Will electric vehicles change the world as much as railroads and internal-combustion engines did in centuries past?
Revolutions in transportation are rare and can define epochs. This has been true since men figured out how to ride horses (6,000 years ago) and to construct vehicles with wheels (just over 5,000 years ago).
How did the steam engine change the world? A lot. How did the internal combustion engine change the world? A lot. So how will battery-powered electric vehicles change the world? Probably a lot — but, if history is our guide, not necessarily in the ways we now anticipate.
Take the Steam Century. Coal-burning steam engines were a huge improvement on horses, carts and sails. After steam engines and steamships were developed in Britain and exported in the 19th century, they swiftly transformed the world economy.
Both humans and goods got to travel a lot further, a lot faster and a lot cheaper. The gains were significant just about everywhere, but especially in North America, where railroads knit together a continental economy, while transatlantic ships full of migrants supplied the labor.