My partner and I were chatting about cars over the weekend–while stuck in tollbooth-snarled Bay Bridge traffic, as it so happened–and I got called to task for the negativity of my take on the matter.
A Smart Car passed us to the left; we both offered up a little bit of surprise, as we’d heard anecdotally that they were not recommended for freeway speeds. Traffic was moving at a chilled-syrup clip, so there was no problem in that regard. I’ve since learned through their website that the Smart Fortwo’s engine is electronically limited to a top speed of 90 mph, which just once again underscores the edict admonishing one to avoid believing everything that one hears.
Anyhow, my better half offered up that there seems to be some resurgence in the availability of smaller cars, not to mention a ramped-up rate of development of fuel train technologies over and beyond the standard-fare, gas-based, internal combustion engine. And, yes, he is correct, things do seem to be moving.
My comment–the one that sort of set him off on a mission to justifiably take me to manners school, and which I’ll explain below–was an observation on the collective stupidity of the otherwise, by all accounts, extremely intelligent human species; and how frustrating I found it to be that adequate information (particularly regarding petroleum supplies and climate) has been available for decades. Instead, we wait until our collective nards are caught in a vice grip upon whose handle the cosmos has given another quarter-revolution clockwise turn before we decide to do something.
“Okay,” he said, “refuse to let me enjoy the development. We’re all doomed.”
Yes. I’ll concede, and repeat: there are changes afoot in the arena of transportation. These changes are necessary, and they are good.
My gut tells me that we’re in for a period of increasing choice and also some unavoidable market instability over the next, oh, let’s say decade, give or take. It’ll be like the VHS vs. Beta marketplace showdown, only on a much larger scale of impact, and likely requiring a longer chunk of time to settle and to develop the requisite supporting infrastructure. Consider: one manufacturer is emphasising R&D efforts in new-generation diesel technology; another is reinvigorating its electric motor technology. One will be advancing its plug in hybrid efforts, yet another is gearing up for expanded hydrogen fuel cell application, and still another, astonishingly, has announced its intention to have its fleet completely off petroleum altogether within 10 years. A dark horse technological startup, but perhaps my personal favorite, is an engine that runs on compressed air.
Taking a look at the wide divergence represented by these technological paths, along with the fact that the oil industry itself is showing signs of deciphering the writing on the wall, big changes are afoot, which necessarily means that there will be some short to medium term instability.
If our next car may run on something other than gas, how close or how far will we need to travel to refuel? Can existing gas stations expand their infrastructure to include many, most, or all fueling options as they become available? Or will some hang back awaiting a sense for one of them to reveal itself as dominant in and preferred by the marketplace?
Yes. It is great, and necessary, and helpful, and exciting that these innovations are taking place. And it’s about friggin’ time.
Not at all intending to have rained on my guy’s parade, I am frustrated nonetheless. And I’m not yet prepared to let the auto industry off the hook. Nor our elected officials. Nor, frankly, us, the American consumer. Our collective intransigence has not served us well, and the very matter of our dragging our feet for so long forms the foundation for the frustration that I let loose.
For crying out loud: my parents were getting 40 miles per gallon with the early-US import Subarus that they were driving in the late 1970’s and early 80’s. I see a car ad on the tube, replete with voiceover all self-congratulatory about 32 mpg, and I want to heave a brick through the screen.
And I can’t help but recognize how I feel on the matter to be merely a different shade of the same color of frustration that caused me to go on hiatus from the environmental field to begin with.
Having entered it fresh out of school, young and eager, fired up and ready to go, it was empowering to start my day feeling as though I was making the world a better place. And then I’d continue to see it: our vehicles grew larger; our local greenspace would give away to one needless strip mall after another; arable, productive farmland would become consumed by flavorless McMansion sprawl.
It just didn’t seem like we were paying sufficient attention.
The data kept coming, and–was it through arrogance? ignorance? biblically-derived dominion over all of creation?–it just seemed as though we were consciously determined to head in a direction in willful defiance of all readily available indicators.
And somewhere along the way, my bright-eyed feeling of making the world a better place was crowded out by a Sisyphian sense that what I was doing was, at best, merely slowing the pace of things getting worse.
So–hooray for me!–I’m forced to confront the fact that the frustration that threw me off my game lingers. And, apparently, festers.
Mirrors are useful devices for directing the light of day to all manner of dark, hidden recesses.
I’m open to being proven wrong. To be made wiser. And of far greater value–and I’m certainly open to this, too–would be to reclaim a glass-is-half-full default reaction when I encounter and ponder the challenges that face us.
And quite possibly, and with luck, therein will lie the value and purpose of this nascent blogging exercise, as I dive in.