Monday, September 28, 2009

Magical Thinking


by Hervé Kempf

photoOf course, we - enlightened Westerners of the 21st century - have nothing in common with the pathetic tribes that worshiped the cargo ship or attached supernatural powers to the spirits of the forest. No, we're rational, free, aware, hard-core holdouts against the slightest trace of magical thinking. Magical thinking? The idea that, confronted with an inextricable situation, mysterious forces will intervene - if only one knows how to approach them with the appropriate propitiation - and resolve the dilemma.

    Oh, an electric car! It's clean; it's beautiful; it doesn't pollute; it's on its way. And, voilà! We're rid of this diabolical problem of the gasoline engine car that emits all that CO2. Oh, thank you, thank you, Technology; thank you miraculous Power of Research and Development; thank you Engineers and Researchers, priests of the perfected world; thank you selfless Capitalists; thank you Automobile Industry in the service of humanity!

    Is this a caricature? No. In terminal capitalism, technology is a magical thought, designed to shrug off the delicate questions generated by the shape of social relations in this phase of history. For the car, as much as it is a technical object, is also a social usage.

    The central point in the issue of the electric car: Where does the electricity come from? For the most part in the world, from coal combustion.

    To the point that the absence of CO2 emissions from the car is offset by the CO2 emissions from electricity production. And between now and whenever renewable energy sources are at a level adequate to take over, the water will have run under the bridges. Nuclear energy? Magical thinking. Line up the billions of euros and shove nuclear waste and the risk of accidents under the carpet.

    Another point: The manufacture of cars and their components (notably the lithium battery) has a major environmental impact. We need to work on a total assessment of the object from production to final disposal. A so-called "life-cycle" analysis is startlingly absent from the debates.

No comments: