Alternative propulsion

Not just Americans, I think they suck too

Electric cars suck, and American’s hate them and don’t want them, so says Joel Johnson:

Electric cars are terrible. They just are. They’re a solution for a problem we don’t have. Or rather, they’re a solution for a problem we aren’t about to change: our sprawling, big-ass cities filled with things we can’t afford to buy yet must haul around. (Like kids.)

Modern electric cars make about as much sense as rooftop airports. They’re fairy tickets to a more-or-less inevitable future that hasn’t actually arrived. For most of the American market, the only advantage electric cars offer over gasoline-powered vehicles is the permission to daydream about a time when their decision to drive in the first place doesn’t hurt the environment.

Even auto executives agree with me (as much as it pains me to say so): two-thirds of a couple hundred auto executives think electrics and hybrids combinedwon’t make a dent in the market until 2025.

Not just American’s think they suck, I do too.

You can abstract almost every discussion of energy down to raw power. And you should. There is a finite amount of condensed sunlight on this planet and a finite amount of raw materials. In 2010 the United States still made 83% of our energy from fossil fuels—much of which we burnt to generate the electricity that was sloppily sent down a creaking, inefficient power grid to fill up the batteries of our electric cars. Batteries which we made by expending more energy to pull lithium, copper, and aluminum out of the ground.

It’s not that I think electric cars are doomed forever. It’s inevitable that in another couple of decades, their range will increase as battery capacity improves. Maybe by then battery capacity will approach the astoundingly high energy density of gasoline. There’s simply too much money being poured into battery research to stop innovation. (Even if it will just as likely come from companies focusing on making a better iPad battery: car battery companies are approaching market saturation in the current economy.) Plus, if China’s any example, solar should be as cheap as coal in another five or ten years. At that point, the hazy sky’s the limit.

But today, right now, in the middle of a terrible recession and a miasmatic material hangover from decades of unchecked consumption, I can’t look someone in the eye who’s about to buy their first car and say, “Look, buy this electric vehicle. It’s not very fun. It’s not what you want. You can’t really haul anything. It’s very likely not any better for the environment. But it is very, very quiet. Especially for the hours and hours it takes to charge.”

Why do people change their minds on political issues?

I was reading an interesting article in The Economist about the ending of corn ethanol subsidies in the US:

Three years ago, corn-ethanol subsidies appeared to be one of those common things in politics, an indefensible policy that was completely sacrosanct. It had, as many such policies do, a fiercely committed natural consistency, corn farmers, who enjoy a somewhat privileged political position due to their all-Americanness and the importance of the Iowa presidential caucuses. Corn ethanol is environmentally damaging; it puts more carbon emissions into the atmosphere over the course of its production and consumption cycle than it takes out, and it uses up cropland that would otherwise be producing food for human or animal consumption. But this point was generally too complicated for environmentalists to make to the general public. And while conservatives are usually theoretically opposed to subsidies, in practice they’ve either actively backed them for carbon fuel industries, or never done anything to stop them. It just seemed as though corn-ethanol subsidies were the kind of policy that wonks all agree is terrible but that continues forever because of political realities.

But if the old saying goes that a week is a long time in politics then 3 years is an eternity:

Sometime in the past three years this all changed. The rise of the tea-party movement forced conservative politicians to take principled opposition to subsidies far more seriously. The budget-cutting frenzy in Washington made the subsidies a target. And the strange high-beta situation of Midwestern farmers, who are enjoying high corn prices and rising land prices while the rest of the country is seeing stagnant income and declining real-estate values, has muted their fervour for subsidies too. The speed with which this has happened puts me in mind of the country’s startling attitude shift on gay marriage. I have absolutely no idea how things like this come to pass, and I don’t think anyone could hope to predict them. But I think it serves as a somewhat hopeful close to a mostly horrible year to observe that in politics, solutions to problems often seem to be completely impossible, until all of a sudden they’re not.

Which is all very interesting but the original question remains un-answered. Why do people change their minds on political issues? Is it incremental? Or evidence based?