There’s an old TV show that has been revived with new actors, and now carries on the story of the original, called Quantum Leap. Our hero time travels to the past and inhabits the life of a different person every episode. Of course, there are paradoxical complications in the whole concept. The person retakes possession of his own body and NOW what? Tell people “I didn’t do that; I was in some waiting room in the future!?”
Rubber room time.
Now imagine if you could actually go back in time and inhabit the life of someone back then only you’re just an observer. What would it be like? “Frustrating” certainly might apply.
So I am inside a columnist at The Daily Times near the turn of the previous century. He’s writing the latest edition of his advice column. The topic this time is a newfangled phenomenon: automobiles. The readers have written The Daily Times asking about these engineering marvels. Should they EVER buy a car? I am helpless as the critic I am inhabiting writes about horrible roads, several kinds of poorly refined fuel, how dangerous the fuel alone can be, how lead 6V batteries were heavy, bulky and filled with acid. He writes about bad accidents when the non-collapsible steering column killed the driver, the glass sans “safety” causes severe cuts to the passengers. The person I inhabit advises his readers to spend not one cent on these unreliable, dangerous toys. He recommends a horse.
With skepticism he adds that the infrastructure will never support these noisy, unreliable, brutes, and mention they have to drill and refine so much more than they do already if gas cars could ever come close to replacing horses. According to what they knew at the time he predicts; even if eventually they perfect refining, there never will be enough decent fuel. “They can’t even agree how to refine it.” He writes that cost of building suitable roads alone would drive government deep into debt, cause a depression. If companies build them tolls could be prohibitive, and those who displease the company not allowed to use them. Available materials are poor to very poor, harsh winters will destroy paved and dirt roads, make logs under the roads heave, spring will turn roads into impassible muck, erosion from spring runoff destroy the rest.
”If you MUST have such a toy get an electric. Perfectly suitable for around town, for the short distances.” He says, “Other than a very expensive toy, what do you need a car for? Why not a covered wagon, horse and buggy? They were good enough for my parents!” Then he adds the words of a transportation expert during his time, owner of the oldest personal transportation company in America: JM Studebaker.
“Gas-powered cars are clumsy, dangerous, noisy brutes that stink to high heaven and break down at the worst possible moments.”
I try to yell at him, “Studebaker will be out of the automotive business by 1966, in part because the industry got ahead of them until Fred Fish convinced the Studebakers to start building gas automobiles. Electrics will take time to refine, but roads will improve, gas refinement will get better. Regulation will make them safer, less noisy, less obnoxious.”
But he can’t hear me. I am just along for the ride.
More than 100 years later EV’s are farther down the road towards being a rational choice compared to gas cars back then. Indeed, for some who want a second car they could be rational, depending on the distance they must travel. The infrastructure is being upgraded and there are plenty of Teslas, Leafs, etc already on the road. Except in special situations, like floods, they are safe. So far the plants that power our houses and the many charge stations across the nation are not suffering due to load, despite predictions.
Yes, coal fired plants, nuclear, hydro will supply energy to charge them. So what? There are also wind and solar sources, though they are small in number by comparison. The argument around this is silly. It would be like saying horses will be overtaxed dragging gas cars out of the ditch, making up for limitations. And they did do that until roads and fuel refinement was improved.
Sure, lithium mining has problems, just like fracking does, and oil drilling does. Research and development of new types of batteries is important: batteries that are better, safer. Sure there are burned out EV’s like those caught in a Florida flood. Just like there are burned out gas cars. And there’s far more my wife and I have seen of the latter.
Armchair critics remind me of that fictional critic I inhabited, or JM Studebaker. They were right FOR THE TIME, but engineers and scientists were working on it then, as they are working on it now. Critics who are bogged down in the muck over past limits are missing higher mileage to recharge, many more charge stations, and a hell of a lot faster recharge times. They are like a stuck automobile being pulled by horses, thinking what was always will be. Time is passing them by as they sit by the side of the road ignoring how fast things are changing.
The lesson being change happens. If we work together, we can help direct change. But change will happen.
The electric car skeptic reminds me of what I wrote in this column in the 70’s about English teachers stuck on grammar and punctuation as it used to be, trying to stop changes. Innovation and syntax are always moving. They are like an unstoppable train heading into the future. Some insist on standing in the middle of the tracks trying to block the way. They stand there yelling, “STOP!!!”
And the train just keeps going. EV’s are here to stay. We can talk about making them better or get run over standing in the way.
“Inspection” is a column that has been written by Ken Carman for over 50 years. Inspection is dedicated to looking at odd angles, under all the rocks and into the unseen cracks and crevasses that constitute the issues and philosophical constructs of our day: places few think, or even dare, to venture.
Ken Carman and Cartenual Productions.
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