OPINION: So Californians think it would be so nice if all vehicles were electric?

Electric Vehicle Source: Google Images

IT has always puzzled me why people who campaign most loudly for change are not quite so keen when the change manifests itself on their doorsteps. The phenomenon has a name. It’s called Not in My Backyard Syndrome, or NIMBYS (someone who protests on these grounds, is called a Nimby).

For example, a Green Nimby will protest loudly when a forest of giant wind generators is erected near their homes in the countryside or very bright LED street lights are installed on their streets.

These days there are lot of Nimbies around. Most are well off. They are seldom found among the poor. But Nimbyism is actually a new word for an old phenomenon. All politicians suffer from it. The more extreme and revolutionary they are, the more virulent the Nimbyism infection once they are in power.

Check where such types send their children to school. Is it to the local State run primary school? Or, do they send their older children to the local State school? Neither. You can bet your shirt on nine out of ten times it is to the best private school available. The higher up the political tree the parents roost the fancier the school.

The same thing seems to apply to lifestyle. However much a revolutionary complains about the rich, once he or she is in power, it is their rich opponents they most closely resemble and imitate—down to the cars they drive, the way they dress and the houses they seek to buy in the suburbs.

Examples are not restricted to South Africa or indeed Africa. It is widespread around the globe, even in advanced countries. In the 1970s a well-known and powerful British trade union leader called Vic Feather (until he was ennobled as Lord Feather) had one of the best private collections of French oil paintings, including a couple of Van Goughs. One Van Gough painting on sale usually sells for tens of millions of US dollars. Not bad for someone who made a career out of protecting and promoting the rights of the workers.

The ever-cynical British Working Class has a phrase to describe this kind of political leadership: “Pull up the ladder, I’m all right, Jack”, they say. They also put new words to the Communist anthem, “The Red Flag”. Instead of, “On Moscow’s walls, on Moscow’s walls, we’ll keep the Red Flag Flying!” they sing, “The Working Class, can kiss my Ar** I’ve got the Forman’s job at last! There are more words, but the point is made.

The British had their socialist revolution before other countries. It deteriorated into a bloody civil war which the revolutionaries won. Then, they made such a hash of governing that the people revolted again and re-installed a king. What had really peeved the masses was that when the revolutionary leader, Oliver Cromwell, died the revolutionaries had tried to install his son as a new king.

It seems to be a fact of life that successful revolutionaries tend to take on the privileges of the elite they fought so hard (on behalf of the people) to defeat. History shows Joseph Stalin behaving more like a Czar than a democrat when he took power in Russia; Mao Tse Tung living like an emperor once he got supreme power in China, and then, closer to home, Robert Mugabe who wound up using the State-owned Zimbabwe airline as his personal supermarket trolley whenever he and his wife felt like shopping in Singapore.

Quite often successful revolutionaries try to set up dynasties. Raul Castro succeeded his brother Fidel for a while, though that attempt to create dynastic in Cuba seems to have failed. Robert Mugabe tried to hand over to his young wife but that failed too.

But back to thoughts on revolutionary ideas, such as banishing emissions of carbon dioxide on the debatable grounds that the world will come to an end unless we do so. California is leading the Green charge so to speak and one of the things the politicians there have decided to set in stone is the target of having only-all electric cars on the streets by 2075.

Now, I don’t know how many cars there are in California but since the state has the fourth largest economy in the world by some estimates, I ventured to think it must be many millions. So I harnessed Google to find out if anyone had done the math, as they say in the US.

Bingo. It turns out that to make all vehicles electric within 20 years means getting rid of 26 million ordinary cars, five million trucks, and half a million diesel trucks. Add in vehicles from other states using California roads and the grand total is some 33 million vehicles.

It is a wonderful, not to say inspiring, Green vision of the future, although details of the plan are still a bit vague. What will emerge in the end is uncertain. Will nasty petrol engine cars and trucks be able to be traded in for electric ones at no cost to the owners? If not, which seems likely, will the new electric ones be sold on extra-low interest credit terms? No one yet knows.

As you would imagine cynics have done the math. They have come up with a couple of snags that will have to be overcome first before emission-free vehicles can glide forth on California freeways. The couple of snags are the usual suspects, the batteries needed and the source of the electricity needed to charge all those 33 million vehicles.

The opinions for electricity supply are coal-fired power stations, nuclear power stations, wind farms, photovoltaic panels, and (not yet available fusion powered electricity). And most of all getting such power to points as convenient as today’s ubiquitous petrol and diesel service stations.

One must assume California cars will not be allowed to be powered by nuclear generators. Fusion has yet to be out of the laboratory, so it will be up to wind and solar. Assuming the ancient California grid is fixed and power points are scattered among the highways and byways and garages of those who have them, the question is whether wind and solar will be able to fill the gap.

Certainly there are going to have to be far, far more of both. Some estimates say the grid and the sources of power will have to double. That is going to costs gazillions.

Then there is the small matter of when electric vehicles will want to charge up. Logic says it will mostly be at night when solar does not work, so that means either back up petroleum-powered generators or batteries capable of storing vast amounts of power overnight. The same goes for wind generators who cannot so far operate at a nice regular speed because the wind blows lots or little, and in its own time.

There are of course many more things that will have to be sorted out but the snags concerning batteries will remain a huge obstacle to electric vehicles until something better comes along that does not use cobalt and lithium.

Again, I bow to people who can do the math. They say that there is simply not enough lithium and cobalt around to supply enough for 33 million electric vehicles in California.

I can recall wise men saying there would be no more copper available in my lifetime. I am still here and so are supplies of copper. And maybe there is some super battery invention lurking in the wings. Time will tell and California has kindly offered to be the laboratory.