Now that I've got the undivided attention of both the pro- and the anti-electric cars crowds, let's get cooking.
I grew up in the small town of Notodden. As a kid, you normally ended up in one of three crowds: The petrolheads, the jocks, or the nerds. As a flimsy boy scout who played a lot of computer and role-playing games, it’s pretty obvious that I was quickly labeled a nerd. I had a few jock friends, but the petrolheads never really appealed to me in any way, shape or form. It’s a very prominent group of people in my home town, though, and the sub-culture most Norwegians associate with it. Not surprising, since they staged a damn riot back in 2007 when a section of the road they drive back and forth on was closed down. Documentary crews have also visited Notodden in numbers to poke their investigative sticks at the phenomenon.
When I left the city at the age of 18 to do my year of mandatory military service, I lost all touch with the petrolheads. But when I re-joined Facebook in 2016, I got another look at what was going on in that alternate universe. They share all kinds of - what’s the best way of put this - interesting stories. It’s often political material that doesn’t sit too well with my world view, and everything they come across that put their number one enemy, the electric car, in a bad light. Some of the articles are, interestingly enough, shared by my junior high science teacher.
One of the articles was a five year old interview with one Paul Rosenquist. I’ve never heard of him before I read the interview, but I assume most petrolheads know who he is. And old man Rosenquist certainly doesn’t like electric cars.
Rosenquist and Batteries
Rosenquist’s main problem with electric cars is the batteries. He argues that there has been no scientific progress in the battery field since the late 1800s, thus making them a dead end in terms of energy storage. The lithium-ion batteries in my cellphone and laptop beg to differ, though. Research on this battery technology has mainly happened during the last 40 years. It might be that I misunderstand what Rosenquist tries to convey, but to claim that nothing has happened with batteries for 150 years is preposterous.
That said, lithium-ion batteries aren’t exactly the ultimate form of energy storage. They are, like other battery types, affected by self-discharging, have a limited lifespan, and the charging capacity is reduced gradually during the battery’s lifetime. A better solution for vehicle energy storage would perhaps by fuels cells, but when asked about hydrogen powered vehicles, Rosenquist doesn’t make any attempt at discussing the technology. Instead he makes a joke about how icy it will get during the winter because of the H2O exhaust.
Rosenquist and Progress
To dismiss a technology because today’s version of it isn’t perfect is idiocy. Nothing is ever close to perfect on the first try, it takes a lot of iterations. Rosenquist’s own beloved car is a good example of that. There certainly has been a lot of progress from the first commercially available car to where we are today.
But the grumpy old man is right about one thing. Electric cars are not the holy grail of transportation. Producing an electric car, and the necessary batteries is a very polluting operation. The battery packs also have to be disposed of correctly at their end-of-life, which is a complicated affair. In many cases, electricity for the cars is produced using polluting sources, like oil, gas, and coal. But electric cars at least have the potential to run in 100% clean energy; electricity produced by solar panels, windmills, hydroelectric plants, or through some other form of clean, sustainable energy production. With fossil fuels, you have no such option.
In the end, electric cars have a lower lifetime carbon footprint than a car running on fossil fuels. It’s a step in the right direction towards proper zero-emission vehicles. And you can’t possibly argue against that.
Rosenquist and Hitler
It’s apparent in the interview that electric cars aren’t really Rosenquist’s main gripe. It’s the damn environmental hippies, and any attempt to take away his American gas-guzzler. He calls Al Gore “worse than Hitler”, and lashes out against catalytic converters, which he calls “a hoax, they do nothing”.
Rosenquist might know a lot about how batteries work. But when he comes across as a rambling lunatic it’s hard to take the man seriously. It’s interesting to observe that many of the people who are against anything that’s a touch environmentally friendly, are the people who won’t be around if the shit eventually hits the fan.
Maybe it’s just hard to let go of the smell of gasoline, and exhaust (both of which are toxic, by the way). Maybe it’s the lack of rumbling engine sound from electric cars. I don’t know what makes the electric car so horrifying for the petrolheads, but it sure is something that’s scaring them.
But the world moves on, with or without you, grease monkeys.