“It’s hard to understand something when it depends on a person’s salary not understanding it.” This pearl of wisdom is usually attributed to Upton Sinclair, but many other thinkers have made similar observations. HL Mencken used the following phrase: “Never argue with a man whose business depends on not being convinced.”
This fact will be quite familiar to anyone who has written or read about climate change and technological responses to it. For many years, oil companies and their political representatives insisted that climate change was not real, even though their own internal research concluded that it was. When this position became untenable, they switched to arguing that combating climate change is compatible with continuing (and even increasing) the consumption of fossil fuels. In addition to rebranding themselves as climate change warriors, oil companies are also funding media campaigns and frivolous “studies” that cast doubt on the green bona fides of electric vehicles and renewable energy.
So the bogus arguments of fossil apologists may be morally offensive, but they are understandable. But what about people who understand and acknowledge the threat of climate change but refuse to embrace EVs and/or renewable energy?
I personally know many people who fit this description, and I’m sure many of our readers do too. A European friend of mine is a huge technophile – he always has the latest and greatest smartphone apps, and we’re into Teslas, solar panels, etc. We have had many discussions about However, when it was time for a new car, he bought one. a giant gas-guzzling SUV — and constantly tries to convince me that its fuel economy rivals that of my Prius (in fact, it has an EPA rating of 25 mpg).
Another gentleman, the young daughter of my acquaintance, is as liberal as anyone I know—a committed vegan and passionate supporter of equal rights and environmental justice. Still, when he recently bought a new home for his young family, he opted for a suburban McMansion that required a daily commute of almost 100 miles by driving a gas-guzzling SUV.
At this point, our conservative friends may point out that these are examples of independent, critical thinking. My friends aren’t into EVs – they understand that EVs actually pollute more than gas-burners, and the best thing we can all do for the environment is to keep using fossil fuels (“low-carbon oil”). can be “clean diesel” and “clean coal”).
However, the “EVs’ dirty little secret” argument that filters through the sewers of social media hundreds of times a day does not stand up to scientific scrutiny. In a recent three-article series (“Debunking Common Anti-EV Myths,” parts one, two, and three), I provide links to dozens of studies demonstrating the environmental benefits of EVs over older cars.
Haven’t my green-talking, SUV-driving friends read my works? Surely, before making a purchase decision, they reviewed all the available literature and carefully weighed the various pro-EV and anti-EV arguments?
Well, maybe not. As any psychologist will tell you, we humans are naturally prone to certain biases, which often cause us to make decisions without considering any logical arguments for or against a particular choice. As a car salesman will tell you, people make purchasing decisions based on emotion, then use logic to justify them later (my friend who drives a “fuel efficient” SUV provides a perfect example).
We humans have a bias to continue doing what we have always done. Americans are so used to spending two hours of each workday boiling in traffic and cursing that most of us, including my liberal suburban friend, don’t see that it’s crazy.
Our biases cause us to see each new technology through the lens of the technology it replaces. That’s why many people think that the transition to electric cars will require replacing all gas pumps with charging stations. Many car buyers shy away from going electric because they mistakenly believe it means waiting for their car to charge. Policymakers make the wrong placement decisions for chargers because they don’t understand that driving patterns in an electric ecosystem will not be the same.
Of course, the harmful effects of human biases are seen not only at the micro level of individual car buyers, but also at the macro level of politicians and corporate leaders. With a prejudice that the old ways are best, Toyota is spending a lot of money and influence trying to convince G7 politicians to promote hybrids at the expense of electric cars. A California agency that should be promoting zero-emissions commercial vehicles has instead funneled money to a fossil fuel advocacy group, believing some clean diesel and LNG vehicles pose less risk than EVs. And of course, politicians in many countries love the idea of using hydrogen to fuel passenger cars, against the advice of most scientists and car manufacturers – apparently because they believe that fueling a vehicle involves pumping and burning something (and therefore that) they see a way to save fossil fuel money).
In a recent article, cleantech consultant Michael Barnard examines several common human biases in the context of climate change policy decisions. “Politicians, decision-makers and influencers on the key climate action file, which we will invest trillions in transformation over the coming years and decades, need to have clearer eyes than the average person on the street,” he writes. “They need to work harder to understand their own biases and blind spots, and ensure that they work with teams and advisors who have different biases and blind spots to ensure that groupthink doesn’t lead them down a path of failure.”
Barnard provides several examples of biases that lead individuals and leaders to make bad economic decisions. People tend to fear loss more than gain, which makes people less enthusiastic about potentially transformative car-to-grid technology (drivers fear losing control over vehicle charging, rather than valuing the money they can make from the utility). Americans are conditioned to believe that we live in the “best country in the world,” which blinds us to the fact that we have the least reliable electricity grid of any developed nation. In fact, investing in upgrading and improving the grid we all depend on can have more environmental benefits than pouring money into public chargers that will only serve a small number of drivers. We also have the “dysfunctional myth of rugged individualism” that can lead some to invest in overpriced battery storage systems when a car-to-home solution might make more economic sense.
Mr. Barnard also touches on the irrational enthusiasm for hydrogen as an automobile fuel. A century of dependence on liquid or gaseous fuels has left many people “stuck in the paradigm of burning things for heat … their long familiarity bias is that the only energy that counts is the energy you light a match.”
Over the past few decades, many in the transportation and energy industries have stuck to hydrogen and refused to let it go, even as more recent research shows that while hydrogen has applications in certain industrial processes, it is an inefficient and expensive way to do so. power vehicles. “Their confirmation bias prevents them from accepting information that contradicts their preconceived notions and means that they overrely on weak information that supports their preconceived notions.”
Barnard has some similar comments about the nuclear energy crowd, noting that many of them “made this pro-nuclear decision in the early to mid-2000s, when it was really uncertain whether wind and solar could scale, be reliable and cost-effective on the grid. . They have not updated their priorities on the subject. As a result, they ignore the empirical reality of the past decade that clearly shows that nuclear is, at best, only useful for the last 5 to 20% of electricity generation, not 50% to 80%. Many people hold onto perspectives they acquired decades ago and, for a variety of reasons, don’t update their datasets and analyses.”
Mr. Barnard admits that he has his own blind spots and biases, and yes, dear readers, so does your favorite HOME writer. Being biased doesn’t mean we’re stupid, it just means we’re human. Certain biases are hardwired into our brains, and some of the strongest biases are the ones that keep us from taking risks and trying new things. “Renovating our predecessors” is one of the most difficult tasks for us humans, but now the ecosystem that supports all life on Earth is under threat, and we will have to face some of these to make the radical change required. prejudices and their elimination.
Originally published on EVANNEX.
By Charles Morris
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