Fear of Progress

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A recent article on CleanTechnica,BBC Click: Are Electric Vehicles ‘The Future Of Road Vehicles?’ EV Owners: ‘Duh.’” basically covered what CleanTechnica and other green energy websites have been saying for years, that EVs are superior to internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles in more ways than one. This is not news to informed progressives, but it is very much news to the general public.

Most readers get their fill of current culture from TV, Facebook, mainstream news sources, movies, TV shows, and still some even from the traditional newspaper (really). Conservatives know this, so they work very hard to manipulate the media to do its bidding. And they are successful, using tactics such as creating doubt, double standards, bothsiderism, bullying — a topic for a future article.

Culture is ever evolving, but is subject to human biases and the status quo. Part of that status quo is a fear of progress. The fear is routed in an irrational fear of change and the “unknown.” The familiar is comfortable and change typically evolves slowly and organically. Path dependence (discussed recently) is a big determinant of progress because it’s linear and it’s more comfortable than sudden and radical change to the order of things. A culture can be viewed in social and technological facets. Social/cultural progress is often incremental, each generation growing up in a slightly more enlightened world and progress moving forward achingly slowly. The past two generations have made more rapid progress than humans have historically made, but this has led to a much larger backlash (thanks, Trump).

Tomorrow is another day and regression will lose, but it won’t go down quietly. On the technological front, progress marches forward and small incremental change is not considered as dangerous because it’s slow enough for most people to emotionally handle. Creative destruction, on the other hand, often brings immediate and forceful backlash. From microwaves to cell phones to electric vehicles, the fear of radical change brings strong backlash because it threatens the established order.

This is also a facet in medical science — diseases are often considered psychosomatic by default until a diagnostic test or mechanism is discovered and proven, over and over again. From heart disease to ulcers to multiple sclerosis to myalgic encephalomyelitis and more, new ideas took years and even generations to gain acceptance, yet the discredited BS from beforehand persists to this day in the minds of many. And rapid change is often shunned if it hits a nerve, an example being a “radical” treatment for preventing brain damage from stroke not being accepted. It often seems to take a new generation growing up familiar with the “radical” idea for it to gain broad acceptance. “A scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it,” Max Planck states.

One only has to look at the prevailing media to see how EVs are vilified. The media covers every fire, even when they occur at a small fraction of the rate of the legacy gas engine fires (double standards). Tesla is vilified in everything it does, stock shorters and regressives playing the media to turn the public against Tesla — and by extension, EVs. Dishonest hit pieces are published to discredit the disruptive technology. Tesla killers were omnipresent in the news for years (notice how they all basically failed), and trolls show up almost everywhere to argue against progress. Oil companies and legacy players spend large sums to buy politicians to prevent change. Misinformation and FUD campaigns are propagated to provoke fear of progress and maintain the status quo. Fake think tanks are created to sow fear and doubt. And the list goes on.

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Paranoia and fear are omnipresent, but they work hard to sound legitimate. Fear causes people to become more xenophobic, not just in fear of other humans but in fear of new technology. Whether that fear is rational or irrational is inconsequential. Conservatives are happy to manufacture fake fear to achieve their aims. In addition, the constant propaganda war and bullying is meant to keep us busy refuting nonsense in part to prevent us from making more rapid progress.

But the dam eventually breaks and the superior facets of the new technology defeat the forces of the status quo. The campaigns of lies and fear (cultural manipulation) fail, though they can delay progress by years, decades, and sometimes even centuries (at least in modern times centuries of delay have become uncommon). A great deal of harm in the form of human misery and environmental system damage happens that could have been avoided. In regards to climate change, we no longer have decades or centuries to delay before we start aggressively fighting the problem, unless we want to fail.

So, how do we deal with this issue? Exposure helps. When people see solar panels and EVs in their neighborhood, they become curious and are more likely to install solar themselves. Positive media coverage helps people become more comfortable with the new technology (which is exactly why conservatives fight for lies over reality in media). Younger people are more accepting of the new technology because they have no personal history of the obsolete to cling to. Also, low costs of ownership help (the expected purchase price of the new Tesla pickup is extremely competitive and an example of a new technology “arriving” despite all efforts against it). Making the costs even lower will help change more minds. There are also watershed events that change the landscape (another oil price shock will work wonders).

Directly addressing FUD often has little impact because rational logic has little effect on emotions. When someone fears a technology, teaching them facts does not address the fear, dread, or irrationality. Plus, it becomes a game of whack-a-mole — the regressives step up their attacks, goal posts are constantly moved, and the bullying and lies adjust to fit the changing landscape. What often breaks through this is simply time and exposure.

Cell phones are an excellent example: They were cancer causing; with no data, the “theory” was sacrosanct soon after they appeared and scientific refutation did nothing to affect the fear. However, time, features, low cost, and ubiquity (not to mention a generation addicted to reddit, Twitter, and Facebook) made them universal.

So, we need to address the emotions, explaining how renewable energy will not change how consumers use electricity, that blackouts will not happen at night and when there is no wind, and that EVs are in fact superior in acceleration, costs, and longevity (not to mention no longer being affected by oil price spikes). We have to tough people where it matters — emotionally and in their pocketbook. And they need exposure to the products.

At this point, we have strong demand for EVs, but the media is still hyping up range anxiety and the lack of charging stations (ignoring home and destination charging), not to mention all kinds of Tesla FUD (meant to divide and conquer). This means demand is not as strong as it would be without the lies, smears, and manufactured fear. Customers are not yet refusing to buy gasoline vehicles and forcing manufacturers to scale up EV production. In renewable energy, we have a fair bit of interest, but the cost being up front, utility company fear of change, stranded assets, and lack of supply mean we are not on schedule for a 1.5°C pathway. If motivation changed overnight, we would have immediate renewable energy supply shortages.

We need to break this logjam quickly, and we need supply to scale up production to meet it (at least there are green shoots on this one in recent months in regards to EVs).

Any other ideas for more quickly improving public sentiment towards renewable energy and electric transportation are appreciated in the comments.

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Barry A.F.

I've had an interest in renewable energy and EVs since the days of deep cycle lead acid conversions and repurposed drive motors (and $10/watt solar panels). How things have changed. Also I have an interest in systems thinking (or first principles as some call it), digging into how things work from the ground up. Did you know that 97% of all Wikipedia articles link to Philosophy? A very small percentage link to Pragmatism. And in order to put my money where my mouth is I own one (3x split) Tesla share.   A link to all my articles

Barry A.F. has 68 posts and counting. See all posts by Barry A.F.