Our Gasoline thirst fuels Mideast Fundamentalism, Violence – EVs are the Answer

The Greater Middle East has much of the proven oil and natural gas reserves in the world, and it is those hydrocarbon resources that give the region its central position in US policy. But the dependence by the US and its allies on petroleum is promoting a disturbing religious fanaticism and authoritarianism in the Muslim world, because of where the oil lies. Moreover, burning hydrocarbons causes global warming and sea level rise, threatening American coastal cities like Miami with being submerged, menacing the Southwest with extended drought and forest fires, and contributing to extreme weather events like more powerful hurricanes and typhoons.

My alma mater, UCLA, is offering a solution to these dire problems:

“Among the goals of “Thriving in a Hotter Los Angeles” are:

A smart electrical grid that works with renewable energy sources, and smart metering systems that enable homes, businesses and electric cars to feed energy back into the system.
More efficient energy production and storage technology.
A carbon-free transportation infrastructure and public transit system, with greater options for bicyclists and pedestrians.
Solar energy on every rooftop.
A decentralized water treatment and supply system.
More efficient and affordable technologies for capturing and cleaning wastewater, stormwater and other urban water.
Developing environmentally friendly technologies for desalinating ocean water.
Policies that encourage homeowners to use low-water landscaping, rainwater catchment systems, and systems to capture, purify and reuse graywater.
An increased number of underpasses for wildlife and crossings to connect and enlarge wildlife habitats.
Supporting native plants and animals with green rooftops, native gardens, neighborhood green spaces and other land-use strategies to break down barriers between urban and natural space.”

The US uses around 19.5 million barrels a day of petroleum. Despite hydraulic fracturing and ethanol, the US still imports around 7.6 million barrels a day (despite what the boosters say, there is no prospect of the US avoiding oil imports). Moreover, US allies such as Britain, France, Germany, Spain and Japan are also big oil importers and their security depends on the Middle East. The US as a superpower has to look out for that security.

What do the Middle East exporters do with the revenues they receive from the US and its allies? Saudi Arabia spreads an intolerant form of Islam, first the Taliban in Pakistan and Afghanistan, now more recently the so-called “Salafis” in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, and Syria, who have agitated against human rights, women’s rights and secular principles. Saudi Arabia claims over $800 billion in reserves, built up from its oil sales, and is deploying that money to shape the Muslim world in an rigid and hateful direction. Do we really want to be making involuntary donations to that cause?

Likewise, oil millionaires in places like Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates, who are not government figures (in fact they may be anti-government) are also supporting disturbing movements. In northern Syria, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria and the Succor Front (Jabhat al-Nusra)– both al-Qaeda affiliates– are said to receive monies from the Salafi billionaires of Kuwait.

Iran also uses its oil income to promote Khomeinism, an intolerant form of Shiite Islam, in places like Lebanon, Iraq and Pakistan.

Al-Qaeda’s Usama Bin Laden gave as one reason to hit the US on 9/11 that the West was siphoning off Mideast oil at bargain prices because of complaisant regimes like Saudi Arabia. If we didn’t need their oil at all, we couldn’t be accused of stealing it.

The Gulf oil monarchies (with the exception of Qatar) have played a negative role in the region’s attempt to move to more democratic forms of governance, backing authoritarianism in e.g. Egypt.

Competition for gas and oil resources also drives conflict in the region. Gas fields in the Mediterranean off Gaza, Israel and Lebanon are disputed. The Israelis want to drill for oil in the Palestinian West Bank. Likewise, fundamentalist rebels in northern Syria are pumping petroleum to get money to use against the Baath regime. No one has ever killed anyone else to get hold of their wind turbine or roof solar panel.

Oil money, violent conflict, authoritarianism and religious fanaticism appear to go hand in hand in the region. In contrast, Muslim-majority non-oil states are capable of producing secular-minded regimes and vital labor and leftist movements.

Resources like oil actually harm the normal economy by artificially hardening currencies, hurting artisans, farmers and factory workers since their goods are unreasonably expensive for importers. Much of the Middle East might be better off economically without the curse of oil. Likewise, having a high-priced primary commodity like oil in government hands pushes countries away from democracy. Among countries with 25% or more of their economy coming from oil sales, only Norway has managed to remain a democracy.

