Tuesday, January 26, 2010

On anything-but-green cars

I don't use the word "green" in any context other than when I'm referring to something that's actually that particular colour. Leaves are green. So are leprechauns. People are not. Organizations are not. Cars are not, except when painted British racing green.

My reason for this is simple - governments and the general public have through careless use rendered largely meaningless the use of the word "green" as an intended synonym for the phrase "being beneficial to ecological integrity, or at the very least being useful without causing any detrimental effects on ecosystems". Many marketers and the pedlars and cheapjacks they work for go the additional step of deliberately using the term in misleading fashion to sell extra widgets. I also don't use the term "greenwashing". We don't need a special word for people who fib about the environmental benefits of something: fraud is just plain old fraud, however you lie or mislead people.

And so in this frame of mind I learned today that a California-built electric motor sports car has been approved for sale in Canada. The car's maker boasts it can accelerate from 0-100km/h in the preposterously precise time of 3.7 seconds. With a price tag of $125k, it's not a meaningful transportation option - just another toy for the wealthier members of the Viagra crowd. None of this troubles me much.

I'm somewhat troubled by the crowing in the business sections (which these days are little more than a space for reformatted corporate press releases, so lacking are they in attempts at journalism) about the approval of a "green roadster" (add this one to the list of new oxymorons for 2010). Obviously an electric motor produces no tailpipe emissions, unlike gasoline powered fuels, but unless this car/toy is made of recycled pop bottles and tin cans and is being plugged directly into a wind turbine at night, I'm trying hard to figure out how it can be considered "green" (oops, - just broke my own policy and used the "G" word).

I'm mostly troubled by the fact that this vehicle (whose name I will not write; I will not give its makers a single extra word of publicity) has been approved for use in Canada, but the Zenn compact electric vehicle has not been approved for use outside Quebec. The sports car makes little practical purpose in terms of transportation (seriously - who would park a $125K car in the office lot downtown?) and is deliberately designed to be driven at dangerous and illegal speeds. It's not even made here. What exactly are the benefits for Canadians. The Zenn car, meanwhile, is built here in Canada (hint for federal government: opportunity for long term job creation) and is specifically designed for everyday use in crowded large cities where congestion and air quality are concerns. The Zenn is neither a gold cart nor a rich-man's toy; it's a very practical vehicle that's far superior in terms of energy efficiency than other cars.

Actually, it's the difference in design that allows the useless sports car to be approved and the intelligently conceived Zenn car to be kept of most Canadian roads. the Zenn car is small and doesn't travel at unnecessarily high speeds. It's not intended to scream down the freeway, nor will it. You won't find yourself loading up the Zenn with camping gear and driving the kids to Florida; you won't be staring down the Honda Civic-driving teenager at the traffic light, challenging him to a drag race. It won't happen. But Canadian motor vehicle regulations require that a vehicle be capable of doing such things in the interest of road safety. Divided expressways have minimum speed limits; the Zenn can't exceed them, and so it isn't approved for use. Never mind that only a lunatic would drive one on the freeway, or that if you're really worried it might happen, that you could simply amend highway rules to make it illegal to do so. After all, the provinces already place restrictions on where/when/how newly licensed drivers are able to drive; it would be simple to do the same for vehicles like the Zenn.

But unfortunately, bureaucracy and logical, innovative thinking does not go together, especially here in Canada. And so while the Zenn car remains illegal to license and operate here in Ottawa, I am legally able to live out my inner Burt Reynolds and still boast how green I am.

No comments: