I’ve rattled this off quite quickly… please excuse any typos/etc. It’s also verging on a rant.
So diesel cars are now on their way out, and all things clean are in. Electric-petrol Hybrid, all electrics and, no doubt soon enough rubber band powered vehicles will be as ubiquitous as their diesel powered poor relations. There are problems with this drive, no pun intended (or maybe it was intended) to rid the roads of these bad, black smoke belching beasts.
Firstly, the alternatives aren’t that clean either: the production of electricity is not a carbon neutral endeavour and purely petrol driven cars also throw toxins and pollutants into the atmosphere. And think about all the resources that still need to be mined, drilled for or modified in order for energy to be created. No such thing as a free lunch and there’s no such thing, yet, as purely clean energy, either. Sure, we all want the world to be a cleaner place, but it’s usually easier to afford new, and in this context, cleaner technology, if you have the capital. Unless car manufacturers, the state or squillionnaire philanthropists with a soft spot for those who can’t afford to upgrade to the new clean car tech decide to cough for the costs, people who own diesels will continue to drive them until their cars are no longer economically viable to maintain or, until such cars are rendered as such through punitive and proscriptive taxation or transport policy measures.
And don’t forget, it was only a decade or so ago that diesels were hailed as one way of helping to address rising pollution. In another ten years, we’ll probably learn that hybrids and other alternatives will turn us all into Triffids or Goths or Ikea shoppers. More seriously, weaning people off the economic advantages of diesel won’t be easy. Today, diesels tend to perform as well as petrol engined cars – this started around 20 years ago, before which, diesels sounded like tractors and their performance wasn’t much better, either. I had a couple of old diesels and they were awful, even then. New technology, principally in the sphere of turbo design, helped diesels gain a bit of respect in the old 0-60 tests and, what’s more, they were much more economical to run – better mpg and, in most cases, cheaper to service and maintain.
The people I’ve spoken to – by no means representative of any kind of population, are mostly sceptical and some are even cynical. One person told me the present debate is warming us up, preparing us all to accept the inevitable: in short, get rid of perfectly functioning objects and replace them with identical (in terms of their day to day usefulness) objects. Generally speaking, that’s not a very sensible thing to do: if you have perfectly watchable television, there isn’t really a need to replace it. Except we do that all the time, usually when the next phase of technology bursts onto the same screens that the adverts tells us to replace. So it’s not a sensible thing but it’s a good thing: the economy, somehow, wins. Which is what we were all told before things went arse up in 2008: yes, go out there and buy yourself property and become a landlord. Everything will be fine because the economy will be happy and buoyant which is what everyone wants. The problem with this kind of thinking – and no, I’m not an economist, but you don’t need to be one to see the flaws – is that it’s short term and disproportionately impacts, negatively and positively, for those whose lives are governed by extreme economic context – either the very wealthy or the very poor feel the impacts of economic mis/fortunes the most.
Myself, I wonder if, in a Stephen King semi sci-fi kind of way, that this has the makings of a dystopian future (some of us might be tempted to feel we live in a dystopian present, but that’s another matter). Diesels in particular, and by extension their drivers, will be at first stigmatised, or something close to that. Yes, we’ll all start to disapprove about ‘diesel people’ demonstrating such a lack of responsibility – it already happens, in a more subtle way, with some Hybrid drivers exhibiting high levels of ‘smug’ (see the clip below from an episode of South Park which makes the point better than I ever could). Then, it might take months or it might take years, they’ll be called ‘Diesel People’, or Dieple, for short. They’ll have to pay higher tolls on roads, it will cost them more to park, tax, drive, repair and even clean their cars. On top of this anti diesel sentiment, diesel cars will become not exactly outlawed but associated with extremists, bigots and narrow mindedness. At the same time, manufacturers will shift focus away from diesels (they are doing so already) and help to ensure, little by little, diesels will become a thing of the past. However, in and amongst all this, a small resistance movement, loyal to their old diesel blocks, will emerge and slowly gain support – an underground movement at first, like in Fight Club but without the fighting . This movement will eventually grow in numbers and rail against the prevailing non diesel world view. And then something about Robots and/or possibly Cyberdine Systems/The Terminator (but with cars).
Here’s the clip from South Park