Discover more from Sanity Clause
Not Easy Being Green
...And some notes from the Iowa State Fair
I own a Toyota Camry hybrid. Have done so, through several iterations, for about 15 years now. It’s a fine car, and it has made me feel green-righteous, although Sanity Child tells me that Toyota has funneled a lot of money to Trump and the Trumpish. I’ve been waiting, hoping to buy an electric car (though Sanity Child would keel over if I bought a Muskla). But I can’t seem to pull the trigger. (Indeed, visiting Austin a few weeks ago, I balked at renting an electric.) Why?
Well, I remember eight-track tapes—those muscular auto-sound contraptions, which were soon rendered obsolete by tape cassettes, which were soon rendered obsolete by CDs, which were soon rendered obsolete by music streaming. (My current Camry doesn’t even have a CD slot, which is frustrating.) The point is, I’m not sure where this electric auto business is going. Especially the battery part. Biden has pushed for a zillion new electric charging stations, but I worry they’re the 8-track tapes of electric technology. In fact, I was stopped in my 8-tracks a few weeks ago, by a column by Peter Coy in The New York Times, who made a very compelling don’t-buy-electric-yet argument, based on pro-hybrid pushback from Toyota:
Imagine some wheelbarrows filled with rocks. The rocks contain lithium, cobalt, manganese, nickel, graphite and other materials for lithium-ion batteries. By Toyota’s calculation, the amount of rocks needed for one long-range electric vehicle would be enough for either six plug-in hybrids or 90 of the type of hybrid that can’t be plugged in for a recharge. (Namely, the type whose batteries are recharged from the engine or from braking.)
The overall carbon reduction of those 90 hybrids over their lifetimes is 37 times as much as a single battery electric vehicle,” Toyota argues. That’s a stunning statistic if true…
“Toyota’s claim is accurate. We’ve crunched the numbers on this,” Ashley Nunes told me. He is a senior research associate at Harvard Law School and the director for federal policy, climate and energy at the Breakthrough Institute, a think tank. He testified on the topic in April before the House Subcommittee on Environment, Manufacturing and Critical Materials.
Now, I’m a great believer in the power of technology—and also the power of markets. I suspect there will be breakthroughs in battery technology coming down the pike; in fact, I suspect that there will be new technologies that will make lithium-batteries seem very 8-track before long.
This raises a larger question about government and industrial policy. There are hardliners who say that government is unfit to choose winners and losers. They are often right, but not always. Government certainly has a role to play in funding pure research—agencies like DARPA at the Pentagon and ARPA at the Energy Department have been valuable sources of new products. Government also has a role in promoting industries that are necessary for national security; Biden has acted boldly and, I believe, intelligently to subsidize domestic computer chip production. You don’t want to be dependent on the Chinese, not even the tenuous Taiwanese, for that. And, of course, government has to take the lead on grid and broadband infrastructure.
According to The New York Times, alternative energy—solar and wind—is reaching critical mass. And according to The Washington Post, local Republicans are recalcitrant about joining the alternative party. And according to Paul Krugman, climate change has become a culture issue, with the proletariat rising up against the elites telling them what’s good for the planet. There are reports of truck drivers blocking access to electric charging stations, and of assorted yahoos using electric vehicles for target practice out west, actually shooting at them. It’s enough to make Karl Marx twist slowly in his grave: the proles are rebelling against the elites, but not over economic oppression—they are rebelling against expertise. I find this sort of right-wing populist know-nothingism revolting; and the troglodytic revanchism of the fossil fuel titans has long been a national scandal. But I’m also skeptical about elitist know-everythingism. What’s a Sanity Person to do?
Encourage basic research, national security and infrastructure support by the government. But lithium batteries…and charging stations? The market will decide whether that’s a good bet. So I’ll wait and maybe buy another hybrid.
I’ve calculated that over the course of 11 presidential campaigns, I’ve spent about two years of my life in Iowa…and it was almost always winter. An exception is the Iowa State Fair, a grand American spectacle. It is sometimes a preview of zeitgeist changes in the wind.
Most of the reporting from this year’s fair is bad news for Ron DeSantis. Trump swoops in, causes a ruckus, swoops out in two hours. But I wonder: DeSantis hangs out with his family, plays the carnival games; his kids win stuffed dolls. One fairgoer talks about DeSantis’s cute daughter with the little eyeglasses. DeSantis has several photo-ops with Iowa’s popular governor (whom Trump has slagged). Is this the beginning of something? Probably not. But Iowans love being attended to…and it may be that the Iowa Fair is where the humanization of Ron DeSantis began.
Meanwhile, I feel for Mike Pence and so does old pal Karen Tumulty A month or so, I speculated—very idly—that Pence’s white-bread conservative propriety might have its moment in the Republican primary. But I was stuck in my sense of the Grand OLD Republican Party, and nostalgic for it. Tumulty tells this story:
Nathaniel Gavronsky, 41, pushed forward to thank Pence for standing on principle that day in the Capitol and refusing Donald Trump’s demands that the vice president, in what was a ceremonial role, toss out the electoral votes that made Joe Biden president.
Even as rioters were swarming the Capitol chanting, “Hang Mike Pence,” he performed what the Constitution required, Gavronsky told me. “I’ve researched the heck out of it, and I don’t believe there was anything else he could have done.”
So will he vote for Pence at January’s Republican caucuses in Wayne County, where he lives? Not a chance, Gavronsky said. Which I had already figured out, given that he was wearing a T-shirt that said: TEAM TRUMP.
I remain convinced that the current Biden-Trump stasis won’t last. That, too, may be very idle speculation on my part.
On September 1, things will change here at Sanity Clause. It’ll still be free, but I’ll be activating the many pledges of financial support you’ve offered—and eventually I’ll be offering additional services to paid subscribers, like podcasts and chats and free tickets to Taylor Swift concerts (just kidding about that last one). So if you like what you’re reading, I’d be appreciative if you’d pledge your support now. You can do it by pushing this button and taking the appropriate action: