Sunday, September 7, 2014

New technology is not necessarily the best solution to problems that are caused old technology.

There is a lot of excitement these days, shared by those in the pro-green and high-tech enamored camps, about electric vehicles (EVs). In fact I just finished reading alaudatory article on Elon Musk's Giga Factory published on one of the very liberal websites if regularly peruse. The Giga Factory promises to manufacture high capacity batteries that will be much cheaper than those currently on the market. Among other things, the article extols the virtues of imposing "onerous taxes" on gas-powered vehicles. I'm all for onerous taxes on gas-powered vehicles, but I'm not so gung-ho on EVs, since they are still (and likely will continue to be for quite awhile) charged mostly by electricity generated from burning fossil fuels. Incidentally, high-tech batteries and the vehicles they power require rare earth elements. Going from gas powered vehicles to EVs will merely result in shifting our dependence from one limited resource to another. The advanced economies of the West, and particularly the United States, have an insatiable craving for limited resources that is largely behind so much of the international unrest we are seeing today.
Our salvation rests more in the reduction of our consumption of resources than in the "greening" of them. We should in every way make it economically attractive to reduce sprawl and use the revenues collected from the high taxes on all "non-green" and resource hungry activities to foster more compact, pedestrian friendly communities. We should approach gas powered vehicles as we did cigarettes. It was a good idea to impose onerous taxes on cigarettes, and it is a good idea to tax the hell out of gasoline and gas powered vehicles. Also fostering a social stigma against driving anything, whether it be fossil or electrically fueled, would be effective in reducing the consumption of resources, just as the stigma against smoking had a revolutionary effect on reducing the consumption of cigarettes.
More tech is not a solution to our largely tech-caused problems. The decision to not smoke, to maintain a healthy diet, and to exercise regularly probably plays a larger role in extending life into a healthy old age than any medical advancements made over the past several decades. In the same way, living closer to work, school, and the marketplace will reduce carbon emissions and the consumption of precious resources and make life in America much more enjoyable and accomplish these goals more effectively than any high-tech developments in electrical power storage. I would even go so far to say that such a reallocation of resources would make our society far less violent, since more compact, pedestrian-friendly communities would naturally nurture better emotional health by reducing the sense of alienation that so many of our citizens are prone to, an alienation from society which instills a terrible feeling of loneliness and self-loathing that causes so many of them to strike out violently against fellow citizens.
In a healthier society, I bet we wouldn't need to have many of the discussions we are currently having about gun control and mental health. In the broader context, a significant reduction in our consumption of resources would bring about a shrinking of the US economic and military presence around the globe that would likely reduce the level of resentment (and the terrorism that it engenders) felt by people of other nations towards the United States.

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