Pivotal to Olaf Sholtz’ recent election as German chancellor was climate change, enabling progressives to win large swaths of parliamentary seats from competing conservatives. With Angela Merkel departing, Germany, like the Netherlands and other EU countries, has a diverse range of political parties and perspectives from which to form coalitions, headlined by Social Democrats and Greens. Expect Germany to surge ahead in sustainable energy, zero-emission travel, and other investments in the future, perhaps even hydrogen aircraft. Electric vehicle (EV) shares of the auto market are already soaring in the EU. In Germany, it could reach 90% by 2040. In the U.S., however, where suspension of reason tends to inhibit moral convictions and responses to crises, getting companies to make EVs, let alone Americans to buy them, takes subsidies. Without financial incentives, concerns about biodiversity and protecting the planet will only get traction where tornadoes and hurricanes, flooding rains, killing heat waves and wildfires are most devastating. As a bridge to expanding mass transit and weaning us from gasoline and oil, EVs are a significant component of Congress’ Reconciliation Bill, beginning (in earnest) our long-delayed, now critically urgent transition from fossil fuels to clean, safe, more affordable renewable energy.
EVs aren’t technological newcomers. In 1828, Hungarian physicist (and priest) Anyos Jedlik invented a prototype direct-current electric motor and installed it in a workable tabletop car, using the model to demonstrate potentials for full-scale locomotion. Two decades after French physicist Gaston Plante constructed the first rechargeable battery sin 1859, Gustave Trouve, a Parisian electrical engineer, created the first roadworthy EV by fitting an electric motor and rechargeable battery into a man-sized three-wheeler. Electric cars, co-evolving alongside steam and internal combustion engines, reached their zenith in popularity at the dawn of the 20th century. In Belgium in the 1890s, EVs not only sold commercially but reached speeds topping 60 miles per hour. By 1900, 38% of cars driven in America were electrically powered, 40% were steam; 28% internal combustion.
Spared the glue factory, my great grandfather bought broken-down trolley horses ─ hooves split by Yonkers cobblestone ─ and rehabilitated them on his farm in Franklin, CT. As crippling horse-drawn conveyances gradually disappeared, electrically powered streetcars replaced them. Then, corporate historians agree, General Motors conspired with Firestone, Philips and Standard Oil to replace trolley companies, most notably in LA, with pollution-belching bus lines and freeways. Between 1910 and the 1930s, despite Henry Ford’s advocacy for alcohol as fuel, cheap gasoline (16 cents/gal when I got my license) drove electric vehicles out of the market. With high-priced gasoline and lithium battery inventions, electric vehicles are again in vogue, simultaneously mitigating carbon emissions while feeding suburbia’s car addictions.
Oil deposits are finite; only a percentage can be extracted economically. The first Louisiana offshore oil well was sunk in 14 feet of water. Now, platforms and derricks anchor to wells over a mile deep. Over a million were active in the U.S. alone in 2017; another 1.2 million went dry. Despite horizontal drilling and shale oil giving the industry new life, “peak oil 2” is expected before 2035. After that, petroleum extraction will enter terminal decline. EVs, 4% of global car sales today, could rise to 70% market-share by then. Battery costs have dropped 97% since 1991 and charging stations have climbed from 5,070 to 118,264 since 2011. The Reconciliation Bill is critical to accelerating those trends, modernizing the grid; incentivizing EV-ownership. Having long-opposed climate change science, fossil fuel industries, snidely and powerful, now pretend to support carbon taxes and other solutions to global warming Congress won’t pass. Theirs is the echo of past lies about tobacco smoke, CFCs, PCBs, DDT, asbestos and leaded gasoline ─ lives readily sacrificed for profit and gain.
Scott Deshefy is a biologist, ecologist and two-time Green Party congressional candidate.