The Tesla S and World Peace: Can American Green Energy End the Gulf Oil Wars?

Petroleum makes the world go round, with 70% of it used to power automobiles. About a fifth of the world’s 90 million barrels a day of oil production comes out of the Persian Gulf/ Arabian Gulf.

A large part of the US stand-off with Iran has to do with petroleum. The US doesn’t want a big military power hulking over the Gulf, other than itself. Iran can’t be allowed to dominate the Gulf oil kingdoms. Likewise, Washington insists that oil countries remain susceptible of being invaded by the US. Non-oil states like Pakistan, India and Israel have been allowed to actually develop nuclear bombs, but Iraq was destroyed even on false suspicion of moving in the same direction. Even an Iranian capability to construct a bomb, i.e. “nuclear latency,” would have a deterrent effect, and the US is determined to prevent Iran from being taken out of the column of countries that can be safely invaded. (There is no good evidence that Iran seeks to actually construct a warhead, nor is Iran a threat to much more powerful Israel; US tensions with Iran are largely over ‘nuclear latency,’ the mere capability to construct a nuclear warhead on short notice).

Iran has launched its biggest ever air defense drills, a week after the US accused it of trying to shoot down an American drone over the Gulf:

A quick US transition to hybrid and then electric cars, and fueling them with electricity produced by renewables, is necessary to combat increasingly dangerous global climate change. But it might also make the Persian Gulf/ Arabian Gulf geopolitically irrelevant. A green America would be energy self-sufficient, and its many wind turbines and solar panels would be impossible for an enemy to target. The US would be both much more secure and also much less aggressive if it were green. There would be no reason for a green America to care very much about security in the Gulf. The behind-the-scenes push by Big Oil for war to open new fields would be deflated. The US would be freed to move the Fifth Fleet HQ away from dictatorial little Bahrain. It could let Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Yemen go.

In this connection, it is very good news that the Tesla S electric car, created by Silicon Valley, has won the Motor Trend ‘Car of the Year’ award. Some models of the Tesla S are less than $50,000, and the car has the longest range of any electric car. Its price should fall over time, and its range will grow. In states where renewables produce a substantial proportion of the electricity, as in Idaho, Washington State, [pdf] Maine, etc., running an electric car or a plug-in hybrid much reduces a consumer’s carbon footprint. But it may also reduce the likelihood that a couple’s son will be sent off to fight in some godforsaken desert to protect US control of the world’s energy.

Motor Trend reports on the Tesla S:

Petroleum has been at the center of many modern wars. In WW II, FDR told Japan he would cut if off from American petroleum, on which Japan depended to keep its Chinese empire going. Japan fought its way to Indonesian oil to replace the lost American supply, first trying to defang the US Navy at Pearl Harbor. Hitler suffered from lack of access to petroleum, and was driven to open the second front by a quest for the petroleum in the East Bloc. The Axis drive on Egypt from Libya may well have aimed at ultimately pushing on Iraq and Iran for their oil. Iraq’s invasions of Iran and Kuwait were in part an attempt by Saddam Hussein to consolidate control over neighboring oil fields. Israel pumped petroleum from Egypt’s Sinai while occupying it. George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq was connected to the latter’s petroleum. Greg Muttit has used leaked BP documents to show that the company lobbied the UK PM Tony Blair to make sure it got its share of petroleum fields in post-Saddam Iraq.

17 Responses

  1. Control over the world’s petroleum is certainly a US goal as maintaining the US dollar as the world’s fiat currency is the most important goal. In the cases of Iraq and Iran, their use of currencies other than the US dollar in oil trading is/was far more relevant. Anyone paying attention would have noticed that as soon as the US took control of Iraq, Iraqi oil trading was switched back to being denominated in US dollars. If and when the US dollar stops being the world’s fiat currency, all the outstanding US debt then becomes a huge issue as the US will no longer be able to print dollars with impunity.

