Picture this: on a planet somewhere one species evolves a brain so huge it dominates all other species. At some point, the species gets tired… or bored… of its slow walking speed. It invents technologies that greatly speed up its movement. Suddenly the species can get to places further and faster than ever before. But after a while the downside kicks in – the pollutants created by these technologies start threatening the species’ way of life.
The species must scale down to survive, but the species likes its way of life too much to want to change. Then just when it really looks dire the huge brains develop another new technology that makes the old ones obsolete, and the species breathes a sigh of relief. It not only survives, but the latest technology also allows it to do more things it previously couldn’t. Hurrah for the brave new world.
You might be thinking this ’species’ is humankind and the transport is the internal combustion engine (ICE) whose carbon emissions are the pollutants. You might be correct, but you might be having déjà vu. Because the above scenario happened in the late 1880s too. American cities were being choked by the manure of hundreds of thousands of horses.
But, big-brained human beings developed the horseless carriage and for a while in the 1890s the electric vehicle (EV) saved American cities from sinking under the piles of horse manure. Yes, you read correctly.
Initially electric cars outsold ICE vehicles.
But alas, battery technology could not keep up with the advances ICEs were making and soon EVs were a footnote to 20th century history. A century defined by the freedom and the suburban lifestyle brought about by the ICE. A century defined by air pollution and climate change.
Now EVs are getting a second chance to help rescue humankind out of the dwang. The signs are good, and the prospects are good. Hurrah for the brave new world!
So, what are we missing? What unintended consequences may EVs cause? I don’t know if you have ideas let me know. And if you’d like to know more about the EVs dominance in the 1890s listen to Freakonomics Radio’s podcast no. 498. In the 1890s, the Best-Selling Car Was … Electric. It’s an interview with Tom Standage whose book A Brief History of Motion is packed with facts about transportation, it’s quick and informative.
Here’s to making ICEs a footnote to history