The way for the US and its allies to become less dependent on the Middle East, increasing their security, and at the same time to reduce the baleful influence of the oil-driven fundamentalists, is to stop using petroleum for fuel. This step would also have the beneficial effect of reducing carbon emissions– 28% of the over 5 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide the US dumped into the atmosphere is from transportation, mainly petroleum-fueled.

A crash program to move to solar, wind and wave energy and an end to hydrocarbon subsidies, is the way forward. Encouraging people to move to the cities (a process already underway especially since 2008), better central city planning, and better mass transit fueled by renewables, could have a tremendous impact in reducing oil use. (These processes have already reduced US oil use by 2 million barrels a day since 2007, because of the effects of the 2008 crash and its aftermath an continued relatively high petroleum prices). The right state and Federal policies could revitalize cities like Detroit and also much reduce America’s dependence on dirty and unstable oil.

But for those who have to drive given lack of convenient public transit, the electric vehicle (EV) and hybrid plug-in (PHEV) should be the automobiles of choice. There are now large numbers of models using this technology. If you are in the market for a new car and can afford something in the $30,000 range, it is absolutely crazy not to get a plug-in hybrid. Several, including the Volt and the Prius PHEV, have seen major price drops for 2014 into that range for the no-frills version. At the moment, there is a substantial Federal income tax break for purchasers. Some states also encourage such purchases. If you buy a hybrid and drive it more than three years, and get no more than 40% of your electricity from coal, you will be carbon neutral for the rest of the life of the automobile, even given the carbon it takes to produce the car and its battery.

Charge ahead California has announced a campaign to put a million EVs on the road in that state in only 12 years, and it seems actually a doable project. California sends $40 billion a year out of the state to pay for gasoline, some of it to Saudi Arabia, where it fuels Salafism. If you have a house and put solar panels on the roof and charge the car off them, you have free fuel that pays for the car and the panels in short order.

We don’t need to put Draconian sanctions on Iran or risk harming the economies of allies like Japan and South Korea. We shouldn’t need to keep a naval HQ at Manama in Bahrain in the Persian Gulf. We shouldn’t need to kowtow to Saudi Arabia and its increasingly militant and authoritarian policies. We shouldn’t have to watch as Gulf-style patriarchy and hatred of foreigners is imposed on an open, modern society like Tunisia.

We need to take petroleum out of the equation, both for geostrategic reasons and to reduce carbon emissions by nearly a third. The US and its allies will be far better off in both regards, and the world we are building will be a brighter one.

17 Responses

  1. The efficiency of the electric motor is about 90 %, while the usual otto motor just gives 20-30 %, then, just at maximum rpm (usually at 3000-6000 rpm). The electric motor gives almost full torque at all rpm. And it just has one movable part (the rotor).

    The weak point of EVs is the battery. Right now, most efficient EVs are powered with lithium ione batteries, but this is not ideally. The best would be batteries made of a cheap material that there is plenty of (based on iron?).

    Since the battery technology will develop fast(?) in the near future, and since it is not known how long a rechargeable battery really lasts, leasing the battery would be a good solution.

    The newly released VW e-UP have a range of 120 km (winter)-160 km (summer).

    I have shares in a county wind power plant, and would be more than happy to buy a (second hand) EV.

    Cheers, Björn Lindgren

  2. All Green actions to reduce and replace the dependence of the US and of the world on petroleum is suppressed by the Oil Industry, the Military Industrial Complex and the Banks.

    The Billionaires will not give up their lucrative war games and their oil monopoly. Thus, Green industries must not be monopolized by the Billionaires’ corporations and families.

    Appears that the move to Green Energy will save our planet, dry up the Middle East wars and allow the US to remove all military equipment including nuclear weapons out of Israel that came as or was purchased with US foreign aide.

    Yes, it’s time for the corrupt US government to stop cooperating and supporting governments that are criminal and committing crimes against humanity: Saudi Arabia, the gulf oil monarchies, Bahrain, Israel….

    Other actions to help millions of Americans still experiencing the financial crises and its depression include creating new jobs that will be paid for, funded with new, good money for public projects such as new, repaired and replaced roads, dams, schools, colleges, universities, hospitals, state banks, etc.

    Good Money: The US government is to print and circulate good money, not borrow money from the Fed, a private corporation. Both the Fed and the IMF need to be replace.

