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Midnight Pub

The Morality of the Electric Car


I bought an electric car, and with tax credits and rebates it was a fantastic deal. The operating costs are mostly new tires, as the extra weight makes them wear faster than an equivalently sized ICE car. I can charge for free as long as the sun's out thanks to solar panels on the house.

It was a great deal of fun for about two years, but then the truth settles in:

It's still a car.

It still sits in traffic a lot and requires massive ugly infrastructure designed to accommodate it. It's still a massive high-speed monster that is dangerous as hell by its very nature. Its mere existence degrades the urban environment, not to mention the devastation wreaked by the mining required to create the batteries.

I am now considering selling it, as even if the exact costs cannot be exactly quantified financially, the fact that certain of the costs exist at all is difficult to square with being a moral being.

I know that the components that make up my bicycle are also sometimes the product of labor conditions and environmental damage that I would likely recoil from, but hopefully less so simply by virtue of being so much smaller...and sometimes I simply have to get somewhere faster or further than walking allows.

I have to strike a bargain with myself and society, and it's a balance between what allows me to live a practical life and causes as little damage to the world, both locally and on a wider level, as I can reasonably manage.

This is a dangerous path to go down, philosophically. You thread the finest of moral needles, or you reject civilization entirely and become Derrick Jensen. It's a difficult place to live, mentally. Once you see the compartmentalization, it's an act of wanton disregard to unsee it...but then what do you do with your life and surroundings?

Perhaps we need a soapbox outside the Pub, for the wandering madmen to rant thus.

Write a reply


~starbreaker wrote:

This is why I try to buy secondhand goods when possible. If I'm buying something used that's still in acceptable condition, the original manufacturers aren't getting a cut and I feel like I'm not making things worse.

For example, I bought a used 2006 Nissan Sentra in 2008. It was off-lease and only had 30,000 miles on the meter. It now has 151,000 miles. I suspect I can get it to 250,000 before it finally dies on me as long as I'm diligent with maintenance.

Granted, I can't stop Nissan and other manufacturers from making new cars in the hope that they'll be sold, but I can at least refuse to buy new cars when good-enough used cars are available.

Likewise with computers. I'm typing this on a refurbished Lenovo ThinkCentre M92P mid-tower machine originally manufactured in 2012. It's got an i7 CPU, I maxed out the RAM, and I added a 1TB SSD as its new main system drive; the original 2TB HDD is for music and photos. My personal laptop is a ThinkPad T60 originally manufactured in 2007. I upgraded that too. It's good enough.

Of course, my fountain pen is new, but I hope that isn't nearly as harmful as buying a new car or a new computer.

~ew wrote:

Hello whiskeyding,

yes, it's still a car. And I'm not even trying to judge, whether mining lithium instead of oil is an environmental advantage all things considered.

I have not owned a car for a very long time. I always had bicycles. I did all my shopping with them. Then came the day when I decided to buy a (rather small) motorbike from a friend, who moved to a land afar. I loved this Yamaha SR500. I rode it for approximately 90000 km over the course of 10 or 11 years --- no matter what the temperature, whether rain or sun shine ... The point I wish to make is this: this machine enabled me to do things and participate in certain activity, which I would not have done without it. This includes countless hours of maintenance up to a complete overhaul of the engine itself.

Then came the day, when I married. My wife had a car, and so I had access to wheeled transportation. We moved to satisfy job and life demands. I moved again to gain another job after being without one for 10 months. We went into weekend commute of 200 km distance. For that I bought a big motorcycle and gave away the SR500. This commute situation imho is not really desirable. After 3 years I changed jobs again, we moved again, now to a fairly rural place to accommodate life between two different locations of job.

Then came the day, when my mother needed more help, and my brother and sister asked for some support. 200km distance. In principle I could take the train, however, it would take approximately 5 hours to get there, and another 5 to get home. That was the day when I bought a small car (Peugeot 206). And again, this machine has enabled me to do things, i.e. support my mother, brother, and sister.

