It’s a painful middle-class-English-lefty cliché to travel in luxury and style from damp and grey England to vibrant, colourful and very hot Italy while feeling slightly guilty about it.
A good honest conservative could make exactly the same trip and feel proud that they’d ‘worked hard, saved sensibly, invested wisely’ and they thoroughly deserved the experience their wealth and privilege had supplied.
A good honest conservative may even feel some empathy to those much less fortunate, they may give generously to charity and not wish ill on others, but they essentially support the status quo, they support the system as it is, in more extreme cases they support the system as they believe it was, when people ‘knew their place’ in the class system and didn’t make such a fuss about everything.
Most importantly they will feel confident that free market capitalism is the best system the human race has devised and everything else is just noise.
But oh woe is me. I don’t have that confidence.
I’m a middle-class-English-lefty who drove a £60,000 car 1,280 miles across Europe and is now staying in a stunning Italian apartment hanging off a cliff over the Mediterranean. I’m wrangling with hypocrisy, self-loathing and the conviction that inequality is a massive problem and I’m part of that problem.
Okay, I didn’t fly, in fact the total journey here and back home will have one of the lowest carbon footprints possible.
The car is we drove electric, a black Tesla Model S. All through Europe the electricity came from a mixture of renewables, nuclear and only a teeny bit of coal.
The two chargers we used in Italy were supplied by 100% renewable electricity, hydro and solar.
To further ease the guilt I have spent the last 7 years promoting the adoption of electric cars, renewable energy and a greater understanding of the energy industry and it’s control over our lives, but still. Come on. I’ve just undertaken an amazing trip that is only available to a privileged few.
Owning the Tesla has made me really take stock of my assumptions, no longer can I justify it simply in terms of it’s engineering innovations, the challenge it throws to the automotive industry and in particular the fossil fuel industry.
Very few people will ever be able to afford such a high-end machine, so is the Tesla Model S just a rich person’s plaything? Does it mean nothing more than the latest high-end gadget you’d see in a display at an exclusive, invitation only showroom?
Are the people who own and drive these cars wealthy elitists who look down on the lumpen masses in their forlorn fossil burners?
Possibly, although I am clinging to the belief this is not the case.
I’ll explain a little about the car for those sensible enough not to be informed or interested.
The Tesla Model S is a 100% electric, 5 seat luxury sedan. It houses an 85 kilowatt hour battery under the floor which give the car a realistic, highway range of around 250 miles on one charge. Throughout the USA, China and Western Europe there is a network of ‘superchargers’ in key locations that charge this car with enough electricity to cover another 200 miles in about 25 minutes.
These chargers are free to use, so in terms of fuel cost, the journey of over 1200 miles from our home to Italy was free.
Obviously we had to pay for food, accommodation, road tolls etcetera, but the fuel was free.
How can that possibly work, how can a free fuel system be sustainable. How will it not be abused by people.
Come on, this is free market capitalism for goodness sake. Nothing is free.
Two important points. One, you do pay upfront for the right to use the supercharger network. About £2,000 is added to the price of the car.
But more importantly the fuel is very cheap, it’s much easier to produce than fossil fuels and if the investment is made at the installation phase of the chargers, then the day-to-day cost of supplying the electricity is very low.
So this is where I start to drop the cloak of guilt. Yes I drive a posh car, the comparison to similar priced fossil burning cars is nothing short of embarrassing.
The compromises we had to make to undertake the journey were so minimal we didn’t notice them.
So I am starting to feel slightly less guilty and over privileged. In 5 years time it won’t even be an issue as there will be so many more electric cars on the road, posh ones and normal sensible ones, the Model S will no longer be such an icon.
So I’m now feeling very grateful that I’ve had the chance to experience such a journey. I don’t deserve it in any way, no one does. But while I can do it, I’m very glad I did.
There is a day to day record of the journey on my Google + page