Saturday, December 17, 2011

A Falling 'Leaf'

By now, I'm sure that you've all seen this commercial for the 'all electric' Nissan Leaf (and if you've somehow managed to avoid it or have forgotten that you've seen it, please press 'play' above before continuing).  I have to give credit to the ad agency that came up with the concept, the actors for playing their parts without a snicker, and Nissan for using such a spot to highlight their latest example of "Green Technology"

Watching it brings back memories of the film style of Terry Gilliam (of Monty Python fame, especially the animation).  This effort, and the expressions of the actors, is very reminiscent of Gilliam's obscure and perplexing "Brazil", which I think I watched three times before I began to get a hint of understanding how to follow the plot.  Having heaped praise and a bit of confusion onto Nissan's sixty-one second cinematic effort, I am forced to ask however:

What do they think we are, morons?

It's bad when an automobile manufacturer attempts to heap scorn on the modern technology that has contributed to the very development of the product that they are trying to sell us.  It's worse when Nissan calmly suggests that  everyone jump in on their 1st Generation technology, one that's likely to prove either faulty or obsolete, long before the natural lifetime of this vehicle expires.  It's worse still for them to 'guilt' us into buying a vehicle whose batteries probably contain more in the way of long-term environmental hazards than their gas burning counterparts.  It's downright aggravating to be scolded by a company that has made all of its money selling vehicles that burn fossil fuels about the evils of doing so.

Perhaps worst of all for me is watching the end of the commercial when they oh so smugly ask, "What if everything ran on gas?  Then again, what if everything didn't?" while showing us the clean and efficient sidewalk charging station. 

Well Nissan, I have a couple questions in return, "Where do you think the electricity for that charging station comes from?  Could it fall from the trees that the charging station is in line with?  No, then perhaps it magically comes out of the ground beneath the charging station?  No again, then maybe the power for Nissan Leafs comes from 'Magic Electricity Fairies' who have an endless supply for those lucky enough to own such an Earth-friendly vehicle?"

In point of fact in this country, the odds are that any electricity the charging station uses comes from a power plant that burns fossil fuels (you know, like coal, oil, and gas).  After all, renewable energy in this country (including wind, hydro, solar, and geothermal) accounts for just over 14.3 % of all of the power generated.  That means that there's better than a 1 in 6 chance that the power going to that charging station comes from the very technology being demonized in the ad.

By implication therefore, an increase in power generation required to keep a fleet of Nissan Leaf's on the road would require even more fossil fuel to be burned to generate such electricity; which seems counter-intuitive to the concept that these vehicles will reduce our dependence on fossil fuels.  Certainly we can expect no additional help from nuclear power generation, as since the Japan earthquakes, even discussing the implications of increasing nuclear power in this country is anathema.

As for the evil fossil fuel power generation going on in the US, it's coming under increasing attack from the EPA.  Many current coal burning power plants are scheduled for shut down, as their operators tell us that if not impossible, it's unprofitable to bring them up to the standards required by the government.  With the shutdown of these aging power plants across the country, the US electric grid will come under sizable strain to keep up with existing power usage in this country.  Many are in fact predicting the likelihood of rolling blackouts even without the growth in current usage, an increase that will be impossible to avoid if and when the economy again begins to expand.  Buying electric cars by extension therefore, will only deepen the real possibility of power shortages in this country.

In yet another classic case of what economist Thomas Sowell calls "Stage One Thinking", we are once again being encouraged to adopt a technology whose implications yield eventual dire consequences.  Forget or ignore the manufacture, placement, and logistics involved with the charging stations.  Forget as well the limited range, the replacement or disposal costs of batteries, or a hundred other things required to support such vehicles on a practical scale.  Forget as well, some of the missteps like the Chevy Volt; which has already proved itself more than capable of catching fire when charging or sitting in a parking spot (let alone what might happen to passengers during a actual car accident).  Let us by all means race blindly ahead in implementation, trusting that such problems will be solved (perhaps by the 'Power Fairies')

But 'Bravo' to Nissan, who instead sends us a not-so-subtle message by showing us a jogger waving away the fumes of a gas-powered cell phone while using a gas-guzzling Ipod. (In fact, wasn't it strange that every device in the commercial had a visible exhaust?)  Kudos as well for the comparison of the guy filling his car with gas in shirtsleeves, and the guy at the charging station wearing a sport coat.  We all of course missed the implication that by being better dressed, those who use electric vehicles are somehow smarter, better off, or more important than those who continue to rely on energy derived from dead dinosaurs.  

Some may actually buy into the persuasion of such 60 second cinema.  Of course they're probably the same ones convinced that they will gain respect of their peers by drinking the right light beer or get the girl if they only wear Axe cologne.  As for me, I remember that the problem with a leaf is that while it's attractive enough to look at, it's doomed to fall ... and usually far too soon ...

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