The Green Machine
No, I’m not referring to the Boston Celtics. By “green machine” I mean the coalition of forces responsible for several important votes in the European Parliament today. MEPs rejected several bills concerning reform of the carbon market on the grounds that they had been watered down due to industrial lobbying. More importantly, they voted to ban the sale of vehicles with internal combustion engines by 2035.
On the face of it, these votes look like victories for a politics of environmental defense. But these may be victories with many unintended consequences. The ban on vehicles with internal combustion engines is very ambitious, perhaps too much so. Can enough charging stations be deployed by 2035 to meet the demand? Will the electrical grid support the drain? What will be the environmental consequences of building so many new vehicles and the infrastructure to manufacture and maintain them? What new supply chain dependencies (for rare earths, cobalt, lithium, etc.) emerge, and how will these needs intersect with shifting global power balances? Etc.
I am mindful of Albert Hirschman’s book The Rhetoric of Reaction and its admonition to be wary of resonant phrases that counsel inaction in the face of urgent social needs. I am also aware that imposing demanding constraints can sometimes galvanize innovations that might otherwise never appear. But I am also dubious of the hubris of the virtuous, who sometimes confuse the desirable with the feasible and wish away all obstacles in advance. After Fukushima Germany de-nuclearized too rapidly (in my view) and is today paying a price for its precipitous surrender to good intentions. I hope that in ten years’ time the EU doesn’t look back on today’s votes as a wrong turn. There is no doubt that the advanced economies need to reduce GHG emissions rapidly. Perhaps the EP has hit on the best way to prod reluctant actors to change their ways. I’m just not sure.