Thursday, December 30, 2010

Political Fate of the Electric Car

Most people that I've spoken with so far tell me that electric vehicles have yet to be made viable and that this is the reason that we stay with gasoline-powered vehicles.  I propose that electric vehicles have been around longer and could have been made viable long ago (indeed, already have been), but that people in general loved the power and pick-up of gasoline engines so much better that they ignored pollution and cost problems (from refueling cars, repairs, maintenance, etc) in order to have the power.  A PBS Timeline gives the short version of the major events in the electric car's history, which represented 28% of the 4,192 vehicles on American roads in 1900.  

Yes... the electric car used to be a third of all cars produced in America!  Incredible?  Unbelievable?  You say... "No!  That's not right!  Electric cars are just not viable!"  Obviously, you haven't heard the history... didn't read the assigned material... you get an "F."  Sorry.  Popular history and reality are two different things... especially in America. 

Gasoline-powered vehicles had been invented, but the handcrank (as opposed to electric starter) made them less desirable (desirable does not equal viable).  The most recent episode in this tragic history is the willful, purposeful, intentional death of the EV1, a series of well-liked and useful electric cars made by multiple car manufacturers to satisfy and ultimately oppose a California emissions mandate.  

Who made these vehicles?  Well... GM, Honda, Toyota, Saturn, Ford (even a truck version), and a slew of other "small" names in the car industry (lol).  These were TOTALLY ELECTRIC vehicles with a 120-mile range and a 30-minute recharge rate (for 80% power).  These cars were only leased, not sold, and recalled and crushed once the mandate was crushed by politics (thank you again, "W" Bush administration).  Car manufacturers never intended to make these cars work... they even made commercials that they never aired... Why the hell would they do this, you ask?  Well, lots of people would like to know that.  It was that damned, pesky California mandate that required zero emissions in five years!  Car companies made it look good, but worked against it behind the scenes.  Politics killed the mandate and the car companies killed the EV1... Long story short (too late), the EV1 died and completely disappeared by 2003.  Gasoline won, again!  This PBS website pretty much makes my case, but there's a few related historic details to be made.

Fate of the GM version of the EV1 in 2003.

Vehicle power was only a superficial desire, not a necessity... again, not a requirement for viability (so, quit with this excuse!!).  Only a few years later, with gas prices soaring and the threat of global warming, pollution problems as seen in cities like Los Angeles, the gasoline-powered car is quickly being revealed as a luxury that we can no longer afford.  We need the EV1 back!  But, the auto guys killed the program!!  The lessons of the 1970s didn't make a big enough impression.

You see... if I'm a businessman and want to sell a product that will make me lots of money, I'm not going to tell you what else is available... indeed, I may go to extremes to prevent the other companies from advertising or even to produce their product and compete with me.  You may never even know what else is available, if I have the money or political connections...  But, this wasn't really easy to accomplish... unless you had GOBS of money with which to pad the palms of your Congressmen... so much more money than everyone else and a giant thirst for more... you know... like a "Robber-Baron?" Speaking of...

First, you need a product... in the early days, oil was a fleeting resource.  It created the town of Pithole in 1865 almost overnight, a town whose "black gold" dried up the next year.  The hunt was on for further resources (oil proved its "desirability"... again, not the same thing as "viability").  Video on the History of Oil.   Still, kerosene for lamps is what we wanted oil for, then...

This video never even mentioned the early electric car made by Edison/Bailey in 1899-1915... a much-desired competitor of the gasoline vehicle (as long as people had to "crank" these gas vehicles awake).  Edison patented this Electrical Automobile on January 19, 1904.  Electric cars were produced in the US by Anthony Electric, Baker, Columbia, Anderson, Edison, Studebaker, Riker, Milburn, and others in the early 20th century and the Detroit Electric was produced as late as 1941!  Battery technology since then has removed the only obstacle for the early electric car (Lithium-ion technology was discovered in the 1970's and reached amazing capacity in 2002, which contributed to the development of the EV1).  Still, the electric car proved its worth well before 1920.  Today, estimates show that the average American only drives 29 miles per day.  Electric cars have had at least this range for several decades.  The EV1 had 4 times this range with the new batteries.  Still, the electric car isn't "viable"?  Americans really fight hard to believe what they're told by those lovable little darlings at GM, Chrysler, etc... or by Haliburton, Exxon, BP, etc, etc, etc... these are big league hitters with everything to lose by the "impending viability" of the electric car.  So, why are we believing what they tell us?  I dunno... Miss South Carolina might have an opinion on this one. 

