“Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss it, you’ll land among the stars”, wrote the American clergyman and Donald Trump’s favourite pastor, Norman Vincent Peale. It’s a cute, folksy mantra about aspiration and the power of positive thinking, but it’s bound in an uneasy dichotomy with the acceptance of failure, which doesn’t seem very Trumpian at all: “Even if you miss it” reeks of, “Ah well, it’s the trying that matters”. Which is fine if you’re teaching your children how to tie their shoelaces. It’s not OK if your mission is to eradicate global carbon emissions. Failure, to quote yet another ballsy American, is not an option.
We have to decarbonise completely, and we have to do it yesterday. If you’re in any doubt about that, look at the recent Pathway Report commissioned by Polestar and Rivian in collaboration with Kearney, using open-source data, which forecasts that, on current trajectories, humanity will have exhausted its forever global carbon budget by 2035. After that point, my friends, we will overshoot the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)’s 1.5-degree limit by 75 per cent by 2050.
So any automotive moonshot projects on the go right now have to hit their target: landing among the stars, pretty as that might be, means a quicker death for the planet. Hyperbolic? It doesn’t look that way from the myriad forecasts, predictions, warnings and targets from countless environmental experts. All of which everyone nods sagely at each year, then rows back on as soon as the planet butts heads with fiscal targets, shareholder pressure and dividend warnings.
It is with no small sigh of relief, then, that I can write about Polestar (sensing a theme yet, anyone?), which has decided to stick its head above the parapet and build a carbon-free electric car for mass production, by 2030, called Polestar 0.
The project is not concerned with the namby-pamby reduction of carbon emissions from the conception, design, engineering, supply of parts, manufacture, transportation, marketing and selling of the car. It is concerned only with the total eradication of all carbon emissions involved in any one of those steps. And yes, that even includes shipping the cars round the world for sale. The only thing Polestar has no control over is the scope 3 emissions potentially generated by those customers who buy their cars and power them via non-renewable sources of electricity.
Hans Pehrson, the boss of the Polestar 0 moonshot project, is scathing about carbon reduction, or carbon off-setting, or net-zero goals, or whatever green-hushing label other car brands may apply to their products. The total elimination of all carbon by 2030 is the only game in town for Hans, who is adopting such a radical approach to this game-changer that he has begun the car-production process from scratch in his mind, by interrogating not production principles or circular economies, but the periodic table itself. Everything must be re-thought, right down to the Earth’s elements. Wow.
Transparency and humility are key in this project (another shocker for the car industry). Polestar has already admitted that it cannot do this alone and must find equally honest and hard-working partners to accompany it to the moon, on a mission that even now no one is 100 per cent sure they can achieve by 2030, but all have the zealous faith of Peale that it’s achievable.
And so I found myself last month on a Polestar 0 panel discussion in Polestar’s funky new boutique at Battersea Power Station alongside Hand Pehrson and another equally humble man with five brains called Paul Atherley, founder and chairman of a mining company called Pensana, which is a major Polestar 0 partner.
Pensana mines ethically in Angola, by shallow-mining sustainable rare-earth metals for electric vehicle (EV) and wind turbine magnets. It supports the local workers with decent wages and conditions and, crucially, ensures that the rare-earth metals are not shipped straight out of the country for a tiny sum but instead undergo the first processing in the country, done by workers on a fair wage, which in turn benefits the national economy.
This sulphate is then processed in the UK, in Saltend, all of which means an entire rare-earth metals supply chain that knocks China out of the equation. This is crucial because pretty soon, China is going to need all the rare-earth metals it mines (62 per cent of the world’s supply of neodymium) for its own gargantuan decarbonisation process, which will leave us all as completely stranded up sh*t creek as our over-reliance on Russia’s oil has caused us to become.
I hope you stayed with me this far, because, as dull as an article about processing sulphates in Saltend might sound, it may just be what stands between you, me, and that ignominious crash-landing in the stars. Shoot for the moon, guys, shoot for the moon.