The Machine, EVs, and Catch 22


The Machine, EVs, and Catch 22

The Machine Stops is a short story written by E. M Forster in 1909. It describes a future world where humankind has become totally dependent on the eponymous “Machine” – and dependent to the extent that direct human intercourse is virtually unknown. Then, as the title suggests, the machine stops, and chaos ensues. I was reminded of this story, which is well worth a read, by the way, by a number of recent government initiatives over here. 

Like most people, here we depend on a number of fuel sources. Diesel for transport, yes, I know, destroying the planet all on my own, but check the science a little more closely before you light the bonfire, please. Electricity gives us light and makes all the gadgets and gismos that can be found in a 21st century urban home go. And gas for heating and cooking. 

So, almost axiomatically there is a certain amount of resilience in this multi-fuel arrangement. Who needs resilience? Well, me and, I suspect, most of my fellow citizens. We just had one of the worst storms in history with winds at 122 mph or more. Hundreds of thousands of my fellow citizens lost their electricity supply, in the worst case for 10 days or more. Fortunately, they could still drive and cook with gas, albeit by candlelight. If the government’s perfect future occurs, the machine would have truly stopped.

Volvo, who have been at the forefront of the drive to switch to electric by European manufacturers, have just published research that tells the rather unpalatable truth about just what’s green and what’s not. 

Their research shows that like for like, an EV would have to be used for 9 years before the EV becomes greener than the alternative. Now apparently cars last on average 11.4 years, so that’s a lot of extra pollution for a relatively small long-term gain. That’s without considering the unquantifiable environmental disaster that is lithium mining or the end-of-life battery disposal issues. 

There are lots of ways that ICE vehicles cold be made dramatically less environmentally damaging and indeed less dangerous, the trouble is they just wouldn’t be “sexy”. Perhaps it’s past time we started thinking about cars as tools, rather than libido enhancements devices?

I noticed that JVH wrote something on airports recently, saying how busy they were getting again. Not so here. Both Heathrow and Gatwick, London’s main airports still each have a terminal closed. Many airlines massively contracted their activities over the last two years, and some withdrew from the UK market completely. 

Airport car parks are notoriously stingy on space size and if I had hundreds of acres of currently unused parking lots, I would take the opportunity to re-stripe them to provide bays more suitable for today’s car sizes. It would mean a fewer spaces, but a whole lot better customer experience. Current thinking is that our airports are not going to get back to pre-covid levels of activity much before the end of the decade, so it’s not going to impact business.

Meanwhile, back to parking on private land. A few years ago, this was a matter strictly for civil law. If you are invited onto private land, think the local shopping mall, it’s a contractual arrangement between the parker and the owner. Pay £X for Y minutes, you get the idea. Trouble was there wasn’t any easy way to make the contract stick, so the government intervened, and generally made matters worse. Now they have intervened again to cap the parking penalties that site owners can charge non-compliant parkers. They have capped the penalty at £50, say $60. 

When I was younger than I am now it was a well-known ruse in London for travellers from Heathrow airport to park their cars outside tube stations with a direct line to the airport. The police would tow the vehicles and store them in secure compounds until the vehicle was reclaimed. The tow, fine and impound fees were a fraction of parking at the airport and your car was guarded by the police! I suspect that people are already looking at shopping malls near airports and doing the sums!

I think that this could only happen in Britain. 

• We are all going to change to electric vehicles, check.

• Businesses are encouraged to install chargers to attract the new breed of cars, check.

• Chargers are, of course, in car parks; check

• Private car parks have rules, such as maximum stay rules, see above.

• You charge your vehicle’s battery, but it takes longer than the maximum stay, you get a ticket.

I think that it’s called Catch 22?


Article contributed by:
Peter Guest
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