The realities of e-something

STREETLIFE - Nigel Paul C. Villarete - The Freeman

I simply call it the e-something to denote all the new (or supposedly new) technological advancements which have some to do with their being either electronic, or electric-powered.  Well, I'm not really sure but that's my understanding of why these things are prefixed by "e" but usually still using the old names.  It started with email, which is now more common than ordinary mail, resulting in the latter's unsavory moniker now, "snail mail."  And indeed ordinary mail now is so slow, I bet even the snails are contemplating filing an oral defamation case.

You have an e-card.  Sure, that should be an electronic card, but in reality, as everyone knows, that's simply a card sent through the internet, as opposed to a printed one given personally or sent by postal mail.  Then you hear words like e-waste.  No that's not waste sent through the internet, that's stretching it too far.  When I worked in city hall a few years back, we started an e-waste disposal program, courtesy of a UNEP assistance.  E-waste refers to waste coming from old, broken, discarded, electronic/electric equipment and parts such as computers, cellphones, even TV's and the like.  Sometimes, they call it e-scrap.

The only other letter in the alphabet that's competing against "e" is "i."  There's an equal rush for people to produce something starting with the letter "i."  The most prominent of them would be the iPad and the iPhone, which almost everybody has.  We think almost everybody because we live in the city where almost all people are wired or own a cellphone, but if we go to the rural areas, it's another story.  But it's also i-something this or i-something that.  Maybe years from now, the other vowels - a. o, and u - will have their own set of new words added to the dictionary.  For all you know, all words will start with vowels at the end of this century.

I'm particularly writing this article, however, with regards to those e-words which refer to things being electrically powered, instead of otherwise.  These include such engines and equipment used in transportation which are conventionally powered by mechanical means through the use of combustion of fuel.  In an earlier article about the evolution of the transport, we traced the development of modern cars from the time it was just humans walking, through the ages where animals were used to pull carriages.  At a certain century, people tried to use steam engines, especially from trains.  But the popularity of the modern car started with the advent of internal combustion engines.  This is still the prevailing mode of propulsion even until now.

The development of electric motors gave rise to the electric propulsion methods.  The difficulty faced in the early years included the issue on how to connect the cars or engines to the power sources, considering that the former are moving while the latter are fixed.  The development of batteries solved this problem, giving rise to the next challenges - increasing battery life to the next charging session.  Trains, which run on rail, had the early advantage - they simply string up a power cable above the railroad tracks in order to provide a continuous supply of power.  That is why electric-powered trams, those which pass through city centers, always have cables hanging above them.  Even the LRT's in Manila have the same.

For other modes, we now hear about e-cars, e-buses, e-motorcycles, and e-trikes.  The last one is definitely Filipino, for you don't have tricycles anywhere else in the world.  Now, there's even advertised a new e-jeepney.  The main difference about these new e-things is that they're powered by electric batteries, which needs recharging.  Of course, they're being promoted as clean alternatives owing to the fact that they emit no smoke.  This is also the reason why many environmentalists readily support these e-vehicles over conventional ones.

Actually, we still need to re-evaluate the real advantages these new things bring, even in terms of emissions.  This is usually an issue of not emitting pollution in one's city but emitting it somewhere else.  Every kilometer traversed by an e-vehicle require a certain unit of electricity, which is produced by our power system composed mostly of bunker, diesel, and … you're right, coal-fired thermal plants.  For each kilometer, you burn coal and spew carbon to the atmosphere.  Sure it may be cleaner in the city, but not where the plants are located.  And since we live in the same earth, eventually we can't escape the fact that where you emit carbon really doesn't matter - you're contributing to climate change.

The e-vehicles certainly have potential for a cleaner earth.  But these must be properly accounted for in terms of emission levels, and not just advertised simply as clean technology.

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