A related concept is the "Pentium mentality", the notion that any technology will drop in price next year. You don't need to explain why the price will come down; it just happens.
Many people use that rule to explain why electric cars and solar cells will be commonplace soon, when it is obvious that they are way too expensive to be practical.
There is an old saying that goes - "never trust a politician any further than you can throw him". That ain't very far, and gets even shorter with a group of them (legislature, senate, what have you). Yet they continue to ask us to trust them with (fill in the blanks).
To the point that legislative fiat can bring retribution for failure, I would like to somehow see said "legislators" suffer retribution way beyond just being un-elected or un-appointed. That might slow them down a bit....but I doubt it. The temptation is just too great.
Our current banking system is largely fiat money that is "declared" money by the government. It is not backed by anything but promises and deceit, allowing the government can spend more then they take in through taxes. The recent bailouts of big banks and Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae show that those who engage in the money fiat structure make the rules and shove the consequences on the rest of us while they get off without real penalty.
I agree with you Bill. However, I would not want to diminish the importance of goals (even politically driven ones) in advancing science and engineering. What is wrong in this legislation is that it is dictating pretty much everything: the technology and the market share. This is simply unrealistic and quite frankly stupid.
Setting such goals is the need of the day, with the depletion of natural resources. And who knows such "diktats" might lead to the invention of newer technologies which can help the mankind to enjoy luxury & also co-exist with nature.
The engineering community should take this as a challenge & come out with tangible results in the said amount of time. A couple of decades is a fair time limit for us to "deliver"......
It is reasonable for society, through it's legislators as one directive mechanism, to set major goals ("go to the moon in this decade"). However, such successes encourage the hubris of thinking that direction equals outcome. Attempting to dictate too many parameters leads to failure ("you can have it fast, cheap, or good - but not all 3 at the same time").
The committee should have done something like provide tax incentives for gas-free electric car development. What if the goals are not met? Is it the carmaker rather than consumer or taxpayer that pays?
Resistion and Rich are certainly correct about providing motivations instead of mandates! The first and most obvious challenge of electric vehicles is the energy to charge them. I must come from some place. That is one unpleasant reality that is certain to cause a lot of pain. So far, I have not heard or seen any rational description of where this quantity of energy will come from. I have heard all sorts of descriptions about quite expensive energy sources, but those are proposed as alternatives to the present sources. So once again, it is time to stand up and say "You have a good idea, jnow show us a plan to implement it".
The surest way to bring electric cars into very widespread use is to exempt them from many of the stupid safety mandates that burden current vehicles. Unfortunately, the same legislatures also believe that individuals should not be responsible for the results of their actions.
It is true that sometimes governments do take actions that are silly and/or incorrect.
However, in this particular case, Bill's article appears to be a "cheap shot," that mischaracterizes the Senate Bill in order to manufacture a "straw man" that he can then easily shoot down.
Bill does this in the very first line of his article, where he says the proposed Senate bill has provisions "requiring that 50% of cars be all-electric, battery-powered in 20 years" and provides a link to a WSJ article that he claims supports his statement.
In fact, I have read the WSJ article and no where does it mention any such requirement. What the article does say is the following: "The goal is to electrify half the country’s cars and trucks by 2030, which could reduce demand for oil in the U.S. by as much as one-third." A "goal" is very different from a "requirement" and Bill ought to know this.
Funding one option, towards solving our energy problems in the future, in no way means that other options will not be pursued. The Senate Bill only allocates $3.9 billion, over 10 years, towards its goals. Given the very real potential that electric cars could be the transportation method of the future, this does not seem like a particularly large sum.
Perhaps the best approach is to look at the long term objective without trying to micromanage the best route to get there. When polio was a national problem, it was tempting to ramp up iron lung production - but the seemingly impossible development of a polio vaccine was a much better long term solution. We need to provide incentives to encourage deployment of the best currently available technologies. We also must ensure that visionary solutions which meet the objectives in unexpected ways are encouraged.
Dr. Quine is quite right. It is essential that a range of technological solutions, including visionary ones, be pursued.
This is exactly why our government, just a bunch of "keystone cops" according to Bill, has recently formed ARPA-E: "Advanced Research Projects Administration - Energy." It follows exactly in the tradition of the venerable DARPA, but rather than visionary military-related proposals it funds visionary alternative energy proposals.
And while we're on the topic of DARPA, lets not forget that DARPA funded the development and deployment of the DARPA-net for decades before it became something called the Internet.
