Green Waste

Scanning the City’s facebook page trying to figure out if the Farmers Market was considered an essential service I instead learned that vehicles (including passenger cars) with emission ratings of EURO4 will no longer be able to enter the city during business hours. My dear BMW is blacklisted.

There had been some news about a coming federal subsidy of €10,000 for those who buy a new electric car – provided they send an old car to the junkyard.

I find myself furious, and seemingly on the wrong side.

There are two sorts of news about the climate crisis: [1] It’s happening, fast. [2] The rich countries’ governments are evasive and impotent.

Suddenly a different sort of news arrives: I am to throw away a perfectly good car.

Had the climate warriors instead asked me to report on my footprint and further restrict myself to “essential” activities, I would engage cheerfully.

But the goal of throwing away cars is offensive.

On a planet with scientists who produced three purportedly “brilliant” vaccines in a matter of months, why can we not instruct our scientists and engineers to clean the gasoline?

Short of that, why not instruct automotive engineers to design retrofits for existing cars and then governments can subsidize the conversion kits?

There is no justification for the throughput of materials involved in  junking cars less than 20 years old and encouraging people to buy new electric/hybrid. Even if the old car are purportedly “recycled”, metal recycling produces really terrible jobs. As does mining (often illegal) for e.g. cobalt and lithium needed for electric car batteries.

Whereas installing retrofits would create cognitively rich work for legions of auto mechanics.

The key point here is that the profit center for manufacturing companies is obsolescence. The top priority is to accelerate the buying cycle. Objects must become obsolete, either by purported “improvements”, or by intentionally-flawed manufacture, or by fashion, or by disposability.

This began in 1923 when Mr.. Sloane of General Motors confronted his inferiority to Mr.. Ford in the task of engineering a durable vehicle. Needing an alternative business strategy for selling his cars he seized the concept of selling a modern-looking car, quickly outdated by a more- modern-looking one, and so forth. This is called the strategy of “psychological” or “stylistic” obsolescence. (See Giles Slade’s excellent Made to Break.)

But now businesses have discovered regulatory obsolescence. Who is the biggest beneficiary of banning old cars? New car companies.

And they don’t just depend on slow government regulation. I was recently forced to replace a perfectly sound cellphone because my bank had built software that relied on a new OS, which my phone couldn’t handle. Accelerating software innovation forces acceleration of the hardware buying cycle.