By: Anthony Furey
January 10, 2019
Sometimes it’s the little stories that tell you all you need to know.
Here’s a headline from The Canadian Press that pretty much sums up everything that’s both right and wrong with our current enviro craze:
“Sales of electric cars soar but Canada still nowhere near 500,000 goal set in 2009.”
You’ve got to love the tone.
We’re always treated like toddlers whenever it comes to anything “green.” Like when your kid eats just one spoonful of vegetables so you give them positive feedback but then point out they still have a whole plate to go.
Then again it’s true that the kids should be eating their full plate of veggies. But is it true that consumers should have bought 500,000 electric cars by now? What is this so-called goal? Who set it?
The story explains: “The 2009 Electric Vehicle Technology Road Map for Canada, produced by a panel of experts in part for the Department of Natural Resources, aimed for 500,000 cars with the hope of galvanizing industry to make and sell them and government to encourage people to buy them.”
My first guess was that this panel would have been made up of the various academic and activist eco-boosters who randomly come up with ridiculous targets that they then use to bully us into complying with for the sake of meeting those targets that the public never agreed to in the first place (Can anyone say Kyoto? Or Paris?).
But I was wrong.
There’s actually a sizeable steering committee made up not of activists but of industry execs. And why would industry execs make wildly inaccurate predictions about the free market? Because this report is really just them and the government telling people to buy a whole lot of their products.
Obviously people selling e-vehicles will sign on to a government report telling people to buy e-vehicles. So it’s hard to blame them.
The very next sentence of the story though shows they’ve got nothing to complain about:
“Although more electric cars were sold in Canada in 2018 than in the previous three years combined, they still accounted for about two per cent of the vehicles sold overall and there are only about 100,000 of them on the road.”
Okay... so what’s going on is Canadians are buying way more electric cars than before, just not the pie in the sky projections set a decade ago.
This ought to be cause for celebration, both for the industry people and the activists. Tripling their numbers! Who can argue with that? I’m also willing to wager that there’s no way the various internal projections that these companies put together was anywhere near as optimistic as the government report.
This tells us something that I’ve been harping on about for several years now, especially in light of Trudeau’s stubborn fixation with the carbon tax. And that is that there is pretty much zero connection between what the government does on these issues and what happens in the real world.
Seriously. Did any one single individual buy an e-vehicle because of this 2009 government target? Doubtful.
Once these companies actually build a product people want -- something reliable and practical at a price they can afford -- then maybe this idea will take off.
But there is no government target or edict or green scheme handout or amount of tsk-tsking from Catherine McKenna that will make Canadians want to buy a car that doesn’t work for their lifestyle.
I’ve just finished the great historian Niall Ferguson’s new book The Square and The Tower, a whirlwind tour of world history from the perspective not of specific people and big events, but associations and networks.
Ferguson’s main message is that networks can adapt more quickly than hierarchies.
So while Trudeau and the other green scheme boosters in government no doubt see themselves as cutting edge, the truth is that bureaucracies are the worst type of hierarchies. They adapt to change worse than anything else. They’re always the last to bring about innovations like, to take just one example, accepting 21st century forms of payment to cover your property taxes and library fines.
This Canadian Press story is a cautionary tale for not just why the government shouldn’t be in the business of setting random projections, but why it needs to completely overhaul its approach to future innovations like green issues.
Want the green revolution? Cool. Then lower the taxes and regulations the companies face and otherwise get the hell out of the way. But if you think for one second you can engineer outcomes from your disconnected ivory tower, you’ve got another thing coming.
As much as elites love to lecture everyday people from the windows of their private jets, there’s increasing evidence that we don’t need top-down edicts to improve the planet.
Keep in mind that the U.S. pulled out of the Paris Climate Accord in 2017 and despite the hysteric condemnation from the world’s eco-activists, after leaving Paris the U.S. managed to reduce its national carbon emissions. In fact, carbon emissions south of the border went down further than most of the accord’s signatories.
In other words, we don’t need to sign on to some expensive international gabfest to build the communities we want to live in. Imagine if the climate alarmists spent their time, say, researching more durable e-vehicle batteries or picking up garbage in the park than building elaborate schemes and setting unrealistic targets for the rest of us.
Anthony Furey is a Fellow at the True North.