I could have given the Peugeot away after my mother departed from this planet. But I didn't. And I am glad I didn't. Again this machine has enabled me to commute by car instead of public transportation, when corona numbers took a rather sharp rise in October 2020. My wife very clearly expected me to not come home with Corona and give it to her and my mother in law (aged 86). I did not argue, but took the car. My wife had changed to permanent home office, so one could call it a fair deal. But I still burn up more fuel than I did before. I did not cancel my public transportation ticket. And now, that I have received two doses of vaccine, I'm looking forward to take the train again soonish.

And that is the main point mentioned by ~pink2ds: it's good to do less, but you will die if you do not enough. Contrary to common desire, no simple answers are available here.

I would also like to add a few more options to their most desirable

Do I need it?

They are

Do I need it this size or could it be less/smaller?

Do I need it that often?

Do I need a brand new one, or would second hand do?

Do I need it all alone or can it be shared?

Can I combine some action with another in order to reduce overall expenditure?

As others have pointed out in other words: It does not do any good if by all this doing/spending less you blow out your own life candle. Nothing is gained from that. I have been down a very dark mental alley myself, and I can tell you: It is not nice there, it takes a lot of determination to survive. Remember: the sun is shining for you, too!



~212fahrenheit wrote:

Honestly i'd chill out, this type of stuff has sent me down a bad spiral of thoughts & none of them lead to any comfort or good solution.

Take it one step at a time & take it by a day by day level and do small changes. Lots of change can be stressful & (at least) I am in it for the long run. The majority of people say they support the environment but do nothing, so by doing something your already contributing more!

Plus everything is in prospective too, like cars are not good dont get me wrong, but a single flight is a lot worse, so if your flying somewhere, if your able to turn it into a car trip, thats good.

Just this week, I finished moving my site from a large server that ate 400w to a couple of RPI4s totaling to about 20ish average Watts of draw. thats 380w that now wont be consumed by me (or other visiting the sites)

tl;dr its about a life style and not single choice, so the way I see it is, what have you done this week to be less of a burden?

~zampano wrote:

One thing to consider is that, for better or worse, you already own this car. Most of the damage you describe is already done. So then the question becomes whether selling it to someone else will be a benefit or a harm? On the one hand, it means potentially one less new one will be made, but I frankly doubt that correlation actually exists (I don't think car manufactures get the numbers that correct, in other words). So is this outweighed by the costs of buying a new bike?

~pink2ds wrote:

There are two kinds of these moral tightropes and I see them as fundamentally different from each other.

One is where you are trying to thread the needle between two wrongs. For example, walking a tightrope between cultural imperialism vs cultural appropriation. It'd be much easier to avoid one of them if the other was allowed and vice versa; trying to avoid both becomes more difficult. It's possible but a challenge.

The other is where these two things are true:

The less you do of it, the better, but

you need to do a non-zero amount of it or you'll die.

Impacting the environment negatively is in that latter category. Being mammals, even every breath we take impacts the environment a little bit.

It's not that net zero emissions environments/​networks aren't possible, they are, but most of us aren't in one.

We can try to compensate by effecting reductions in other people's behaviors, by influencing markets or political policy. For example, someone who over their lifetime has a certain amount of negative impact on the environment while overall directly causing the rest of the population to decrease their impact by more than that amount has been a net force of good.

We can also try to do it less. Yeah, I don't have a car either.

Cut down everything that's not needed.

Eating plants is probably the biggest and most obvious change you can do.

People who need cars (I have a difficult time imagine what kind of circumstances would mean that you absolutely need a car—you're an ambulance driver maybe?) then electric cars are the least-bad by a pretty significant margin. They're also less-bad than hydrogen cell cars to my current understanding.

So the point is that while the first kind of moral tightrope requires a multifaceted, nuanced navigation because you need to keep two dangers in mind—Scylla vs Charybdis from the Odyssey being a classic example of this—the second at least is slightly easier because there's a checklist you can use:

Do I need it? y/n

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