Monday, November 17, 2008

Saving GM?

Tom Laskawy, courtesy of Ezra, makes a convincing case for helping GM.

The Chevy Volt, by the way, is a huge deal. Not only will it be the world's first commercially-produced plug-in hybrid, but it will use a lithium-ion battery. Today's hybrid's use nickel batteries. Nickel mining is highly competitive with coal as the worst, most environmentally devastating, carbon-intensive industry. As a result, every hybrid drives off the lot carrying a "carbon debt" which, according to Wired Magazine, takes over 45,000 of driving to "drive off." Lithium ion is the acknowledged future of battery technology, and GM would be first out of the gate. But better to spite our faces, right?

But wait, there's more! After cheerleading for 3 million pink slips, most bloggers then say, "well, if we HAVE to bail those bastards out, at least attach some "green" strings," as if that's some meaningless little thrown bone. Um, hello? Has anyone been paying attention? Mileage standards have been stuck at around 27mpg for 20 years and will only need to go up another 8mpg over the next 12 years. In one swell foop we could revolutionize those standards, thus breaking a decades long political logjam. As Joe Romm (an eco-expert who supports a bailout) points out, greener cars will play a major role in lowering our carbon footprint. And here comes a once in a lifetime opportunity to show some fortitude and remake an industry. But, no, no. Better to make the "safe" decision and go with the pink slips.

And let's not forget Democrat John Dingell, congressman from Michigan, who has "protected" the auto industry from reform since long before most readers of this blog were born, and would jump on any bailout bandwagon, no matter what the industry was forced to do. Heck, he'd probably eat his Energy and Commerce Committee chairman's gavel if an amendment that so required was attached to bailout legislation, rather than oversee the destruction of the industry.

And I would also suggest that you turn your heads, oh you Big Three killers, and look whose shining face rests on the pillow next to you. It's none other than the GOP, which is honestly and truly gleeful at finally FINALLY destroying one of the last powerful unions left. There are strange bedfellows and there are toxic bedfellows. Just thinking about it makes me want to take a shower.

So, let's stop debating the possibility of bailing on the bailout and start debating the best way to help an industry transform itself for a carbon-neutral future. Can I hear a "Yes, We Can!"
I'm torn on GM. On the one hand, the big 3 have been appalling. On the other hand, some have made the case that they're improving, and the auto industry is one of the last that's providing good manufacturing jobs on a broad scale. I'm concerned that killing the auto sector wouldn't do anything but further depress the wages of most laborers, decimate the middle class, and further reinforce the division between rich and poor, as it's the wealthy who are likely to reap the reward from all this.

(The benefits of cheaper unskilled and semi-skilled labor are going to have to go somewhere, and it's likely to be the already-well-paid executive class that have been exploiting the financial bailout.)

I truly dislike corporate welfare. But these are not normal times, and it's not a normal sector.

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