More Harbingers

In the not too distant past DTW covered the matter of the slow end of the internal-combustion engine era. The matter comes up again… It’s not so bad really. In fact, it’s great.

Pedestrian street in the Nordrheinwestfalen: source
Pedestrian street in the Nordrheinwestfalen: source

This time the prompt for this article is a proposal by the German Green party to essentially do away with petrol and diesel engines by 2036. Their proposal is reported by Der Speigel. The alternative is to use electric cars and more buses and trains. In my earlier article I mentioned that certain north European and North American states were planning to be rid of ICE vehicles within forty years. I suggested that this figure was not a real target (40 years is too late) but a way of introducing a radical idea gradually. Every five years ten years would be lopped off the target.

Such is political discourse that the floating of an idea gives rise to developments and responses to the idea. I would guess the 40-year figure was a strategic gambit in a political process to make it possible for suggestions such as the Greens’ proposal. The Greens in Germany indeed have a bolder vision where the same goal is achieved in half the time.

Other green and green-sympathetic parties will be making similar suggestions and by this way the idea that we won’t be pouring unleaded or derv into a nozzle on the side of car will seem less and less strange. In fact, I feel petrol is a bit passé, much like tie-wearing and putting an apostrophe on ‘phone. Part of the article heartened me very much. The Greens won’t ban old cars. They expect them to simply fade away. Nobody banned the horse or the typewriter so people can still use them (this was typed on my Remington).

Obsolete but not forbidden: source
Obsolete but not forbidden: source

I must be one of the strangest slices of that part of society interested in cars. I think that a move away from the internal combustion engines is not a bad idea. I enjoy using trains and buses. I think that accommodating the private car has been a social and architectural disaster. At the same time I find car design of consuming interest (putting it mildly), a quite like driving under circumstances (imaginary ones, it seems) and I still hanker after some rather polluting old cars (one day, one day).

That the Greens don’t propose banning old cars means it will in all likelihood be possible for me to have an old car and use it a bit while clearing the roads of other commuters who spoil the fun. As I said elsewhere, the decline of the ICE might be the best thing ever for people who actually like cars and like to use them in the most enjoyable way.

The main hazard is that electric cars become sufficiently cheap and robust enough for the industry to replace one cluttering load of vehicles with another load of cluttering vehicles. What I really want is to drive my 604 or Trevi in roads as underpopulated as they were in 1955. With luck the Greens might help realise this vision.

 [I had a look at the travel blog where I sourced the photo. You won’t gain much insight on the city if you read the blog. Travel doesn’t always broaden the mind.]


Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

9 thoughts on “More Harbingers”

  1. Richard. Your thoughts and feelings are not foreign to me. Despite being a car addict, I’m not denying climate change and favour “green” ideas like banishing cars from city centres (or making them pay for going there), using public transportation and bicycles (which I do a lot myself) or organizing our lives in a way that requires less commuting (which I miserably fail at).

    I think that only a reasonable use of cars will make it possible to enjoy our hobby also in the future – that means preventing the ICE from being banned or forbidden completely, but, as you predict, it just fading away because there are better alternatives.

  2. Electric cars are the best option, but the public isn’t convinced yet and infrastructure isn’t completely there yet. It is really quite easy and possible to drive green: (1) make the contract switch to a provider of green electricity and (2) buy an electric car. The more people do this, the more incentive there is for providers of green electricity to invest. If the technology keeps evolving, by 2020 the only reason not to buy an electric car will be stupidity. All problems are resolved: “Wawawawa, It’s too expensive” => get a 2nd hand Renault Zoe “Wawawawa, I drive a lot” => get yourself a Tesla, they have a nice network of fastchargers. “Wawawawa, it’s bad for the environment” Electricity can be green and a battery can get recycled.

  3. It is a peculiar quirk of our current mindset as a society when replacing one set of resource hungry machines with another set of newer, slightly less resource hungry machines, is actively considered as being a solution. Such a piecemeal approach ignores a number of disparate yet related factors, not the least of which being the rampant consumption of resources in replacing an entire fleet of ICE cars with EVs stuffed with rare metals, and the currently carbon intensive electricity generation employed across the world. If we are to avoid a looming environmental catastrophe, as a society we are going to have to get used to the idea of doing a lot more with a lot less. That not only means deploying renewable energy sources as a matter of urgency, it also necessitates the wholesale reorganisation of our communities to recentralise civic resources, thus negating the need for car transport, and curtailing the rampant excesses of our consumer society. I have my doubts as to whether we have the stomach to curtail our appetites, to accept what would widely be regarded as wholesale individual disempowerment, without having such measures forcibly imposed upon us by desperation.

    1. Your point about re-organising towns and cities is salient. For all their problems, the pre-car city worked at so many levels, not least because it was based on energy scarcity. Everything was close together. I hope we can do other things along with implementing electric propulsion such as redensifying, ripping up carparks and stopping sububan sprawl. Can we do this? We will probably have it forced upon us.

    2. All of the anti-EV sentiment (about production, product lifecycle, recycling) has been proven wrong time after time in scientific studies. From my point of view rare metals are non-issue because they can be recycled. Anyway the use of rare metals in modern EV’s has been reduced dramatically. The truth is: we waste petrol, another scarse resource, at less than 30% efficiency in cars. Recycling petrol doesn’t work and dinosaurs are extinct.

      Green energy generation is not going to be a big worry: there is a lot of scientific progress happening. Don’t forget there is progress in both ways: products need less and less energy (smartphone vs. 1970 supercomputer) and at the same time green electricity generation is becoming cheaper and better (efficiency and cost of solar power today vs.1970s solar power).

      About the car-less city and suburbia: the truth is once you have a family you want a nice house with a little garden in a safe neighborhood outside of the city. This will remain to be the reality and isn’t a problem if the cars are green and intelligent (maybe even shared). Traffic jams will never be solved, but maybe become smaller thanks to networked intelligent vehicles.

      Don’t worry to much about cars being banned (except from historic centres). After all, our politicians have a car and will want to drive to the city hall or parliament! A congestion charge system is way more probable (and profitable).

      So from my point of view there is actually nothing to be worried about. Science is taking care of it!

  4. I recognised that unlovely street in Köln instantly. I fear that my father may have played a part in that bit of “Post-war town planning”…

    1. The thing with Koeln is that the details of the streets are unremarkable yet in aggregate they are very habitable. The blog I borrowed the image from manages to capture nothing of the city’s charm.

  5. I’ve always been of a pessimistic mindset, so my pessimism finds itself torn on the subject of cars. Is the future a dystopian world where the selfish use of cars continues, no-one really does anything about it and we all end up sitting in endless jams in our little cells, taking the odd boost from the inbulit oxygen cylinder? Or is the future a dystopian world where car use is massively prescribed and we are all pushed onto a public transport system that no-one has the will or money to improve and we end up sitting in gridlocked trains and buses on piss stained seats whilst the elite pass us by in their Tesla Limos?

    Either way, or any other way, I don’t share the belief that the recreational use of old ICE vehicles will be tolerated. To us it seems a harmless piece of self indulgence but, to current and future generations, I guess that my arguments in their favour will sound as convincing as those of, say, a libertarian arguing for the inalienable right to carry and use handguns sound to me.

    1. Economics might kill off the ICE without anyone writing a banning law. Horses aren’t banned. It’s a nuisance to own one. The same will happens to motor cars as the oil infrastructure winds down. The last cars in Europe will be in France and Germany. In outlying areas ICEs will be as common as Lamborghinis and race cars.

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