Is the Fear of Being First Interfering with Our Efforts to Go Green?

Climate change is pushing humanity to the limit, but we are finding solutions. The greatest challenge lies in crafting those changes into our new reality and doing it quickly enough to make a positive and lasting difference.

Lately, I have been reading more and more stories about people who are don’t want to change how they live their lives in the “new green economy.” I came up with the term Fear of Being First (FOBF) to try and describe it. It works for me – how about you? Let me explain…

I have been struggling to find a way to place the Environmental element of ESG into a historical context that would go along with social and governance stories I wrote before. If you did not see these earlier blogs I focused on the abolition of slavery to describe the social element and Sir John A MacDonald’s role in Canadian politics as a platform for my review of governance issues. If you are not familiar with Canadian history, Sir John A MacDonald was Canada’s first prime minister (1867-1873 and 1878-1891).

This piece became something different as I got caught up in watching the debates and bitter fights that are overwhelming the efforts at using technological and social changes meant to answer environmental disaster.

Most of us “know” that these changes are essential but the process of making those changes holds its own difficulties and uncertainties. And that seems to be holding us back.

In this post, I will try to look at the fear of change that we have overcome with previous technological changes in history. I’ll get to that soon enough. But first, let’s start with the troubling mindsets that seem to be holding us back from making greater and faster progress in averting environmental disaster.

The Fear of Being Early Conflicts with the Fear of Missing Out

I came up with the term Fear of Being First (FEBF) to describe this phenomenon. It was a natural response to the omnipresent FOMO – Fear of Missing Out. In the years to come I suspect that – hope that – this will become the mindset that people take on when thinking about our shift to a sustainable economy. As we continue to roll out our greener infrastructure, I hope that its promise and inevitability will bring more and more people on board.

I see arguments that assume certain current conditions (in many ways, historic and outdated conditions) are always going to be like that. This includes arguments against things like:

  • The development of renewable energy
  • The introduction of heat pumps and solar power into the average home and
  • The rollout of electrical vehicles (EV) across North America and around the world

But we are all witness to the backlash these efforts are encountering. For me, the clearest examples of this are the very personal backlashes against EVs.

Electric Vehicles are Getting Lots of Hate

There are plenty of stories of EV owners and drivers being abused. It’s not hard to find stories on the web about these experiences. And two of the three are so prevalent that they now have buzz phrases “coined” to describe them.

Vandalism – Keying and trashing

The first of these experiences doesn’t really have a new term, but it is happening enough to get noticed. That is the practice of vandalizing EVs simply for being EVs.

Here is a story about EV owners having their cars vandalized and attacked by anti-EV antagonists. It’s not the only story of its kind.

The story leads off with an EV owner whose car was vandalized after they posted a suggestion that EVs are one possible response to high gas prices. Sort of obvious, isn’t it? Apparently, some people didn’t think so. I was also struck by the way in which the vandalism was specific to its identity as an EV – vandalizing the charge port.

And this story even introduces the second challenge that people are encountering – rolling coal.

Rolling coal

Rolling coal is so common that it even has its own page on Wikipedia.  Some drivers are modifying their diesel engines to emit “black or sooty exhaust fumes.” This is being promoted as a form of anti-environmentalism and is accomplished by removing a filter from their exhaust pipe. The smoke is generally directed at hybrids, EVs, bicyclists, pedestrians, protestors, and anyone else the driver may dislike.

One especially unpleasant incident involved a sixteen-year-old driver “coal rolling” and then plowing into a group of cyclists, sending two to hospital by helicopter. After nothing was initially done about this assault he was later charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon when enough of clamour was raised.


And lastly is ICEing:

“The practice of parking a regular internal combustion engine vehicle in an electric vehicle charging bay… If that leaves nowhere for you to recharge then you have been ‘iced’.”

Adding to the absurdity of it all “(t)his is a common acronym in the car world. Confusingly, it’s used to mean both internal combustion engines (i.e. petrol or diesel) or in-car entertainment (audio systems and the like).”

There doesn’t seem to be any purpose to these exercises other than bothering EV drivers. My guess is that the perpetrators just don’t like the sense of change that EVs embody. It’s difficult to know if these practices will diminish or increase as EVs become more common.

If you stop and think about it this is not the first time that humanity has been faced with major and fundamental societal changes. In my lifetime, I can remember the introduction of cable television, home computers, cellular/mobile phones, the internet, and WiFi – to name a few.

