Man versus melted asphalt
Which camp do you belong to? EVs and clean tech will save us, or EVs and clean tech won’t stop doomsday? Up until this year’s Tour de France I remained stubbornly optimistic about the ability of clean tech to reduce carbon emissions, allowing green house gases to dissipate, and the earth to cool back down to its normal, healthy operating temperature.
I have been a tech optimist since the 7th grade, when I poured through documents and booklets about nuclear fusion for my science fair project. Solar panels on the White House in 1979 had me looking forward to buying my first house, which would undoubtedly include free hot water and electricity from the sun.
As we know, that clean tech revolution was sidetracked by a bizarre story that claimed innovation in energy and technology would be bad for America. We must stick with burning stuff from the ground, or … or … or what? Oh you know, vague bad things will happen to the economy and everyone will lose their jobs. Of course, most people saw through this Climate Denial story from day one. It was a blatant attempt by Big Oil to keep its position of world domination over all energy on the planet.
I still believed, up until this summer, that it wasn’t too late. EV cars would cut emissions by 40%; solar and wind were already cheaper than coal; we just needed to scale up. My peers sneered- we will never have EV semi trucks or cargo ships, therefore modern life will come to a halt. But every day there are new breakthroughs in solar sail shipping, EV semi trucks and new battery technology.
I held to my belief that we can do this, if we just keep up the momentum.
Then at the 2022 Tour de France took place during the hottest summer on record in Europe. Humans adapted. The athletes hydrated and showed that mother nature was no match for the tenacity and discipline of mankind. But then the roads melted. The glue holding together the bikes melted. The laws of physics could not be bent to our athletes’ will.
The story was the same all over Europe. A friend who was in Italy at the time said their shoes got stuck in the pavement, as if they had stepped on gum.
As the US finally passes its first comprehensive Climate plan (aptly named the Inflation Reduction Act, a lasting tribute to the bizarre politics of our times, in which inflation is a bigger fear than destruction of life on earth) I am relieved. Yes! We are finally moving towards safety.
But I am also sure that it is not enough.
If we converted all of our vehicles to EVs tomorrow, and they were all charged by renewable energy, and the grid was magically upgraded to handle the load… those cars still won’t be able to drive on melted roads.
We waited too long.
With all the studies about the viability of Electric passenger vehicles, electric delivery trucks, electric semi trucks and trains … I had heard nothing about the melting asphalt infrastructure on which all of our transportation relies.
It reminds me of the old story about NASA trying to develop the tech to create a pen that writes in zero gravity, while the Russians used a pencil. (which may be a myth) ie, We tend to overlook the obvious and the mundane, like roads.
How many other mundane consequences of climate disruption are we overlooking? What is the government response to melting roads? To failed crops? All the oak trees are dying in my neighborhood. Besides making me sad, will it make my street even warmer? Is the same thing happening to timber used for housing?
Back in the 20th century, the smooth transition to clean tech and EVs could have helped us keep the planet cool enough that the roads wouldn’t melt (among other things). In the 21st century we still need the clean tech revolution, but now it is just one pillar for surviving the mess we have made.
Today’s strategy is more complicated, more expensive and happens alongside a race to counteract climate related deaths.
- Slow the heating- we need every trick from our 20th century bag of options to reduce carbon emissions to as close to nothing as possible. Maybe we can slow down the rate of global heating.
- Reduce the carbon- nature is not just beautiful and uplifting, it is our biggest and cheapest carbon sink and needs to be protected and maximized.
- Survive- floods and fires, drought, heat and freak freezes are already killing people and destroying communities. Dealing with these disasters is already costing money and resources, and those costs will increase.
- Build for reality. How do we build roads that don’t melt? houses that survive flooding, fire, hurricane winds and extreme heat? We keep on building the same old things, as if a little extra insulation will save us.
Yes, your new car should be an EV. But unless we are making policy changes to actually stop the global heat up- you won’t have roads to drive it on.