Posted by David Thompson on Apr 17, 2018
Last Sunday my wife and I, along with our daughter and one of her friends, went for a bush walk at a place that has been a family favourite for forty years. It was a beautiful cool but sunny day. We dawdled and got only three-quarters of the way from Catchpool Valley to the Orongorongo River while our daughter and her friend walked the full distance.
Something has changed in that bush. There is more flora and there is more fauna. Rata blooming, Tawa growing enthusiastically, Grey Warblers doing their secretive gymnastics, Bell Birds sounding amazing. For the first time that I can recall, there was a subdued hubbub of birdsong blended with the quiet sound of water flowing. The air was sweet with the new oxygen generated by the bush we were in. We couldn’t do anything but dawdle.
Wind the clock back now to 1962. I was fourteen years old and had an affinity for things mechanical. I got interested in cars and learned about the four-stroke combustion cycle. I had some awareness that there were lots of automobiles in the world through avid reading of my father’s Popular Mechanics magazines. I thought about these marvellous engines and how they gobbled oxygen and emitted carbon dioxide. I looked to the sky and thought about the annular sphere that is the totality of our oxygen store and wondered why these engines were allowed to take our oxygen.
As I learned about vegetation converting carbon dioxide to oxygen and about coal and oil and gas being ancient vegetation, I decided that once we burned the planet’s fossil fuels there might not be any oxygen left to breathe.
But no one else seemed to have thought about that. Or if they had thought about it they didn’t seem to care. Or if they did care, no one else listened.
My interest in cars grew and I came to admire the elegance and thoroughness and creative industry evident as Japanese engineering supplanted British and American engineering from the 1970s onward. I care for my cars and with really minimal attention they last a long time and continue to look, feel, sound, and perform almost like new. The modern car is a triumph of human endeavour.
Back now to that visit to the bush last Sunday. We exited the bush with that idyllic experience still fresh and we loaded the car to return home. I started the engine and then had to go to the rear to put something in the trunk. I got a whiff of the exhaust fumes. Right then, for the first time since I was fourteen, I sensed the contradiction. This was some kind of oxygen thieving dinosaur; a brilliant but flawed machine that will soon be extinct.
A brilliant but flawed machine that will soon be extinct. We have a long and challenging way to go but electrically powered cars, fuelled either by batteries or by hydrogen fuel cells or both, are the future. The process of getting there is going to be interesting and exciting and frustrating but get there we will.
One day, I will be able to finish my walk in New Zealand’s wonderful bush and drive away in a clean machine.