by Cedric Hughes, Barrister & Solicitor with regular weekly contributions from Leslie McGuffin, LL.B.   

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An Electric Car as a Basic Human Right?

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California is the most populous American state and, were it wholly independent, the sixth largest economy in the world. Wikipedia describes it as “a global trendsetter … the origin of the film industry, the hippie counterculture, the Internet and the personal computer, among others.” It is the bluest of Democrat states, a leader in setting and advancing novel government programs funded by uniquely Californian taxation methods. Perhaps surprisingly, California ranks low in state comparisons of cars per capita— ‘surprisingly’ because its largest cities are choked by traffic congestion. Smog remains a problem but less so now thanks to technological innovation spurred on by ever-stricter air quality regulation. Public transit infrastructure development has been a relative latecomer. But the trend now is all about ‘keeping people out of their cars’ and Californians it seems are generally all such initiatives. The bumper sticker slogan “Fossil-free” is a mantra now. The state government in Sacramento struggles with budgetary challenges of its own making but remains, so they say, ‘open’ to new ideas. Perhaps under this influence, the Sacramento municipal government recently spearheaded an effort to fund a $1.3 million ‘pilot project’ to purchase a “mini-fleet” of eight Kia Soul electric cars for 300 residents of three public housing projects. By simply registering to use these cars, residents will qualify for on demand access to the vehicles “with no charge for maintenance, insurance or [battery] charging.” Two Kia cars will be available in each applicable neighbourhood and two more will be available at the Sacramento Train Depot. California Cap-and-Trade, funded from payments by businesses to offset their carbon emissions has contributed more than a million dollars to the grant; the Sacramento Housing and Redevelopment Agency, Mutual Housing California, the Sacramento Municipal Utility District, the City of Sacramento, and Policy in Motion have also contributed. The grant covers the program costs for one year. A spokesperson for the Sacramento Metropolitan Air Quality District, the lead agency for the "Our Community Car-Share Program," has been quoted as saying "These vehicles will be available for short trips — a maximum of three hours at a time — and they'll be able to go run errands, go to the grocery store, go to a doctor's appointment, go to a job interview." Thomas Hall, of the same Sacramento agency, voiced similar approval: "Not having a car … it can be a real strain to get places safely." A resident was quoted as saying, “"People are having a hard time and buses are getting more expensive … Hopefully, it will be able to continue and nobody messes it up. It does seem like a good idea.” The critical response is in large part dismissive: No pilot program ever leads to non-implementation; the prospect of providing free cars for public housing residents state-wide is financially unthinkable. Americanthinker.com wrote: “Brace yourself. We are heading toward a car as a basic human right.” Washingtonfeed.com pointed out the ludicrousness of the ‘at-least-the-fleet-is-electric’ defence citing Scientific American magazine’s recent (2016) article comparing smokestack emissions from electricity generation to ICE tailpipe emissions at 1.7 billion versus 2 billion metric tons of CO2 per year, nation-wide, respectively.

Cedric Hughes

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