The internal combustion engine (ICE) has transported man for more than 100 years. It has brought goods to industry and homes, brought people to and from work, and enabled us to visit our families a hundred miles and more away on holidays.
There is no question that it has made our lives more convenient … or has it? With all this convenience, has the ICE and its necessary companion — fossil fuel — come to burden humans more than it benefits us?
When Henry Ford made the automobile a household item, there were fewer people on the planet and fewer cars on the road. We didn’t know then the effects of CO2 and couldn’t measure their small effect on the environment. Fast forward to the 21st century. According to Green Car Reports there are 1.2 billion cars on the road. Let’s look at the dynamics of the ICE 100 years after the Model T, what it takes for the convenience of filling up the family car at the local fast food mart.
First, there’s the exploration for fossil fuel and the pollution it creates from making ships — or, in the case of land exploration, trucks. Tools have to be manufactured, manpower is needed, and so forth. Let’s dismiss most of this as part of any product we utilize — say, mining the lithium to make EV batteries (2% of the batteries). Face it, everything we do burdens the planet. Everything we touch, eat, and drive; the air that we breathe; all burden our planet to a greater or lesser degree. Man’s existence and his future are tethered to the earth in the most fundamental way — no resources, no mankind; polluted resources, diseased mankind.
Back to our ICE: now we start from a relatively level playing field and we have fossil fuel out of the ground, so let’s next look at the resources and the pollution it creates in making the ICE. First, there’s the extraction of ore from the ground, then the smelting of engine blocks out of that ore, which is mostly done from coal, the dirtiest fossil fuel. Then there’s the pollution created bringing the engine block to a central location, machining it, and then adding the pollution of creating and bringing the hundreds of parts to make that ICE to the same location for assembly.
At this point, we have an ICE built. For comparison, an electric motor that runs an electric vehicle (EV), on the other hands, has only two moving parts, so the ICE has already used a lot more resources and energy than the EV. The EV motor is also much smaller and cast out of aluminum, as opposed to the ICE block cast out of iron, which requires more heat and energy to produce.
ICE trouble continues after it leaves the assembly line. In order to run that ICE, the fossil fuel we extracted from the ground earlier now comes into play. Let’s look at the problems this creates. The energy to extract and refine fossil fuel (FF) from the ground varies in estimates from between 4.5 and 6 kWh per gallon. The energy source to do this is the same FF that runs the ICE, with all its CO2 and other polluting emissions. Next we bring the FF to central locations for distribution — ships and trucks running FF continue to pollute the planet. Storage of the FF at major distribution centers and trucks to bring that FF to your local gas pump pile on more pollution. We’re not done, though. You can’t fill your car with gas just yet. Tanks have to be constructed and put in the ground using ICE machinery. Did I forget anything or is your tank finally filled?
The trouble is that things just get worse! Wars have to be fought to protect corporate oil interests. The machinery of war, testing of weaponry, and transportation of armies all bring with them more and more pollution, suffering, lives lost, and lands destroyed. The total is trillions of dollars that people pay for the inconvenience of filling their car, of pumping gas into their tank.
This must be the end. There can’t be anymore expense from the ICE engine. How are people bearing it, tolerating it?
Unfortunately, there is more. Parts inventories have to be maintained — oils, belts, spark plugs, antifreeze, wires, coils, and brake pads. Brake pads? All cars use brake pads, you can’t include that! Regenerative braking in EVs is so good that EV drivers can go a hundred miles or more without using their brakes. There’s no reason to believe those brakes won’t last 10–20 times longer than ICE brakes. That brings us to maintenance and maintaining repair shops, transporting consumable parts for engines to your local parts store. For comparison, the maintenance on a Chevy Bolt for the first 150,000 miles is to rotate the tires and change the cabin filter.
Done yet? No, we have to address climate change, the cost of acid rain, CO2 now at over 400 ppm, marine life and rainforest damage, etc., etc.
The ICE and the massive network to maintain, procure, and defend the fossil fuel to run it has proven itself to be one of the greatest burdens of modern man. The propaganda to hide, diffuse, and plant erroneous information about EVs and climate change goes into the millions of dollars. The lobbying to maintain wars, to control governments, and to buy politicians has shaken the foundations of democracy.
Isn’t it about time we ended this extensive burden to the world’s people for the sake of mankind’s future on a planet that has the potential to support life for the next billion-plus years? At what point do we ask ourselves if it’s worth the cost we’re paying to fill our tanks. At what point do we acknowledge that the price of taking our children to soccer practice is burdening them with a cost to their health, their future, and the planet that they very likely will not be able to pay?
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