Sunday, January 24, 2016

Pretending Environmentalists - Identify friends and foes of EVs

When the CEO of the company I was working in long time ago, was explaining about results of the latest funding round of the company (which was doing good at the moment), we asked who are the people who are in line to fund us so far. 'A flower attracts all sorts of insects, you know.." came the quick and entertaining answer.. we laughed.

If environmentalism is a flower (a fashionable one too these days), it attracts all sorts of insects right now. Some of whom are a help to the flower, some of whom help themselves but their activities either indirectly helping the flower or at least does it no harm. There are another category of insects which are just helping themselves in such greedy fashion that they are actually damaging the flower itself.

This remind us of that lion who said 'I love vegetarians!' False environmentalists are such that when they say they are environmentalists, what they really mean is that they want to make money out of environmentalism and from environmentalists. Unfortunately, some of those do it by so unethical and opportunistic ways that the process can only be described as more or less of a robbery. Taking advantage of, deceiving and robbing of environmentalists, can not be doing much good towards environmentalism.

There are many ways we can identify false environment lovers. One is the triple R. Well, the three good concepts of Reduce, Re-use, Recycle as put forward by Green Peace. Even though it sounds like simplistic, it in fact has a deep philosophy.

We can not  save our planet or the environment without some sort of reducing the consumption, simply because the planet has limited resources against a growing population who needs more and more. It's a philosophy in one end where our instincts of consuming more, going for luxury, more expensive and bigger has to be transformed into much softer and refined form of taste where we learn to appreciate the finer aspects of life and take joy in consuming sparingly. Learning to practice moderation in things against indulgence. It needs wisdom, intellect, education and self restraint. Such shift in mentality will create a long lasting and sure way of saving the planet. For such a society, concepts of re-use and recycle will also come naturally. In a way it's just a matter of being sensitive towards the world and others who live on it.

There can not be an environment lover without a person inside who is practicing reducing/moderation in things. If we are not keen in reducing, what chance we got to combat with carbon emissions, global warming or green house effects for example ? how to protect dwindling forests and habitats of others, depleting resources and fish in seas.. etc.

On the other hand it is very easy to spot businesses which has set up, designed and tuned to opportunistically make money out of environmentalists, EV lovers/owners, people who like to migrate to Solar power etc.

In case of EVs (as an example), cars are relatively new, owners are few and they all need charging options. Once you buy a car you need to rely on someone for fast charging. In developed countries, charging is available for free or at very low cost. In such cases, it is natural to do it via a membership scheme. Now, how are we to identify a business in these parts of the world where charging is not free, not even fair by the rate and still charging memberships as well ? In early days there will be fewer service stations, spare parts vendors etc.. If one is keen on making money at any cost one could use the early monopoly to raise pricing into such levels (knowing that the customers have limited choice) that it becomes almost a day light robbery but still legal and can get away with.

Can such people, organisations and businesses be categorised as green or environment friendly ? only common aspect between them and an environment lover is that they both deal in the same technologies and options. However, one is using those with the intention of helping the planet while the other is with the intention of making money only. A lion who deals with vegetarian animals is not a vegetarian itself! When the lion says he 'loves vegetarians' he means he loves to eat them!

Environmentalists and early adopters into new (green or not) technologies need to be careful of pretending 'environmentalists'. Their activities more often than not are more harmful to the good cause than activities of those who are direct foes themselves. Direct foes like Big Oil, pollutants, companies who defy conservation laws are easier to identify and hence easier to fight with in the long run. However, fake 'friends' who sneak in as environmentalists and then destroy emergence of new technologies and movements are hard to deal with and the amount of damage they do can be high too. Sometimes they may not aware themselves about the harm they do, but we need to.

Lets take another example.  If we consider the EV sector in here, it is a sensitive time. People were (at least before the budget) thinking of switching into but are cautious about charging points, cost of electricity, spare parts etc. Still the brave ones and early adopters along with environment sensitive individuals take the plunge. Imagine this sensitive environment and add a fake environmentalist into this fragile eco system. A one who says he is helping EVs and providing related services but at a very high cost so he can make maximum profits before the real competition sets in.

If the fake 'green' company managed to get it's way you will see high prices for charging, memberships and then higher cost for servicing and equipment. Now the traditional automative industry can easily point out to the high costs EVs have to go through and mathematically prove to the masses that EVs are actually more expensive to operate and own. In addition, lot of potential early adopters getting discouraged and move away from EVs just after having a look at the charging cost, service cost etc. If this goes on for a while and a fake(s) becomes a monopoly, the entire industry will die out before it even see the day light. That would be a nip in the bud even the petroleum industry would be proud of, if they managed to achieve it. Petrol car dealers would be happy too.

This is not an exaggeration. Here are some numbers if we need more proof to convince our selves. Imagine we charge Rs70 for a unit of electricity to charge a EV. Now, a single unit is normally will take us for about 7 kms. So the cost for one km would be Rs 10, and everybody knows a hybrid car and even a good petrol car would beat that. So for whom are we supporting by enforcing such unfair pricing models on EV owners ?

Imagine there is a Rs 5000 annual charging for EV owners. Is this membership fee is to develop the charging infra structure ? if so, what exactly is and where is that infrastructure after all these months ? That money has clearly went on as personal profit for someone. All though we could argue whether that's a fair/ethical business or not, there shouldn't be an argument at all whether that's a environmental friendly business or not. This is the way to kill EVs, not the way to promote it!

How do other countries and communities deal with such fake do gooders ? there is one recent example which comes to mind where a pharmaceutical company tried to raise the cost of a drug in such a huge magnitude that it caused an outcry world wide. Public awareness has resulted in total failure of such evil attempts by that company that they received swift justice. You can follow the story in here. In that example, even though that company was a pharmaceutical company dedicated into that field including research, they were clearly not an asset or a positive for the improvement of healthcare of people.

Martin Shkreli is the founder and chief executive of Turing Pharmaceuticals, 
which raised the price of the drug Daraprim to $750 a tablet from $13.50. 

CrediPaul Taggart/Bloomberg, via Getty Images

Likewise, just because someone is in the EV sector, doesn't make them green. Just because someone has to unwillingly drop their bad habits and pricing models temporarily due to public outcry, doesn't make them green or good all of a sudden. History, is an indication on where the real motives are.