Dhruv Behl: Are we right to slander the internal combustion engine?
Its invention, at the end of the 19th century, literally revolutionized the world in which we live. She gave people individual freedoms they could only dream of before. But, while it has catapulted development – societal and individual – it has of course contributed to the unprecedented increase in greenhouse gas emissions.
But why has he become everyone’s favorite whipping boy, and why do we turn a blind eye to thermal power generation and other forms of industrial pollution, not to mention shipping, aviation and anything that is as much, if not more, of a contributing factor? Is it simply because the automotive industry is an easy target, or is it because, in the aftermath of Dieselgate (VW’s diesel emissions scandal), we are painting the entire industry with the same thick “black” brush?
Are we confusing corporate fraud with the larger issue of greenhouse gas emissions? What Volkswagen did was cheat emissions testing to circumvent regulations for a particular generation of engines. That they had the audacity, at the same time, to market them as “clean diesels” only made matters worse. But that doesn’t take away from the fact that the internal combustion engine has never been as clean or as efficient as it is today. And that’s to say nothing about the efficiency of the manufacturing process – as producing an ICE-powered vehicle can be nearly half as polluting as producing an equivalent electric vehicle.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying electric vehicles aren’t the future. I’m just saying don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. We should be debating the availability of rare earth metals and lithium. We should assess the recyclability of batteries. We should take into account the geopolitical, strategic and environmental concerns of changing fuel sources. We should think about where our energy comes from.
There is a desperate need to separate the hype and political hyperbole from the truth, and initiate a nuanced discussion on all of these issues. Have we become so polarized over this issue – like everything else that plagues society – that we can’t even begin to have a rational discussion?
It’s not about technology, energy or even emissions, it’s about rationality – that’s what seems to be missing in this conversation. Until we prioritize honest rational debate, we risk jumping from the pan to the fire…
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