This Needs a Column?

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Tuesday, I noted that, in a more rational culture, superstitions -- such as the fear, endemic and unique to South Korea, that sleeping in a room with a running electric fan can be a fatal proposition -- would quickly die out:

In particular, anyone with the habit of relating one item of knowledge to another would quickly reject any of the "explanations," if he somehow ended up considering them seriously at all, regardless of his level of scientific training.
Today, I ran across a column about "green" technology that busts a few myths about electric cars. Among the myths, Margaret Wente addresses a couple I can only attribute to magical thinking about the origins of electricity:
Here's another catch: Electric cars aren't necessarily green at all. Electric vehicles require large amounts of electricity -- so much that Toronto Hydro chief Anthony Haines says he doesn't know how he'd get it. "If you connect about 10 per cent of the homes on any given street with an electric car, the electricity system fails," he said recently.

And if the extra electricity isn't generated by renewable energy, then overall carbon dioxide emissions will go up, not down, Prof. Smil says. "The only way electric cars could reduce global carbon emissions would be if all the additional electricity needed to power them came from carbon-free energies." He also makes the essential point that the world's energy infrastructure is based on fossil fuels. ...
All true, but it strikes me as incredible that anyone is having to say this at all and, now that Wente mentions it, it positively blows my mind that so much development of this blatantly questionable technology is going on. Electric cars use electricity, and electricity has to come from somewhere.

Philosophical ideas have consequences. Neither the collectivism that justifies the government interventions behind electric car development nor the altruism that says we must sacrifice prosperity to nature have rational justifications. Is it any wonder that when we keep tossing reason out at the ballot box, we wake up one day to find our society making mistakes schoolchildren could have anticipated decades ago, and on a massive scale at that?

-- CAV 


Anonymous said...


Hey Gus. Did you hear about another subsidized solar company that went belly up? I can't remember the name of the company, but there's an article about it on American Thinker's website. The Obama Administration's delusional thinking will soon have us living like cavemen.

Bookish Babe

Gus Van Horn said...

Thanks. I saw something to that effect, along with something else to the effect that battery limitations will end up killing electric cars, anyway, but didn't have time to look at either, this morning.

Anonymous said...


When my accountant was in college in the mid-80's, he was taking a mandatory communications class for his major. There were around 20 people in the class and all of them were pro-electric car, anti-fossil fuel, anti-hydro, and anti-nuclear. They were also early supporters of the anthropogenic CO2 global warming hypothesis; well, to the extent that humanities majors can understand a hypothesis.

They were all proposing that electric cars would solve the pollution problem and reduce CO2 emissions. Not a single one of them understood that when you change energy modes, you lose efficiency; that for the same net energy use, you at least double your CO2 output.

My accountant asked a general question about their goals; were they trying to reduce pollution in a specific geographic area, say Los Angeles or were the claiming that electric cars would reduce emissions overall? Both, they said.

They were completely clueless; he walked them through how you lose efficiency in gas fired plant to electric, the loss of energy in transmission, the loss of energy when charging the battery on the electric car and the energy loss in converting electric back to mechanical energy. That you actually get less pollution from the entire cycle using an internal combustion engine than their "emission free" electric vehicle would ever offer - not to mention the issue of disposing of heavy metals required for that same battery operated vehicle.

Talk about an anti-conceptual mentality. Even after he walked them through it, they held their position that an electric car would reduce pollution and explicitly denounced the modes that might have made that possible; nuclear and hydro.

He was exasperated enough that he asked, "What, do you think electricity comes from the light switch?" and the responding silence makes him think that that was about the conceptual level they could rise to.

These students are given dogmas to follow; Nuclear bad, Hydro DAMNS RIVERS FOREVER! Internal combustion kills the planet yadda yadda yadda. But electric cars will save us! and they are completely incapable of integrating the issues and understanding the contradiction.

To see this on a nationwide level, look at Germany's commitment to abandon nuclear power altogether. And people thought Rand exaggerated her characters in Atlas Shrugged.

c. andrew

Gus Van Horn said...


You notice something I contemplated mentioning, but didn't, There is the whole issue of how you gain purchase for good ideas when you have to say things like this.

You eloquently show why we have to write off almost all but the very young, when they hold views that are so easily refuted. At a certain point, the only explanation is a crippled mind or an incredible degree of dishonesty.

So should this column have been written at all? I'd go with a yes, simply because there is some value in showing to people who can think, but may simply not have given such issues much thought, how ridiculous certain notions really are.


Snedcat said...

Yo, Gus, reminds me of a classic passage from C.P. Snow's The Two Cultures:

"A good many times I have been present at gatherings of people who, by the standards of the traditional culture, are thought highly educated and who have with considerable gusto been expressing their incredulity at the illiteracy of scientists. Once or twice I have been provoked and have asked the company how many of them could describe the Second Law of Thermodynamics. The response was cold: it was also negative. Yet I was asking something which is the scientific equivalent of: Have you read a work of Shakespeare's?

"I now believe that if I had asked an even simpler question — such as, What do you mean by mass, or acceleration, which is the scientific equivalent of saying, Can you read? — not more than one in ten of the highly educated would have felt that I was speaking the same language. So the great edifice of modern physics goes up, and the majority of the cleverest people in the western world have about as much insight into it as their neolithic ancestors would have had." (Copied over from Wikipedia.)

First: Funny the bit about "Can you read?" Alas, it's reached the point you can't even assume a positive answer to that any more, even in the universities. Second: Tying that last sentence in with C. Andrew's sad but unsurprising story, it's led to the rise of what is essentially magical thinking for many allegedly highly educated people on scientific and technological issues.

Gus Van Horn said...

Indeed it has.