But I think there are two other historical setting that fit this model more closely. For me those are the introduction of steam trains and then of cars with gas and diesel engines.

James Watt and the Steam Engine

In many ways, the industrial revolution began with the introduction of the steam engine. Although the early steam engines were often used to draw water or drain mines, they soon grew to be used to drive trains – moving people and things at speeds never seen before.

Steam locomotives, or “iron horses,” were just one element of the wider industrial revolution:

With their enormous power and speed, these locomotives not only revolutionized transport and communication but also induced a profound sense of fear and anxiety among the populace.

As with any major technological advancement, steam trains brought with them a mix of excitement, opportunity, trepidation, and dread.

The mental constructs that are second nature to us now must have given citizens of the day a great deal of fear and concern. If horse-drawn carriages and canal boats carried people and things around at 5 to 10 kilometres per hour (kph), imagine seeing a train pass by at 50 kph – the speed of the earliest steam locomotives. And now top speeds are much faster.

While a horse might be able to match that speed for a short span, it generally can’t keep it up for more than 1 ½ to maybe 3 km.

And the noise, smoke and size must have seemed quite overwhelming at the time. However, the benefits that trains offered became clear quickly enough, and soon, giant efforts were made to build massive systems across countries and even continents. For instance, the promise that ensured the creation of Canada from the Atlantic to the Pacific with that of the Trans Canada Railway was MacDonald’s greatest triumph.

Built in a mind-boggling four years, the very first train went from Montreal, Quebec, to Port Moody, British Columbia, in seven days (one week). I can’t even imagine how long it would have taken by canoe and horseback.

And as important as the steam locomotive was to 19th-century civilization, the arrival of the car in the early 20th century has had an even greater impact on our daily lives.

Arrival of the automobile – The horseless carriage

I have watched my fair share of episodes of Murdoch Mysteries about a detective and his cohorts investigating crime in Toronto during the late 19th and early 20th century. On that show, I had fun witnessing the kinds of historical changes that happened during their time. One of the biggest changes they address is the arrival of the automobile – the horseless carriage.

Speed and attention – Issues then and now

Like the steam locomotive, people were required to make significant mental adjustments to seeing these new-fangled cars on their roads. This story has a wonderful analogy for the modern mindset change in driving a car. Today, we are discussing the arrival of driverless cars along with electric vehicles. Back at the end of the 19th century, it was all about the loss of horse sense, quite literally. After all, they were called horseless carriages, weren’t they?

“In 1896 Alfred Sennett warned, ‘We should not overlook the fact that the driving of a horseless carriage calls for a larger amount of attention for he has not the advantage of the intelligence of the horse in shaping his path, and it is consequently incumbent upon him to be ever watchful of the course his vehicle is taking.”

Like locomotives, speed was a major concern. One solution was to have a person walk ahead of the car carrying a red flag to tell others that a car was coming. Although the law was meant for locomotives, it also applied to cars. That law was quickly abandoned, as it interfered with the single greatest benefit that cars offered – speed.

Gas Stations to Charging Stations – History repeats itself

One of the biggest worries I hear from people about electric vehicles is about the issue of recharging your vehicle. Having enough charging stations and making them enough. While many EV owners have charging stations at home, that doesn’t help when you’re on a road trip.

And although the technology is advancing rapidly (greater battery charge capacity along with more charging options), it probably epitomizes the concerns that people have about the transition to a green economy.

This is where FOBF takes us. I don’t want an EV, heat pump, solar panel if I can’t be sure of the technology – its availability, affordability, and reliability. Let somebody else go first.

But if we look at the experiences of the past, we can see where supply generally grew to meet demand and vice versa. In this context I am talking about the growth of the gas station.

The first business that today we would describe as a gas station was established in 1913. At that point, there were ½ million cars and almost no paved roads anywhere in North America. Now, there are approximately 270 million cars, almost 4 million miles of paved roads, almost 12,000 gas stations in Canada and over 150,000 in the United States. And while the number of cars with internal combustion engines is one of the biggest symbols of our current environmental challenges, the way that the infrastructure was built to handle it is an example of how we can handle this.

Examples of the Past – Hope for the future

While the current perils of climate change present humanity with unprecedented urgency these examples show us that we can handle the change, move forward, and embrace our future with hope and faith. Although some people feel anger and frustration at these new conditions and their accompanying symbols, we must not stop moving forward. Standing still is not an option.

For me, the thing to fear is doing nothing while “Rome burns”. Action is essential, action is possible, and action is inevitable.

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