The hesitant beginnings of the gasoline-powered car reflected its difficulty in cranking the engine by hand to start it.  Electric cars passed these old crank-starts on the road before 1908.  But, the invention of the electric starter (based on electrical technology of the electric vehicle, ironically) made the gasoline automobile more DESIRABLE... NOT VIABLE (I'm hoping that if I say it enough...).  It simply satisfied American desires for more speed (remember, we measured power in terms of "horses" and wanted to improve on this).  What's a little smoke, huh? When there's only a few thousand cars... not a lot.  But, now that there's millions... well, you've seen the Los Angeles smog problem? 

American business recognized one hell of an opportunity and the agendas became highly political.  One American agenda became apparent in 1917, at the beginning of the Soviet Union and the end of a Russian regime that was "so-so" friendly to the US.  When that occurred, oil tycoons John D. Rockefeller and his son, facing heavy competition from Texas "wildcats" (rich newcomers to oil who hit a major Texas oil pocket at the turn of the century), decided not to indirectly profit, but make the most out of the Russian weakness and establish a foreign market for oil.  According to one website

The Rockefellers had given their financial support after the Czar refused to give them access to the Russian oil fields, which were already being pumped by the Royal Dutch Co. (owned by the Rothschilds and the Nobel brothers) and giving Standard Oil plenty of competition on the international market. Even though John D. Rockefeller possessed $15,000,000 in bonds from the Royal Dutch Co. and Shell, rather than purchase stock to get his foot in the door and indirectly profit, he helped to finance the Revolution so that he would be able to get Standard Oil firmly established in the country of Russia.

John D. Rockefeller in 1885
You see, Rockefeller had a headstart on the political infrastructure necessary to manipulate government affairs.  Texas "wildcats" did not.  Historian Barry Weisberg believes that Standard Oil of New Jersey was the major impetus behind the US invasion of Russia in 1918.  There was an invasion of Russia, you ask?  Yes, there was.  

Rockefeller's financial abilities easily influenced Woodrow Wilson to send 5,000 American soldiers into Siberia in 1918 to join allied forces.  While this was ostensibly to protect Czechoslovakian troops and the railroad, many historians like Weisberg believe this was simply the cover story for the invasion that was most likely influenced by Standard Oil's political intervention with President Wilson.  For the first time EVER, Congress never gave the approval for the 1918 invasion, setting a dangerous imperialistic precedent.  Historian Robert Maddox puts it, "The immediate effect of the intervention was to prolong a bloody civil war, thereby costing thousands of additional lives and wreaking enormous destruction on an already battered society." President Wilson withdrew most of the soldiers on April 1, 1920, though some remained until as late as 1922.  Still, Standard Oil got what they were after...

Historian James Loewen tells this history very well and I'll not attempt to retell it.  Suffice it to say that Loewen cites various substantial sources and observes a growing tendency of the wealthy class to manipulate politics for their own financial ends (again, Robber-Barons).  I know that this is no surprise today, for we have all long been aware of the US's imperialistic desires across the world.  The one that became important for this discussion is the desire for oil, numero uno.  PBS also did a documentary on Rockefeller's oil industry takeover.

American Intervention In The Russian Civil War, 1918-1920
Website for pics and Info on the 1918 Excursion

Now, I have been accused of being an alarmist, a conspiracy theorist, and any other less-desirable things than "historian," but the facts are that these are the facts.  We don't like to think of ourselves as being the "muscle" for oil companies for more than a century, but that is the truth.  

Gen. Smedley D. Butler sarcastically reflected on his involvement in 1931, "I helped make Mexico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank Boys to collect revenue in. I helped pacify Nicaragua for the international banking house of Brown Brothers… I brought light to the Dominican Republic for American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras ‘right’ for American fruit companies in 1903. Looking back on it, I might have given Al Capone a few hints."  I'm sure you get the point...

