Monday, January 19, 2015

Range Anxiety

A thought drifted through my head, as I walked the dog yesterday afternoon.

My little suburban neighborhood was, as it always is, full of cars.  Cars parked in driveways.  Cars on the streets.  Cars are the lifeblood of our culture, rather literally, if you view our culture as one vast fungus-like organism.  They are the red blood cells that carry the energy (that's us) to and from the different parts of the culture.

And I love cars, in the way that I did as a boy.  Though my own four-wheeled vehicles are chosen for function, I enjoy them.  I like feeling connected to a machine, feeling it as an extension of myself.  It's fundamentally pleasurable.

But as I looked out at the cars yesterday, I could not escape the thought that every one of them will be functionally obsolete in 20 years.  Here, the vast output of an industry, and all doomed to uselessness.

Why?  Despite the absurd glut of cheap that is now pouring into our vehicles, the era of fossil fuels is finite.  The end is visible.  And yet as a society, we are not acting now, not in any meaningful way, to prepare for that reality.  There's still profit to be made, and so we continue acting as if it doesn't matter.

There's not a single household in my neighborhood, for example, that has an electric car.  Not one.  Why?  Well, because for now they're still very expensive.  And two, well, we're convinced they're less practical.  What if you run out of charge?  What if you get stranded?

"Range anxiety," they call it.

What struck me, as I walked and observed, was how ironic this fear is in the broader context.  Here we have a transportation infrastructure entirely reliant on a single source of energy.  That source is finite.  It will, in the lifetime of our children, be depleted to the point it becomes prohibitively expensive.

Writ large, we are radically reliant on a source of energy that is going to fail us, more completely than a Nissan Leaf crossing North Dakota in the dead of winter.  It's that same Nissan Leaf, only with a single-use battery pack.  We're going to be completely dead in the water.  No gas in 10 miles?  Heh.  That's no gas for another million years, buddy.  Recharging fossil fuels takes a while.

And yet if you look around our culture, we don't seem to feel that.

Not yet, at least.