast forward a quarter century and the news out of Oak Ridge National Library is that oil reserves have increased some 136 per cent in the last 30 years.
Social scientists were once equally adamant that overpopulation would lead to worldwide food shortages. Instead, mankind’s biggest food problem seems to be too much of the stuff — obesity, according to a recent report by the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation, is now killing more people than either smoking or traffic accidents. Food wastage, not shortage, is now the more pressing issue. Can you imagine, just for a moment, if we had enacted policies — like China’s disastrous one-child dictate — based on those Malthusian predictions?
So, do I think that we are contributing to global warming? Absolutely. Do I agree with predictions that, unless we eliminate all internal combustion engines from our motor vehicles in the next two weeks, our planet is doomed? Not so much.
The future, whether climate deniers like it or not, is plainly electrified. The question really is how electrified — as in fully, partially, or using a recently coined term, “mildly” — and when.
The part of this equation I don’t understand — what’s plainly offensive — is why EV advocates so vociferously insist battery-power, à la Tesla, is the only possible solution. BEVs obviously have their use. They are an ideal choice as second cars in a family, for those whose driving seldom takes them beyond a certain distance, and for all those vehicles — taxis, buses, delivery trucks, etc. — that seldom venture beyond city limits.
But for truckers, long-distance warriors and those like me, who find it impossible to plan each and every trip based on the refuelling needs of their car, a hydrogen-powered fuel-cell electric vehicle (FCEV) makes much more sense. Indeed, while the near-term future may be best served by plug-in hybrids (I’m partial to Mitsubishi’s Outlander), some time in the future — and don’t ask me when; my crystal ball is no more accurate than those idiot scientists predicting climate Armageddon — automobiles will be fully electrified, split between BEVs, FCEVs and, I suspect in a majority of cases, some form of battery/hydrogen hybrid.
Incentives, rebates, or whatever you want to call them have their short-term uses, but eventually, they just become market-distorting nuisances. The question, then, is not whether to incentivize good behaviour — never a bad idea — but for how long.
In simple terms, I think the EV rebate is well past its due date. Plainly stated, if they are now so good, so cheap to operate and so much fun to drive, then they should also be able to sell on their own merits, no incentives needed. And if, after all this time, they do still need incentivizing, then perhaps they are not the answer — at least, not immediately — to our problems. Advocates pointing to the growth in EV market share in jurisdictions offering rebates are simply mistaking consumers’ love of a bargain for actual conversion — I suspect you could probably sell quite a few coal-powered cars if Kathleen Wynne was putting $13,000 in their trunks.
On the other hand — and now I am going to risk the ire of the conservative extremes — I do think some form of carbon pricing is necessary. Citing Occam’s caution once again, we’re simply consuming too much fossil fuel, and with populations growing, we can’t all afford to drive gas-guzzling pickups. For the last 20 years, we North Americans have used every single internal combustion efficiency improvement as an excuse to buy ever bigger vehicles. It has to stop.
Of the two commonly proposed solutions — carbon taxing and cap-and-trade — I believe the former more effective simply because, while carbon taxing guarantees specific pricing, cap-and-trade promises specific reductions. With a straight carbon tax, there’s no guarantee that modest price increases will change our driving behaviour. Indeed, what is so infuriating about Justin Trudeau’s latest virtue signalling is thinking that two cents a year is going to get anyone out of their F-150s.
Sooner or later, our government — all governments — will have to have the courage of their convictions and implement a carbon pricing policy that actually makes a difference. And, for all those conservatives thinking me a traitor to the ICE cause, understand that, while being allowed to pay for the privilege of driving a piston engine may seem a compromise too far, it’s still a damned sight better than the complete bans being proposed by governments around the world.
And finally …
Most importantly, we all have to acknowledge that our individual particular automotive needs and wants are not everyone else’s. Even those who decry Elon Musk’s behaviour have to acknowledge that Tesla has changed the automotive marketplace forever. Teslarati, meanwhile, have to admit that Musk is as flawed a messiah as Donald Trump. BEV advocates have to get over their self-centred conviction that batteries are the only electric solution the automotive world needs. FCEV proponents will have to have the courage of conviction that Musk did and stop waiting for the government to build their infrastructure for them. And we may all have to accept that — gilets jaunes notwithstanding — paying more for our gas may be better for us all in the long run.
All that conviviality aside, Justin Trudeau is still the prince, once kissed, turned to toad.