Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Killing the Future

I recently saw the movie “Who Killed the Electric Car?” which provided a case study of how corruption, greed, and short-sightedness can sabotage the future. In the mid-1990s, General Motors leased prototypes of a car which ran on batteries that could be charged in the home or in special charging stations. Although they had a somewhat limited range, their performance matched that of cars running on gas. The cars were built in response to emissions regulations passed in California, which the automobile industry then helped to successfully repeal. When the regulations were defeated, the cars were scrapped. Meanwhile, more expensive and immature technologies started to be promoted, primary among them: hydrogen fuel cells.

When cheap oil starts to run out, electricity (hopefully using renewable sources such as wind and solar) may have to be used for transportation, and electric cars may be required. From this perspective, shelving the technology is a very bad idea. But car companies (like the oil companies) expect to make much more money as oil gets expensive, which makes them inclined to promote the current technologies and squelch any replacements that could come on line before oil costs too much even for them.

Government is supposed to promote the common good, but especially in the last six years it has been co-opted by industry. In the Bush administration’s rush to privatize everything, meeting the financial bottom line has trumped responsibility for people’s future. If the optimization of financial wealth reliably translated into good for the majority of people, this might not be a bad thing; but the evidence is overwhelming that this is not the case. In fact, the objectifying of people that business does all the time often leads to great harm. If we are going to give business the power of government, it must act with the conscience of government: serving people first, and being held accountable to them.

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