I always laugh when I read anti-government screeds on a medium essentially created by government paid-for-researchers for which nobody pays a royality for using the technology.
Give wha JKaplanIP wrote, sorry this is just an invective against we the people through our government attempting to set critical goals. There are projects which cannot and would never be handled in the private sector, and which require the resources of we the people, our government.
I'll duck the greater discussion on politicicised science and engineering here. This particular fiat isn't just about producing items, it's also a dictat to the population to buy them.
The UK is going through a similar example right now with the dictat for windmills to generate electricity.
One or two more comments on having 50% of the cars be electric powered vehicles seem to be appropriate. Who will service these wonderful machines? This is not a trivial question, since there are a few safety concerns. Battery packs do not "switch off" and become safe, that invisible 320 volts is there just waiting to do something. And most people can't see electricity, so it is going to be a very interesting scene as service is needed for the EVs. Another concern is about what happens after the car has lived it's useful life. What will become of the battery pack, which will probably still be able to hold enough charge to be dangerous? What will happen to the drive motors and the associated electronics, which will be fairly high powered, at least by comparison to todays consumer electronics? Along with that question comes another, which is what about the proven reduction in reliability of the lead-free electronics? Who will be willing to accept the failure of their $9000 control module because of a poor soldered connection? These are a few questions that need answers before the widespread proliferation of EVs happens.
@Pubs : The government has not mandated our use of the internet, only funded the development. The growth of the internet was independent of government pressure, and in all likelyhood has been slowed by FCC actions. On the other hand, the government bureaucracy has been an early adopter of internet technology for making available information and documentation related to our everyday lives (e.g., driver's license and auto tag renewal is online in AZ).
The government funds development of other good things, like those giant trash trucks that pick up those giant trash bins in front of our houses. Like the internet, the government holds title to the IP for that technology, and it has certainly brought a benefit to our communities at a very low cost.
On the other hand, the government is not deeply invested in the development of electric cars, and has done nothing to guard the necessary raw materials. We watch with apprehension as the Chinese government limits exports of the necessary materials for batteries and rare earth elements for advanced technologies, and makes agreements with African nations for materials not available in China. Yet the U.S. government has never acted to take title to what little IP it has funded, leaving those "details" to the corporations that are pressing the technology. Of course, our U.S. tax dollars will be given willingly to anyone that wants to buy solar cells or electric cars, without expectation of any significant or even long-term return on that investment.
The other thing that I see as a problem with legislating solutions is the presumption that there is really nothing in the way, and that all the engineerig people have to do is just pull the solution, which they presume exists and is practical, out of some pocket, and what ever problem is suddenly solved. In other words, the actual creativity and skill of our profession is overlooked, and even denied, and we are equated to those cookie-cutter diploma-mill MBAs that are the source of so many of our problems today. And for those who are offended by that last remark, try to find a reason that it is not correct!
It has occurred to me that there is room for legislative fiat, but not in the determination of engineering advances. The place for some serious govenment rule-making is in the number of distractions that would be allowed for the driver in a car. Some rules there could benefit almost everyone. Another discussion talks about the information overload, and how it is becoming a problem. The challenge, of course, is that the features are added to provide "product differentiation", rather than to satisfy any actual need. My solution would be to take the automotive dashboard back to the early 1980's, and any additions would need to be demonstrated to improve either safety or reliability, prior to letting them be sold. Some people would complain that it would be stifling creativity, which may be a very valuable thing to do.
Transportation using alternative energy should be on the level of a national Grand Challenge - with incentives, but not laws requiring compliance. Congress passed mileage laws starting in the early 70's after the first gas crisis and they were never met and had no accountability in any case. (Unless you consider the fact that consumers voted with their wallets and purchased foreign vehicles that were not gas guzzlers). Why would this be any different?
The government should just get out of the way and let the free market work. Command economies always end in failure.
Unfortunatelly, America keeps sliding towards more statism. Please put a stop to this insanity!
Have you no faith in the power of the oil, car, and tire companies ability to stop any such legislation from being passed? My gosh, they have the best Congress money can buy. Kidding aside, it appears that few of the comments come from people who actually read the article. I would hope that engineers would check out the facts and not simply react since everyone wants to jump all over the government. As fun as it may be, this country is facing some serious problems and maybe some thinking should happen before we dismiss everything just because it was suggested by a Senate committee. They can and should set the goals, provide funding if possible, but leave the engineering details to the people actually attempting to build the electric cars.