Over the last 100 odd years our destructive streak has accelerated at a supersonic rate – and facilitating many of its most injurious effects has been the internal combustion engine. If you disagree, then you occupy a realm of fantasy so great the combined imaginations of J. K. Rowling and J. R. R. Tolkien would struggle to map it.
However, like Rowling’s very own Severus Snape (apologies to the non-Potter fans amongst the readership, of which I imagine there are quite a few), the internal combustion engine is no out and out oily villain. It could be viewed, though, as a most devilish paradox. If no attempt is made to lessen the environmental damage that internal combustion perpetrates then human existence faces mortal peril; the catch is that attempts to combat this environmental damage pose perilous problems to humans – right now.
Take our industry as an example: legislative attempts to take on internal combustion endanger livelihoods – including yours and mine. We are told that electric cars are the future and that, by 2040, the sale of fossil fuel cars will no longer be permitted. The problem is that electric cars contain significantly fewer components and thus, whether in manufacture, sales or repair, don’t require the same levels of workforce. Put simply, the electrification of the motorcar could signal a global bonfire of motor industry jobs – and it won’t be the executives and directors who are the worst affected; it will be those grimly clinging to the bottom rungs of the economic ladder. Evidence shows that it is the richest 1% of the world’s population that causes the most environmental damage – and yet it isn’t the richest 1% that will suffer hardship as a result of attempts to battle pollution. It doesn’t seem fair does it?
The challenges posed by climate change should not be shirked and they are not necessarily insuperable; although they will be if there is a continuation of the tokenism that marks the current approach. As an example, the UK government’s recent announcement pertaining to 2040 marks nothing more than the legislating of wilful damage to an industry that is essential to our already fragile economy. It is morally incumbent upon whoever is in power to ensure that the industry’s workforce isn’t destroyed by ineffectual attempts to take on climate change. An unhappy consequence of the juggernaut of technological change is that jobs are steamrollered in its wake. If increased automation and decreased rates of employment are to continue, then government needs to start thinking about universal incomes so all of us are able to work less. There is certainly enough money to go round if that money is equitably distributed.
To return to the fundamental point, if climate change is to be tackled then it must be tackled holistically and we must all be in it together; motor industry employees simply can’t be treated as the fall guys – too much is at stake. Before the government rips the jobs from under the feet of many an honest worker, I want Philip Green’s ocean-wrecking yachts and gas-guzzling private jets requisitioned! It won’t happen, of course, but without the principle of equality underpinning any action on the climate, then action is as much of a problem as it is a solution.