This paper, entitled “Technology, environment and public policy in
perspective: Lessons from the history of the automobile,” details the history of the
automobile and its environmental effects in the United States. Kirsch discusses th
e negative environmental effects of gasoline-powered automobiles that had become
the norm in the twentieth century, replacing horse-drawn transportation. The
article highlights the fact that the technological alternatives to gasoline powered
automobiles, steam and electricity-powered cars, would have caused a “different set
of environmental constraints” had they been the norm.
This argument has implications for understanding the possible effects
of the electric car if it does one day become adopted as a mainstream form of
transportation. This article also goes into the electric car industry’s “search for the
Holy Grail,” which is the super-battery, and the history of “blaming the battery” on
the part of both supporters and opponents of the electric car. Kirsch holistically
studies six factors “that contributed to the resolution of the technological battle
between steam, gasoline, and electricity:” infrastructure, relative technology
opportunity, prevailing social and cultural norms, failure of organized interests,
institutions of the state, and the role of historical accident.
A highly recommended read for those looking to learn more about issues
related to unintended consequences of technology and the historical development of
the electric car!
Full citation: Kirsch, D. (1996). Technology, environment and public policy in perspective:
Lessons from the history of the automobile. Technical expertise and public
decisions proceedings. IEEE International Symposium on technology and society,
Princeton, N.J., 21 June: 67-75.