I suppose this is what passes for leadership these days:
France is set to ban the sale of any car that uses petrol or diesel fuel by 2040, in what the ecology minister called a “revolution”.
Nicolas Hulot announced the planned ban on fossil fuel vehicles as part of a renewed commitment to the Paris climate deal.
He said France planned to become carbon neutral by 2050.
Hybrid cars make up about 3.5% of the French market, with pure electric vehicles accounting for just 1.2%.
Firstly, a policy that will only come into force years after the government has left office should be ignored as a matter of course: it’s posturing, nothing more. It’s akin to the schoolkid who boasts he can do a double back-flip but not today, and tomorrow is a Saturday.
Secondly, the announcement implies that everything is on course for electric cars to eventually replace petrol or diesel cars, and all that’s needed is a government push to fund the infrastructure and overcome the inertia. Indeed, that’s what most people seem to think, that electric cars are inevitable and the only thing standing in the way of a wholesale switchover is the mindset of the public, hence the government should intervene to forcibly change it.
Nothing could be further from the truth. There are several massive hurdles to be overcome before electric cars will become widespread.
1. Where is the electricity going to come from? Charging a few thousand cars is one thing, millions is something else. Whatever energy is currently being expended by burning petrol will have to be generated as electricity, minus any efficiency gains. The current grid is woefully undersized to meet such a demand, probably by an order of magnitude when you consider peak loadings. We could build lots of nuclear plants, but the people who want electric cars don’t like them. Wind is never, ever going to generate much useful power and dependence on solar power requires a step-change in technology which I think will come, but we’re not there yet. Will we be there in 2040? I don’t know, and nor does anyone. Otherwise, we’ll have to build more gas-driven power stations. Will this be better or worse for the environment than the internal combustion engine? Nobody knows.
2. As I wrote here, the problem with electric cars is not so much their range but the charging times. Nobody is going to want to sit around for more than ten minutes waiting for their car to charge unless it’s overnight or while at work, but that seriously restricts the car’s use to regular, short journeys. To overcome this we need a step-change in battery or energy storage technology which isn’t even on the horizon yet. So that’s two technological step-changes we need by 2040.
3. Nobody has really looked at the environmental and economic costs of tens of millions of electric cars. The batteries are big, heavy, and expensive and contain nasty substances. They don’t last long, so how will they be disposed of? How much will they cost to replace? What effect will this have on the used value of the car? Electric cars require nickel, copper, and cobalt. Where do we get this from? Where are the mines? All these issues can be solved but only once the real costs and externalities are known and compared with the situation today. Right now nobody has a clue, but governments have picked a winner anyway. That rarely works out well. In their efforts to improve the quality of air in western cities, politicians might well be make the environment in the developing world worse, especially around the mines. Also, the upgrade of infrastructure to handle mass car charging is enormous. Thousands of miles of new copper cabling will have to be installed, but at what cost – both in cash and environmental terms? Apparently this is something governments think they can do – the same governments that can’t manage to install proper cladding on apartment blocks.
Some humility wouldn’t go amiss, would it? Slim chance of seeing any, though:
Mr Hulot, a veteran environmental campaigner, was appointed by new French President Emmanuel Macron. Mr Macron has openly criticised US environmental policy, urging Donald Trump to “make our planet great again”.
I don’t know if today’s politicians are so thick they believe the bullshit they come out with, or they’re simply adept at saying whatever their core voters want to hear. What amuses me is so many people think this immature posturing is leadership, and cheer it loudly.
Norway, which is the leader in the use of electric cars in Europe, wants to move to electric-only vehicles by 2025, as does the Netherlands. Both Germany and India have proposed similar measures with a target of 2030.
None of this will happen. The idiots who proposed it will either start lying about what they promised, or they’ll be turfed out of office.