Great … just what we don’t need: Electric whales on wheels

Does the world really need an electric Jeep Grand Cherokee? Amp Electric Vehicles has just unveiled its plug-in version of the SUV at the North American International Auto Show, but the question is … why?

Sure, plug-in vehicles are cleaner and more efficient than gas-powered cars, even if they charge up on dirty electricity generated by burning coal. But an electric monstercar — as Cambridge’s David MacKay called them in his brilliant book, “Sustainable energy — without the hot air” — is classic Jevons Paradox in action: the more efficiently we can use a resource, the more of that resource we tend to use.

Unfortunately, as a recent study illustrating Detroit’s (and US consumers’) penchant for “automobiles on steroids” shows, technology alone won’t help us kick our energy addiction, no matter how smart the technology is. Only technology coupled with better choices driven by stricter regulations, incentives and disincentives (especially financial ones) will help us get there.

As MacKay puts it in his book, in a series of sentences guaranteed to make libertarians and Ayn Rand devotees break out into a flop sweat, “People today choose their cars to make fashion statements. With strong efficiency legislation, there could still be a wide choice of fashions; they’d all just happen to be energy-efficient. You could choose any colour, as long as it was green.”

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