This past weekend I watched Who Killed the Electric Car? (links: NetFlix, Wikipedia). And I'm having a hard time categorizing my thoughts, primarily because I have so many of them. I may have to break this up into multiple posts, so bear with me.
Coming into this I couldn't claim to know much about battery electric vehicles. I intuitively know that producing energy in a dedicated facility that feeds the power grid seems a lot more efficient (both in economy and in environment) than having to produce power in a space and weight constrained vehicle (i.e. via the internal combustion engine). Seems obvious. I also can guess that employing a non standard technology on the complexity of an automobile is going to be more expensive until the economy of scale kicks in when components get mass produced. But beyond that I didn't know much.
I had no idea that California had implemented a zero emission mandate in the early 90's and that multiple major car manufacturers had actually rolled out consumer quality electric vehicles (complete with recharging stations). This wasn't pie in sky - this was real technology available today (or rather, a decade ago). And the whole thing got scrapped (quite literally), for completely dubious reasons.
I liked how the film explored multiple possible suspects for this failure, and in the end deemed most of them guilty. This wasn't some over the top Michael Moore pathos where the root of all evil is Charlton Heston: it was far more reasonable. Which in the end made the movie all the more effective, because you didn't feel like you were the target of emotional bottom feeding. The movie did conclude leaving me feeling disappointed - not with the film but rather with our society as a whole. It angers me that we are so obsessed with convenience, and so resistant to change, that we'll cannibalize progress.
I'm not prone to conspiracy theory, but you don't have to be to understand the sketchy behavior by the automobile manufactures and oil companies. Because honestly their behavior makes sense. They're out there to preserve their profits. The oil companies would suffer greatly if we pursued truly alternative automobile energy options. The car manufacturers have less to lose, but change is risky business and they are content with how much they own of the pipeline. It makes sense for them to be a little wary. But their behavior is borderline criminal. And I'd be more skeptical of a documentary's depiction of this if it weren't for previous infractions on the part of the accused. Fool me twice...
But overall I'm most frustrated with our inability as a society to suck it up and realize that our way of life is unsustainable and that we have to make some changes. No one wants to make a compromise. We're all content to live out our life and leave the barren wasteland to our descendents. Which is bullshit. It's our duty as citizens and consumers to demand better for ourselves. Better food that doesn't make us fat, better entertainment that doesn't make us stupid, and better transportation options that keep us breathing for many generations to come.