    Making profit off of student loans is wrong. About half of the students never complete, obtain the four year degree. Better yet, free public education to be extended four to six years for completion of a BS/BA degree or of a work/study program.

    Occupy the Government.

  3. Of the 19.5 million barrels a day of petroleum that we use, how much is not burned? How much of that oil is used as lubricating oil, chemical feed stock, fertilizer, etc. If we stopped burning oil how much oil would we still need? I have asked this question in a number of places and not gotten an answer.

  4. You mention one of the stated reasons for the 9-11 attack. One rarely sees any publication of UBL’s list of complaints about our behavior. Correct me if I am wrong, but I believe all half dozen or so of them are still in effect, or did we finally pull troops out of Saudi Arabia, the location of the holy sites?

  5. Electricity is generated by coal and the Koch brothers in many places. Electricity generated by natural gas is brought to us courtesy of fracking.

    I’m not sure how to rank the terrorists…

  6. I seriously doubt that United States imports of Persian Gulf oil is a primary cause of Islamic fundamentalism, authoritarianism, and violence. I would make two points.

    First, the primary cause of Islamic fundamentalism and violence is a basic inability of adherents to come to terms with modernity. The oil business represents a part of that modernity, but only a part. Islamic fundamentalist simply cannot come to terms with the overarching modern world.

    Second, the United States imports more oil from both Canada and Latin America (primarily Mexico and Venezuela) than it does from the Persian Gulf. And if the US were to cease importing Persian Gulf oil, the slack would be taken up by the rising economic powers of China and India. Moreover, the Oil market is an intertwined world market. One cannot just consider output and pricing in, say, Saudi Arabia. The worldwide oil market does not work that way.

    • Bill, the argument is not that oil causes fundamentalism or violence but that it is funneled to Wahhabi & Salafi areas, unbalancing the region

      • I take your point, Professor Cole, but that would be the case even if the United States drastically reduced Persian Gulf imports, as China, India, and others would simply take up the slack. The “Curse of Oil” in the region, as you correctly identify it, would still exist just as it does now. The worldwide market would see to that.

  7. Efficiency versus application.

    If the issue is individual transportation where infrastructure is scarce, then liquid fuels are hard to beat.

    In cities and along transportation corridors, electric is king, followed by diesel on rail.

    If bulk is important, but speed is not, water wins.

    For home heating, solar is hot. Solar makes things hot, if heat is what is needed, then there is no need to transform thermal to mechanical, to electrical, back to mechanical, then to thermal. (Heat pump)

    What we need is a national conversation about the various USES we have for energy, and the many ways to apply renewable energy for those uses. In many instances, we would find it better to rearrange the locations of our final energy use.

    What are we doing? Oh, Keystone, fracking, and of course, a silly war (of words) in Iran. Our leader is not a leader.

  8. It is only a few years ago (I think 2006) that a series of interests managed to destroy a successful program of leased electric cars and physically pick up and grind to pieces every one of the vehicles. It is described in detail on the DVD “Who Killed the Electric Car?” GM and several other firms made the cars, the public in California approved them, a waiting list of potential users grew, points to plug in were installed, and when the cars were recalled a group of activists followed and filmed the disaster. Well worth buying and seeing. Now it all starts again.

  9. “Iran also uses its oil income to promote Khomeinism, an intolerant form of Shiite Islam, in places like Lebanon, Iraq and Pakistan.”

    I’d describe it as a political or even radical form, and while such conservatism has been problematic and shows a level of sect/religious/political intolerance (see the Rushdie outrage and exploitation, anti-US resentment and conspiracies), I would not necessarily call what was promoted or exported to the either minority or suppressed Shia populations in these countries outright ‘intolerant’ (despite Iran’s own local abuses against other individuals or groups), nor as something comparable or akin to the hateful Wahhabi/Salafi form of Sunni Islam against other Muslim or non-Muslim sects, individuals and states.

  10. Sorry, no.
    Petroleum is a primary source of energy. Electricity is energy derived from some other primary source. Electricity can come from petroleum . . . or natural gas, atomic fission, windmills, dams, etc.
    And replacing 125,000 gas stations in the U.S. alone is going to be a bitch.

    • Petroleum is stored solar energy.

      If a vehicle runs on petroleum products, then petroleum is consumed.

      An electric vehicle does not use petroleum unless the power generating plants uses petroleum.

      So, yes.

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