Motor Mouth: Why worshopping Greta Thunberg is counterproductive
|driving.ca 14 Feb 2020 at 06:20|
God save us all from First World guilt, that debilitating sense of entitlement that sees the reductive and hyper-sensitive trying to cow those less “‘woke” into compliant acquiescence. I’m talking rich politicians lamenting the inconvenient truths of global warming while consuming something like 20 times as much energy as the average American. Famous actors who conspicuously show up at Hollywood premieres in emission-free Teslas, only to insist on flying to every film location aboard private jets. And, of course, the ever-whining Joaquin Phoenix, who — after pleading his personal guilt at being “selfish,” “cruel,” and, this will surprise no one, “hard to work with,” at this year’s Oscars — announced that we should all stop “stealing” milk from baby cows just so we can “put it into our cereal and coffee.” Such is the sanctimony of the truly indulged: The world cannot be saved unless we forgo Natrel in our Nespressos.
Of course, the bazooka in the Loony Left’s armory is Greta Thunberg, climate change’s Joan of Arc. Invited to dine with potentates, speak before august governmental bodies and even, if speculation is to be believed, in line for a Nobel Prize, the 17-year-old environmental theologian has pretty much hijacked the entire climate change discussion.
Indeed, so wracked are Swedes now from Ms. Thunberg’s prognostications about eschewing modern aviation — she famously sailed to New York rather than take a plane — that they have taken to flight-shaming anyone daring to book a vacation not in their own backyard. Think that’s a joke? So common has the practice of guilting the jetset that the Swedes have given the practice a name — flygskam — and it has, according to the BBC, resulted in a decrease in air travel.
And that’s the problem with Ms. Thunberg’s dramatics; her followers really do mistake histrionic symbolism for actual policy. What once might have been a canary-in-a-coal-mine ploy to force the truly reactionary to the bargaining table is now seen as legitimate alternative. Mankind spent the last 300,000 years advancing to where we now have the freedom to travel across the Atlantic in mere hours. Thanks to Greta, millions seem to believe it perfectly practical that we turn the clock back to 1492 and take the Santa Maria instead.
And politicians are taking heed. I don’t think anyone here will mistake Boris Johnson, the UK’s newly elected prime minister, as progressive or particularly environmentally conscious. But he is, in the purest sense of the word, a true-blue, give-the-whiniest-voices-what-they-want populist. So, just last week, his Conservative government decided to advance Britain’s automobile electrification plan by five years to 2035.
Now, some might cheer his boldness, no matter the cynicism of his motivation. Anything to advance the cause, as it were. But Johnson’s trademark recklessness might yet be the electric vehicle’s Waterloo because, not only did the tousled hair one — seriously, it’s one thing to take political pointers from The Donald, but does he have to take grooming advice, too — propose banning traditional ICE-powered automobiles, but also hybrids. Yes, with any form of gasoline motivation forbidden and fuel cell vehicles all but stillborn, the only cars for sale in the UK come 2035 will be Elon Musk’s cherished battery-powered EVs.
To fans of the electric car, this may sound like Nirvana: The infernal-combustion engine will finally be no more. But what are the consequences of such a seemingly from-the-hip prognostication? How will the UK cope with such a radical transformation?
Well, besides the massive incentivization required to reach that ambitious goal, this is the most startling statistic the hyper-progressive climate changer will have to ignore: According to the UK’s current plan of being carbon-neutral by 2050 — which, considering the lifespan of the modern car, will be just about when the last petrol-fueled cars will be off the road — accommodating that many EVs will require some 25.3 million charging stations, both home and remote. That would, says the Telegraph, require installing some 4,000 new chargers — all, no doubt, with yet more government subsidization — every day for the next 30 years. I’ll leave it to you to try to contemplate the cost; my calculator doesn’t go that high.
More importantly, what if the rest of the world — Norway and the Netherlands have already promised earlier bans — were to follow suit? Exactly what does a completely battery-powered auto industry look like?
Motor Mouth: The hypocrisy of armchair environmentalism
Well, the first thing will be finding enough automakers to produce 80 million battery-powered cars. Champion Tesla’s recent success all you like, but just getting to 500,000 cars built a year has been a long, drawn out affair that sucked up untold billions in investments, loans and subsidies to get to — God help me, maybe I will buy TSLA at $800 a share — two incredible quarters of profitability.
But forget, as radical greenies do, the investment needed to produce so many EVs. Ignore even that sourcing that much lithium , as per Toyota , will be very difficult. The real calamity is that pushing for such early adoption might be the demise of legacy automakers.
Tesla survives mostly grace to the largesse of Wall Street which, thanks to low interest rates, has cash to burn and no place to put it. Besides, Tesla, as per Elon Musk’s telling, was never much concerned about profitability. Neither, judging by its recent pricing promises, is Rivian. Any shortfall in sales or profit margin is simply made up by scurrying back to investors.
Legacy automakers have no such luxury. Yes, both management and shareholders want them to modernize, but insist they do so while returning a healthy return on investment. EVs are loss leaders for both the near- and medium-term, so without the stock market bailing them out seemingly every second quarter, traditional automakers have no choice but to fund their electrification programs with the profits generated by selling traditional — that should be read gasoline-powered — automobiles. Listen to the automakers, and with the exception of Toyota and perhaps Volkswagen , no matter how committed they are to electrification, there’s no way they can generate enough profit selling ICEs for just the next 15 years to pay for the development of an all-BEV product portfolio.
So, who would benefit from this demise of the traditional automakers? Well, certainly the disruptors — Tesla and Rivian, et al — certainly stand to gain market share. But not even the most generous of wealthy hedge funds can come up with enough money to ramp up that much EV production that fast.
However, there is a huge, state-run economy out there that would love to step in, already has a plan to force its citizens to go all BEV, has no shame in tilting markets with corporate subsidization and also suffers from, shall we call it, a mild case of kleptocracy when it comes to acquiring the technology required to export its business. But, hey, who are we to say China shouldn’t have the lion’s share of the future’s automobile production?
Now I hear you already: Blaming Greta for China taking over the world’s car industry is a little too paranoid and polemic for you. Frankly, me too. But how is an air-head actor protesting that we all need to give up putting milk in our cereal and/or a teenaged activist promoting sailing as a viable alternative to air travel any less crazy?
That’s why I want to make this absolutely crystal clear: This rant — and that is certainly what it has turned into — is not about denying a need to reduce our carbon footprint. Electrification — be it battery, fuel-cell or PHEV-powered — will be a huge, if not overwhelming, motivator of future mobility. It certainly isn’t — as so many try to belittle — an old man’s fear of change: I can’t wait to drive the battery/fuel cell hybrid that I believe will be the ultimate salvation of the automotive industry. It is not even — and this to me is the saddest part of this story — because making prophets out of teenaged girls is positively medieval.
It’s because childish theatrics influence stupid politicians to make bad decisions. We need to do better.