Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Hey, Anybody Else Remember?

Remember when California tried to pass a law to force people to sell "zero-emissions" cars in California? I do.
Remember the EV-1? Sure you do.

Now, what's the difference between those efforts and the current biodiesel/hybrid/electric/hydrogen fuel cell craze? Well, the biggest difference is that way back then, a lot of people said such top-down efforts wouldn't work, and the EV-1 wouldn't have much of a market in a country where people got cranky if gas went higher than a dollar a gallon--nor was it a zero-emission vehicle in any honest sense of those words. Because there was no market, no demand to match and drive and shape the supply, those efforts died quiet deaths. Now, you can rent a documentary called "Who Killed the Electric Car?" but after all, it was you and me.

So why is the Prius selling like hotcakes? Why are even Camry and Escape hybrids selling, even though nobody can tell just by looking at them that they're trendy eco-fashion accessories? Why are people buying motorcycles? Why are people biking or walking to places they normally wouldn't?

Simple. There's a MARKET for those things and those ideas at the moment. There are real-world reasons to make those ideas useful ideas for people. They're not perfect solutions, but people are thinking about them, trying different ways and products, and working on getting it right for themselves in their lives. $4/gallon gas has achieved what no legislature could--it gave people a reason to want to change the way we move and travel. Again, none of the current solutions is perfect, but markets are good at sorting that sort of confusion out, too. A lot of people forget that electric cars were as big or bigger than gasoline models in the lat 19th and very early 20th centuries. They were quiet, powerful, and easy to start and drive. When gasoline cars got cheaper to build (and electric starters came along, so they could be started by pushing a button or turning a key!) the electric cars faded away because there wasn't enough demand to keep them in production. That doesn't mean those cars were bad cars; in many ways, they still had advantages over the gasoline models. It just meant that people had to choose and most chose internal combustion for better or worse.

Good schoolteachers know this. Good schoolteachers don't respond to "You can't make me do this stuff!" with "Oh, yes I can!" because the truth is, the kid is right. The right answer to that is, "I'm not going to try to make you do it. It'll have to be up to you. But why do you think it's so important to me that you know easy ways to start a paragraph?"

Nothing new, nothing earth-shattering, just something I notice not many people in the public eye seem to be mentioning. Wonder why that is?