China joined the club of countries vowing to ban diesel and petrol vehicles. France and Britain have made similar assertions.
In typically hubristic European style, the French and Brits even put a date by which it would happen… in both cases, at least 5 general elections’ time. To quote the pederast Keynes again, “in the long run, we’re all dead”.
China have been a little more circumspect; “in the near future“, was the inscrutable statement. By an amazing coincidence, this is precisely the timetable parents the world over offer in response to the question, “when can I have a pony?“.
Let’s assume the Chinese are going to follow the Anglo-Franco timetable and bring the ban in for 2040. What are the possible outcomes?
1. Automobile manufacturers will fast-track any existing R&D projects that will result in hydrogen/electric/cow manure cars in time to sell in 2040 at the same price or cheaper than the equivalent petrol/diesel vehicle… and they are successful.
2. Ditto (1) but they are unsuccessful; the cars don’t go as fast, far or cost more.
3. The current R&D projects are already due to complete well before 2040.
Looking at these in a not so random order;
Option (1) is all good, win/win for everyone and even the planet, with the not minor assumption that the Chinese can produce electricity without recourse to those pesky fossil fuels by then, otherwise we’ve just centralised the pollution.
Option (3) is pretty good for everyone too, but would suggest that government mandates don’t drive innovation, markets do.
Option (2) is a bit of a problem though, depending on the type of commitment made. In a country with a properly-functioning rule of law, there might be some delicate unwinding of legislation made by politicians who may be long departed to the retirement home or their final destination (presumably carried by eco-friendly hearses) .
If there’s a compelling feet to the fire type of commitment in place or an ideological bent to the governing party when the 2040 New Year’s Eve light show (the emissions from fireworks will surely be banned by then) happens, we might see some subsidies/tariffs/taxes given or imposed to get to that stated goal. i.e. more government intervention due to a “market failure“.
Originally, this part of today’s post was going to quote the story of the Great Horse Manure Crisis of 1894. The trouble is, upon further research, it looks like that might have been horseshit and was most likely to be an urban myth.
But perhaps there is still a lesson to be learned from the invention of the car?
Consider the major steps in the development of human transport:
- Human power – we could only move as fast and as efficiently as our own bodies.
- Horse power – we could only move as fast and as efficiently as horses or other beasts of burden.
- Steam power – we could only move as fast as a steam engine powered by coal could drive us.
- Refined fuel power – we could only move as fast as a petrol engine could drive us.
Those last 3 steps weren’t invented as a response to a crisis but as an innovation to realise an opportunity.
The hope that innovation will be sparked as a result of creating a purely false crisis (i.e. a new law) is not supported by strong historical evidence. Perhaps opportunity drives innovation more often than crisis?