Zero emission cars, powered by 100-proof subsidies

Toronto traffic

Streetcars and cars compete for space on a crowded Toronto street this month.

If you want to get a close look at a bit of technology that is highly inefficient and largely ill-suited to its main purpose, go take a gander at the car parked in your driveway.

Your “light-duty vehicle,” as governments call it, is no better adapted to the modern world than a mastodon cloned from a few strands of ancient DNA would be. Over-powered by an internal-combustion gasoline engine, and with room for five or more passengers, it is large, dangerous and at risk of destroying the ecosystem it depends on for survival.

And it is everywhere. At any given moment, there are tens of thousands of these beasts on urban Canadian roads, the vast majority of them carrying exactly one person in a smelly stop-and-go procession down an over-crowded street.

At every other given moment, even more cars are sitting idle in parking lots and driveways, awaiting their brief call to duty for a run to the corner store, or to the hockey rink. They are expensive to buy and maintain, and yet they mostly get used to a degree that is out of whack with their cost, size and complexity.

Looked at only from the perspective of their efficiency, the personal car has significant downsides. But efficiency is far from the only issue at play. The auto industry and the gas and oil industry are essential parts of the Canadian economy, and the car is a symbol of personal freedom and middle-class success. Since the early 20th century, cities and suburbs have been built around them. People in rural areas depend on them for survival.

Most Canadians just can’t imagine their world without a car (or two) in it. And that is a challenge for anyone committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Transport Canada says that, “in 2015, light-duty vehicle emissions accounted for approximately 50 per cent of Canada’s transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions, and 12 per cent of the country’s total emissions.”

Ottawa has been restricting emissions from new cars for decades. But as of last week, it says it will now work with the auto industry, environmental groups, and the provinces and territories to get more electric cars on Canadian roads, asap.

It’s easy to see where this is going, and where it’s going to go wrong. Some environmentalists are arguing that Ottawa should legislate that a certain percentage of new cars sold each year be “zero-emission vehicles” – battery electrics, plug-in hybrids, and hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles.

This has already been done in Quebec, where the law requires that 15.5 per cent of cars sold there be ZEVs, by 2025. No, hitting that target will not be easy or cheap.

 

Source/More: The Globe and Mail

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