Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Atlas Will Shrug

Between an anonymous antagonist and an article I was reading just recently, I couldn't help but go back to battery power once again. My antagonist tells me that anybody in support of battery power as a primary "fuel" source is foolish and doesn't know what a car is supposed to do. He/she tells me that batteries are way too much of a hassle. I mean, of COURSE a car should continue to burn away precious and limited resources.

As I replied to my antagonist, of course an electric vehicle couldn't possibly do everything that we can do with a combustion engine. But, who really needs the same amount of horsepower it takes to tow our boats and trailers on a day-to-day basis? Many of these diesel truck owners already rely on more fuel efficient cars for everyday business, however, and that's where the electric system comes it.

As for his/her remark about "who really likes using batteries?" or something to that extent, who wouldn't favor batteries in light of how much money they save? If there's one reliable fact in society right now, it's that the general population likes money. Who can blame 'em?

This bizarre hostility to the whole "green solutions" ideal is everywhere. A lot of people lose interest when I start going off on a Green tangent. They usually either don't care or are openly against it, though when I try to find out why, I get "I just don't know enough about it." Since when is this an excuse? I also get this response, interestingly though completely unrelated, when I talk about voting for Ron Paul ;)

I've been reading a book lately that, as far as I've gotten, discusses this attitude people have. It's called "Atlas Shrugged" by Ayn Rand. Brief explanation of the 1/5 or so I've read:

Taggart Transcontinental is the leading railroad system in the nation. It's officially run by James Taggart, though all the real work and planning is usually accomplished by his sister and Vice President Dagny Taggart. Their most important line is suffering and must be fixed in less than a year, and the necessary rebuild is not happening with James in charge. He's relying on an "old friend" for steel, and this old friend is not delivering. So, Dagny bets it all on an up-and-coming revolutionary in the steel industry, Henry Rearden, who's invented a metal much stronger and much lighter than conventional steel.

So far, this story mirrors the current energy situation. There's a very clear problem: oil is limited and we need to find a way to break away from it now before we just run clean out and the world's economy crashes. There are actually several "Rearden metals" out there right now. Just pick up any recent issue of Popular Science and I'm sure you'll see at least one new proposal for an energy source of some kind. Many of them promise to be much more efficient than oil and at a fraction the cost.

How did the people react to Rearden metal in the story? With hostility. Rearden's accomplishment was seen as nothing more than greed and corruption. They started making and relying on false claims about his metal. They said that it would fail. The bridges would collapse and the rails wouldn't hold. They based these opinions on no actual scientific research. So, as my antagonist tries to tear apart my beloved dream of an electric society, I'd like to counter with only a small amount of research that shows that no invention is perfect the first time. Sure, the original EV-1 only drove 30 or so miles. What was the first combustion engine capable of? The later electric cars were starting to show potential 300 mile limits with lithium-ion batteries. So, let those few who want to put their faith in the car do so. There was already a greater demand than there was a supply for electric cars. In the face of such demand, innovations and improvements are sure to take place. Thankfully, other technologies (such as laptop computers) give us reason to continue to improve battery life so hopefully one day soon the electric car will come back.

The research I mentioned led me to an article about a group from Stanford who have increased the capacity of lithium-ion batteries tenfold. How about that? Could you stand a car that was only capable of driving 3,000 miles on a charge? I believe I've already mentioned Toshiba's SCiB batteries that charge 90% of the way in just 5 minutes as well, haven't I? If not, now you know.

People fight alternatives to the lifestyle they're used to living all the time, but why? Is this ridiculous fear of change really worth relying on a limited resource until it runs out and not having a back-up plan ready? The biggest problem is that people don't know what's going on around them. That, and they're afraid to put their hopes into one particular solution. They just think, "Sure, electric cars are a great dream, but the combustion engine already works. Why change it?" Sometimes it's absolutely necessary to practice other ideas. Times like now. Why are people content to wait for the oil to actually run out to solve the problem? It will be WAY too late by then. Our society will face a devastation that nobody could possibly imagine or predict. You can't just bring the world to a screeching halt and expect everything to be okay anyway.


Anonymous said...

You should check out the ZENN motor company here in Canada. They are building low-speed electric cars as we speak. The odd thing is, they are made for the American market and are legal in 43 states, but still illegal to drive in Canada. http://www.zenncars.com/