  2. This is very good and something that we should do but: the US will not get out of middle eastern wars until we fix Israel. As things turn worse for Israel they will be sure to make their wars into our wars. Israel is a country that brutally oppresses its minorities; it will never have peace until that ugly problem is fixed.

  3. Electric motors are ( I have just read) between 80 and 95 % efficient.

    gasoline motors have 25 to 30 % efficiency.

    This alone is why we should switch to electric motor driven cars.

    What person wouldn’t like to reduce the fuel related cost of driving by two thirds?

    The only thing stopping this is oil company control of the Law.

  4. If the electric car was even half viable (which it is not) what do you think would happen to the vast oil and petrol industries. Everyone from oil tanker staff to the humble petrol pump attendant would be out of work, but perhaps more importantly, the really wealthy boys at the top of this chain would also lose out. I don’t think they would allow that! As long as the range of an electric car and the charging time remains non competitive with the combustion engine, nothing will change.

  5. Juan Cole puts it all together: Disengagement from the Middle East plus a top speed of 160 MPH and zero-to-60 of 4.4 seconds!

  6. India and Pakistan were not “allowed” to get nuclear weapons by the United States. They took the CIA by surprise and presented us with a fait accompli.

    Another important intermediate step to get off oil and make an electric automobile fleet possible is the proliferation of natural gas power plants.

    • Joe, I was there. The US knew all about it. Pakistan was permitted as a quid pro quo for help w/ Soviets in Afghanistan

      • You were where? Where, exactly, were you that you would know about such a deal? Do tell, Professor.

        Where, exactly, in what position, were when Pakistan was “allowed,” in the late 1990s, to develop nuclear weapons as part of a Cold War deal?

        • Dear Joe:

          I was in Pakistan in the mid-1980s. I asked a US diplomat then what they were doing about Kahouta. He said that the US government knew all about the drive to develop a nuke, but needed Pakistan at that point. “We told them not to actually assemble it,” he said. The Pakistani nuclear program was not a secret and took nobody by surprise. Little children knew about it.

        • Seriously, Joe, do you think anyone can hide anything big from the CIA? We know all about Israel’s nukes and lie about those too. Look at the Valerie Plame case, where the CIA had an elaborate network of fake arms dealers to catch these kinds of activities before Dick Cheney sabotaged it to destroy a personal enemy.

          There’s also a book called “Your Government Failed You” by retired intel official Richard Clarke, hardly a liberal, in which he described being involved in the discovery during the Reagan era that Saudi Arabia had purchased Chinese IRBMs and was building a base for them, presumably with nuclear warheads on the way. Private messages from the Administration got the Saudis to dismantle it before anyone found out – but we did end up building Desert One for them instead.

          The point is, how does the US arbitrarily decide which countries it enforces supposedly-unbiased international law upon?

  7. Well since every war from WWII to now has been over control of oil .. I would hope that a reduction on oil dependance would reduce the chance for War. (see “The Color of Oil”,by Michael Economides and Ronald Oligney)

    Though part of me thinks we will just find another excuse.

  8. Israel has bandied about publically the prospect of an imminent attack of Iran for years.

    Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz, of Iranian descent himself, actually had a call-in radio program where Iranians could contact him and ask him questions about the issue. In spite of all this, there has been no air assault on Iran like happened to Iraq in the summer of 1981.

    My guess is that the “war” on Iran will be a low-grade intelligence game where cyberattacks from Israeli agents and pro-Israel elements within Iran will try to destabilize their nuclear program and the country in general. Iran will continue to try to arm and train Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad and Hamas operatives in return.

  9. Thanks for running this story. I have been following Tesla’s efforts closely, and found an owner’s forum where production figures are being closely tracked.

    link to

    These are sharp and obviously affluent people who want Tesla to work out its startup issues and proceed to create cheaper models for the masses. They do have their own jargon, because Tesla arranged production to get the most expensive versions on the road first, besides the waiting list. So you have reservation numbers based on that, and VIN numbers that are a better indication of how many have been built.

