Dear Sweden: HR Dispute with Saudis makes this a good time to adopt Electric Cars

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment)

First, the new left wing government in Sweden cancelled an arms sale to Saudi Arabia, even though Prime Minister Stefan Lofven favored it. (He had been a union rep friendly to the Swedish arms industry). Foreign Minister Margot Wallström put her foot down, however, and won the argument. She had been vocal in criticizing the Saudis for jailing and flogging blogger Raif Badawi, tweeting that this attempt to stop a modern form of expression must be halted.

Then the cancellation of the arms sale and the open criticism of Saudi human rights violations has provoked the Saudis to withdraw their ambassador from Stockholm. The Gulf Cooperation Council supported the Saudis, on the grounds that Saudi law is based on Muslim canon law or sharia. However, in fact, Saudi law is mainly what the king, an absolute monarch, says it is. The Qur’an says that “there is no compulsion in religion,” which I should think makes punishment of crimes of conscience like blogging un-Islamic.

You wonder if part of the friction here is between a strong female leader like Wallström and the geriatric male chauvinist leadership of Saudi Arabia, who won’t even let women drive.

Sweden has one of the best records in Europe on avoiding carbon emissions and going green over time. It wants gasoline-free transport by 2030

But in fact, nowadays Sweden still imports about 287,000 barrels of petroleum a day. That is bad. It makes Sweden dependent on countries like Russia and Saudi Arabia.

True, with regard to power, Sweden’s nuclear plants provide 41% of its electricity, and it has a lot of hydro and biofuel, plus, increasingly, wind turbines. But it still uses fossil fuels for 31% of its electricity.

But its really big import item in fossil fuels is petroleum for autos and trucks and trains (71% of its hydrocarbon imports)– precisely the commodity of which Saudi Arabia is master.

Given this diplomatic and trade break, Sweden should adopt an even more ambitious goal, like that of Scotland and go green by 2022. And, it should above all get serious about green transportation, moving to achieve its stated goals even more quickly and robustly than it is now doing. In short, it should move quickly to electric cars and renewable energy to fuel them.

If Margot Wallström wants an independent foreign policy, she needs an even more ambitious green domestic energy policy. She needs government policies that remove subsidies for oil transportation and support green vehicles and urban mass transport.

Related video:

Euronews: “Saudi Arabia recalls ambassador from Sweden amid diplomatic row”

7 Responses

  1. First, Sweden recognized Palestine, Second, they canceled arm sales to SA. Only because the foreign minister was invited, she respected her hosts by wearing head covering, they insulted her (for being a female) and prevented her from addressing them, you have come a long way Sweden.

  2. As a Swede, I would like to make a few corrections.
    * The argument was not over any specific arms sale, but over a decade-old agreement over military cooperation which included arms sales, training and more.
    * Wallström (foreign minister) and Löfven (prime minister) are both social democrats and as far as is known, there was no disagreement between Wallström and her prime minster, so she didn’t win any argument nor put down her foot towards him. They likely both wanted to renew the agreement.
    * Probably both budged to the pressure from their Green coalition partner in abandoning the agreement. The Greens were very vocal about this and it could have broken the coalition.
    * Wallström has been fairly vocal in criticising Saudi and was about to make some tame criticisms as an invited speaker to the Arab Council, but was stopped from talking on short notice by the Saudis, and then criticised by the council, including the palestinians.
    * The cancelled talk made renewal of the agreement impossible. It couldn’t fly with the Swedish people after that.
    * A lot of Swedish people are now, unfortunately, questioning why we acknowledged Palestine as a state and keep spending substantial money on aid, when they joined Saudi in defending barbarism and in humiliating our foreign minister.
    * Sweden absolutely does not have 31% fossil electricity. We have almost none, perhaps 3% or such. We have hydro, nuclear, wind and biomass, in that order. Almost no fossils.
    * Going non-fossil in our transport fleet, well, that’s a bit tough. We do have the electricity. That’s no problem. The problem is the cost and range of battery cars, as well as the time it takes to replace the current fleet. It will happen eventually, but I wouldn’t hold my breath.

  3. Juan,
    Please get rid of the advertising at the bottom of the pages. This not only doubles the load time, it forces the browser to the bottom of the page and messes up the horizontal alignment, so that one cannot see the left side of the text without fiddling with the browser for a while. Also, the advertising is of the user-targeted variety (like the last thing one shopped for on the web) which should be prohibited in itself.

  4. One reason for the soggy sales of EVs is rather the tax rebates. Why reduce the purchasing issue to merely saving money? There are numerous more fulfilling reasons — particularly if we care about our children’s future future on a livable planet, wish not to give money to a dictatorship that leaves ISIS a distant second when it come to beheadings, or simply prefer the quiet exhilarating acceleration by the instant-torque electric motor, or the low maintenance cost.

    Also the whole debate of charging stations seems largely an issue to restrain EV growth, as the majority of prospective drivers drive well within the range of an electric car and can charge from a standard socket at home or at work. But perhaps the thought(?) is that if infernal combustion engine cars need gas stations so do electric cars? Not many homes or workplaces do have gasoline though.

    For that occasional long trip don’t most households have more than one car and aren’t rental cars available everywhere?

    If Swedes worry about EVs in the Winter can mention that our splendid Ford Focus electric car comes wide tires, a near instant heat blasting system and even heated seats.

    Be the above as it may must say that I am intensely proud of my home country’s gutsy efforts visa vi The Palestine & Saudi Arabia.

    Thanks you Juan Cole (even if this may be that one in a hundred times) when you may not have gotten all your energy generating facts straight.

    In the meantime here in Seattle about 94% of our plug in power comes from renewables (mostly hydro).

  5. Unfortunately Sweden have large car manufacturing industries and Volvo do not believe in battery powered cars. Though they do make some pretty smart plug-in hybrids. Putting a second electric engine on the rear axel instead of building a conplicated gearbox for two motors.

    However we may become leaders in powering heavy vehicles through direct power transfer, like trains. Either through overhead lines or through rails in the road. We have quite a large pilot project that I think will examine three competing systems.

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