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Mar. 01, 2011

Training wheels

by Carl Flatow

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One day the news tells us about BMW’s launch of a new division, building new facilities to make electric cars. One week later it is reported from the same source that the same company is bracing for permanently higher gas prices by moving toward new “hybrid propulsion systems.”

I know we could invent more and more complex automobiles that use less and less gasoline. We’ve certainly proved that. I also know that less is more. Keep it simple, stupid.

Am I glad that Toyota was so successful with the hybrid Prius? I think so. But the hybrid must be viewed as what it really is – a set of training wheels for a society that could not imagine one could actually stay upright on a two-wheeled bicycle. If that’s what it took to get us past that mind-trap, fine. But don’t tell me that because the training wheels worked we should build a fancier set of training wheels. My experience tells me that, although many young riders would be happy to keep the training wheels on, the sooner the parent takes the training wheels off, the faster the child gains the confidence in the underlying principle.

The best form of less gas is no gas at all. I know it will hurt a bit, but, the quicker we yank off the band-aid, the quicker we’ll forget we ever even needed it, and it has to come off, eventually….

About Carl Flatow

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Science Friday.

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