    Musk said his break-even point would be about 160 cars a week; the research at this forum indicates they’ve gotten to 200 cars a week. Tesla currently inspects and tests cars very closely, which is time-consuming. A second shift is currently being trained, so production could double.

    After that, a medium-sized SUV, and down the road, a compact sedan meant to compete with the BMW 3-series.

  10. Every step is important. Every thought, every action towards fewer carbon dioxide emissions needs to happen, quickly.

    For the long term, we need 350-dot-org or someone like them, to be creating the Axelrod-Plouffe voter database in America (and dozens of other countries) that can get fifties and hundreds of millions of voters out to support serious, radical transformations of the fossil-fuel economics, politics, and imperialisms that linger from the polluted, corrupt heritage of the 20th Century.

  11. I have a nitpick re: Axis motivations in World War 2.

    First, Hitler did not attack the Soviet Union to get at its oil production. Up until Barbarossa, the Nazis got all the oil they wanted from the Soviets via trade. Hitler’s motivations were considerably less rational: he wanted Lebensraum for Germany (and to enslave the ‘lesser Slavic races.’) It is true that in the German campaign (“Case Blue”) in ’42 aimed to seize the oil fields of the Caucuses. This was not just about Germany getting the oil – it was as much about denying the Soviets oil. The ’41 offensive cost the Germans a million men, and they simply didn’t have the strength to strike along the entire front at once. It was decided that the best way to fatally cripple the Soviet war machine would be to deny the machine oil.

    Similarly, the axis drive on Egypt from Libya was not about oil. Not to say such a thought isn’t logical; as a matter of fact, Life magazine on the eve of Barbarossa speculated that the Nazis next move would be to invade Turkey to get at middle eastern oil. Had the Axis invested even half of the resources they sunk into Barbarossa into North Africa, the Axis surely would have been able to secure middle-eastern oil supplies. Originally, Mussolini wanted an African empire, and attacked Egypt from Libya, then an Italian colony. Mussolini’s ambitions were quickly destroyed: the Italian army was dealt huge defeats at the hands of the British. Germany sent forces to North Africa simply to keep an Italian collapse from happening, and to keep allied forces busy.

    These are nitpicks to the larger point, but one thing I’ve learned about this era of history is how disorganized and irrational the Axis powers were.

  12. Further Tesla info for those who are interested.

    Firstly, your range will vary. The EPA just introduced a tougher mileage test, under which the big-pack Tesla’s range fell from 300 to 265. We don’t know how the smaller packs will do; it depends on how much lighter they make the cars.

    Tesla uses cheap Panasonic laptop batteries; in order to make these safe they require their own climate control system. But Panasonic is not going away, and laptops will keep getting smaller. So each year Panasonic introduces batteries which weigh about 10% less and also cost less. So by the time your Tesla’s pack is worn down to maybe 70-80% of original capacity, supposedly after 100,000 miles, there will be a much better Panasonic pack waiting, as opposed to what you get if your gas car’s engine needs an overhaul then.

    Furthermore, a pack that’s still got 80% of its capacity is not useless. Nissan is trying to develop a re-use plan which thus further drops battery costs. For instance, as a storage system for solar energy arrays.

    Much of the right-wing anger against the car is about its cost; the cheapest version only has half the batteries as the version now being delivered, and that’s $57,995 before the hated Federal tax credit. However, when a prominent magazine declared the Tesla S the most important car since the Ford Model T and got denounced along similar lines, I pointed out at a forum that in 1908, the T cost $850, and the per capita income of the US was less than half that. Ford’s enormous expansion and ingenious cost cutting brought the car’s price down to $260 by the early 1920s. Such a huge drop is certainly not possible for Tesla, but batteries are getting cheaper, and that’s likely close to half the price of the current model.

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