Just like the subject of Daddy Yankee’s 2004 reggaeton hit, it seems Spain’s prime minister, Pedro Sanchez, also likes gasoline. Last week the Spanish government unveiled a series of measures aimed at helping the motor industry that includes incentives for low-emissions vehicles. But under the guise of technological neutrality, what it is actually doing is missing a golden opportunity to get people to buy electric vehicles and leave behind diesel and gasoline once and for all.
Spain’s auto industry association, ANFAC, says the government should limit itself to encouraging people to buy cars and allow them to decide between the different technologies available. The idea is outrageous, but trying to discuss it with those who claim, against all rational and scientific criteria, that “diesel is clean” is like trying to talk science with anti-vaxxers.
Bearing in mind all that we know about the deadly impact of air pollution, encouraging people to buy diesel or gasoline vehicles is just flat irresponsible, bordering on incitement to murder. Have we already forgotten the clean air and quiet streets we were enjoying just a few weeks ago? Why has a government that put decarbonization and the fight against the climate emergency among its electoral pledges now offering money to the Spanish people to buy diesel and gasoline cars? Once again, voters have been lied to.
Sadly, Spain is simply a microcosm of most of the rest of the world. Following the government’s U-turn here, the usual wiles against electric vehicles have been trotted out: there won’t be enough power to deal with a sudden surge in demand for electricity. Wrong: the country’s national grid can charge as many electric vehicles as necessary; it’s also a myth that the system would collapse during peak charging times. Meanwhile, the argument that there aren’t enough charging points overlooks the fact that we don’t need a lot of charging points. Countries are beginning to install public charging points as are more and more service stations. But the vast majority of electric vehicles will be charged at home; and if you don’t have a garden or an underground parking space, you shouldn’t have a car.
And please, don’t bring up range anxiety. Sure, until traditional car companies are forced to transition, they’ll keep dragging their feet. That said, in their current state, electric vehicles can meet drivers’ needs enough to replace 90 percent of vehicles now on the road, and most of the large automotive companies are already preparing for an electric future that covers their entire range of vehicles: it is already possible to acquire many at a variety of prices, even if dealerships, concerned about protecting the money they make from servicing and maintaining the vehicles they sell, prefer to try to convince their customers not to buy them.
Let’s debunk a few more myths: electric vehicles are cleaner independently of the energy we use to recharge them or the energy we use to manufacture them. In countries like Norway, they already surpass fossil fuel cars in sales, despite the theoretical disadvantage of the effect of cold weather on battery efficiency. In the UK, the government is planning to offer 6,000 pounds, almost 7,500 dollars, to anyone replacing an internal combustion engine car with an electric one, and including also a wide range of advantages such as free parking and access to zero emission zones.
The internal combustion engine is the zombie of our times, and the only rational thing to do with them is to tax them more and to impose severe restrictions on their use in cities, while at the same time, establishing very stringent vehicle road worthiness tests, particularly as regards emissions. The days when there was no price to pay for polluting the air should have ended long ago. Millions of people die every year, far more than will have perished in this pandemic, from air pollution, yet governments everywhere seem reluctant to crack down on car makers or upset the oil industry.
Petrol and diesel vehicles cannot be banned overnight: it would be unfair to the millions of people still dependent on them. Sure, we need a reasonable lead time, and people must have the information they need to make a decision about either owning an electric car, or, if they live in a city, opting for the growing range of alternative transport options available. But waiting until 2040 makes no sense, because by then it will be too late: there will be no planet left worth saving.
In the event, I believe diesel and petrol vehicles will be banned much earlier around the world, due to international pressure and because electric cars will not only be cheaper, but infinitely more attractive.
So, governments everywhere, and not just in Spain: can we start taking the climate emergency seriously and stop using public money to protect a traditional — and lazy — car industry that seems determined to keep resisting change? If politicians like Pedro Sanchez like gasoline so much, they can pay for it with their own money, not ours.