Internal Combustion Fraught With Danger


The Future
Unisouth, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

“Whom the gods would destroy they first make mad”. This ominous observation, made by nineteenth century American poet Henry Longfellow, confronts rulers riven by internal discord so deep that it immobilises any capacity for coherent action.

This condition is exemplified perfectly by a leader who, having once identified with distant net-zero policy targets, now realises to his discomfort that they become less distant with each passing year; and that the widespread pain they will assuredly inflict represents a distinct electoral handicap; and who then explains his volte face with the confession that no one has explained what “net zero” actually means. So he revises his policies to move the implementation time-frame safely beyond his own term of office and ameliorates their most economically hurtful impositions in a shower of vote-protecting sops dreamed up on the hoof.  If Hamlet’s madness is reflected in an inability to make up his mind, we are here looking at a political party whose spineless prevarication has been elevated to a badge of honour.

Citizens facing today’s unremitting cost-of-living crisis may indeed breathe a sigh of relief at the prospect of receiving even small mercies – but automotive, steel-processing and other industries reliant on imported components and time-and-cost-sensitive international supply chains are exasperated – production plans thrown into disarray; management struggling to revise its forecast requirements, budgets and reporting schedules. Uncertainty, the enemy of production-scheduling, infects parliamentary representatives who don’t know how to respond to governmental indecision on such a scale.

Internally conflicted

Nor does it end there. Zealots supporting a green future strive to lead ordinary lives while obsessing over their unavoidable “carbon footprints”: they are just as bemused as the pragmatic supporters of scaling-down net-zero, while also acknowledging the productive disruption wrought by uncertainty.

Supporters of electric vehicles rarely think the process through with objective rationality. Take the up-front fact that we are still an unquantifiable time away from having electric charging-points with uniform nozzle-sizes in as much abundance as present-day petrol pumps; and motorway infrastructure that caters for the inevitability of drivers who have run out of charge. Further down the line, but far more threatening to the integrity of the green cause, is the size, weight and structure of the batteries that power these vehicles.

There has been no comprehensive research on the relationship between the prodigious weight of commercial vehicles carrying batteries of over half-a-ton and the crater-like potholes that now pose a major hazard to all road-users; not to mention danger to bridges whose construction was designed to carry nothing heavier than diesel-fuelled buses and lorries. Few electric vehicle-users understand the relationship between charging-point distances and the incremental weight needed to energise that extra mile.

Metals and mining

Battery-weight is, of course, determined by materials used – usually lithium, cobalt, graphite, nickel, steel and manganese. An average hybrid or electric vehicle will use between 4 and 12 pounds of the rare-earth magnets needed for vehicle parts such as heating, ventilation, air-conditioning, transmission, steering, and brakes. To synthesize the materials needed for production, heat between 800 to 1,000 degrees Celsius is needed – a temperature that can only be reached cost-effectively by burning fossil fuels. When we consider that the UK contributes less than 1 per cent of global carbon emissions, while China and Russia are opening new coal mines every year, the inescapable conclusion is that much of our self-flagellation about carbon footprints amounts to little beyond an empathetic “feel-good” factor, while we export our culpability to other countries.

It is convenient to ignore the uncomfortable reality that mining raw materials like lithium, cobalt, and nickel is labour-intensive, also requiring enormous quantities of water, often from areas where water is scarce. Sixty per cent of the world’s cobalt comes from the Democratic Republic of the Congo,  where questions about human rights violations, including child labour, arise persistently. Amid all the prevailing histrionics about historic slavery, green supporters are surely aware of what’s happening under their noses – right now!

Conflicted policies – Labour too

Irony? The Labour Party under Keir Starmer is now committed to “reversing” Rishi Sunak’s “reversal” of onerous deadlines for abolishing the technology on which our least prosperous citizens depend – an odd position for a party that has always claimed to be the voice of the working class and the most disadvantaged! He has also undertaken to keep UK regulations in line with those of the EU as part of his mission to maintain a close relationship between the UK and the EU we allegedly left seven years ago.

The implacable internal discord afflicting our representatives is emblematic of a madness that now consumes the entire parliamentary constituency. My opening sentence presages what comes next.

© Emile Woolf October 2023 (website)