Once the market was established, Rockefellers went after even more... The Iranian Parliament, in 1921 gave Standard Oil the right to explore for oil in the five provinces of Azerbaijan, Astarabad, Guilan, Mazandaran, and Khorasan for a period of five years.  This maneuver received protests from British and Soviet oil companies who vied for the same resources.  The battle for the world's oil had begun.  

There has been a long-running attempt to gain control of world oil since this time.  The overthrow of Iran's democratically-elected government in 1953, Guatemala in 1954, 1957 election-rigging in Lebanon which led to civil war, assassination of Patrice Lumumba of Zaire, repeated attempts to assassinate Fidel Castro, overthrow of elected Chilean government in 1973, the list goes on... least of which was the 1991 invasion of Kuwait and the ongoing occupation of oil-rich Iraq.   But, remember... it's just business.  They shouldn't take it personally, right?  Ask the rest of the world and you will find that most everyone is DEFINITELY taking it seriously!

Oil became a vital resource because it was profitable and damn whatever else came along... damn the air... breathe something else!  But, what if oil was no longer a vital resource?  What if the electric car replaced the millions of cars on American roads... the millions of cars worldwide?  It's certainly a fundamental change in the economic world structure, but America is facing serious competition from China and may lose its hegemonic crown very soon.  Can you imagine the end of US Superpowerdom?  Another historian, Immanuel Wallerstein, says that all hegemonic states fall because they exhaust their resources (and piss off everybody... lol). 

US foreign policy has been largely to control American financial resources around the world and the largest and most lucrative of these was oil.  OPEC formed (Iraq, Iran, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Venezuela met in Baghdad to discuss ways to increase the price of the crude oil produced by their respective countries) as competition for the US in 1960, after US intervention in Middle East affairs (largely to obtain... you guessed it... oil) and an American policy reducing oil imports that lowered oil prices drastically in these countries.  You see, the "owners of America" (George Carlin's phrase) and their "muscle" haven't always seen eye to eye... our last breath of righteous indignation.

Since then, the dwindling supply of oil has necessitated American intervention in foreign affairs.  The Saudi Arabian government's sole source of income today, amounting to an annual income of about $700 billion dollars is this crude source of energy.  For them, the choice is oil or sand... which do you want?  If it's sand, well, the Saudis will survive the electric car... if not... well?  CBS's 60 Minutes aired an investigation of this country's strangulation of the world economy over oil and their attempts to eek out the last lingering drops of this finite resource.  Leslie Stahl did a great job, by the way.  

Now, we could continue to pollute the earth in order to save the Saudi Arabian economy, but I for one, am more concerned about the rest of the world and for the whole suffering planet (you know?  The Human Race and all their buds).  I also don't particularly like being indirectly associated with imperialism. 

American companies have never gained the foothold on oil that they really wanted.  Woodrow Wilson's/Standard Oil's 1918 incursion into Russia (without Congressional approval, remember?) was only the start of a long-fought struggle to maintain dominance over oil.  It was no accident that the death of the first electric car (Thomas Edison's creation) coincided with this military event and the beginning of Standard Oil's lucrative venture into the foreign oil business.

Thomas Edison and an electric car in 1913.

Rockefeller as an industrial emperor, 1901 cartoon from Puck magazine
Remember, though, I'm just the conspiracy theorist.  I spout all kinds of American Imperialism stories... I might be as crazy as Mel Gibson's character!  Maybe I'm the loony that thinks that the CIA (in a US-occupied territory) should have found Bin Laden years ago... well?  I might have completely lost my mind!  You need to listen to ALL of these established experts that I've quoted here... someone else... An interesting first hand direct account is the book by John Perkins, Confessions of An Economic Hitman, in which he describes these types of events in grisly detail.  A Youtube video of an interview with him is available, too.  There's more... a simple cursory investigation will show this.

I'm actually a nice guy... this conspiracy theorist stuff is not really fair.  I'm a long-time Beatles fan, too.  John Lennon had these ideas for decades, but no one ever listened because the US won that propaganda battle (US Vs. John Lennon movie preview).  Maybe because he was British and easy to dismiss...  An open, clear-thinking mind does not simply dismiss these ideas as fantasy.  Besides, there's just way too much proof.  But, you have to READ the sources to find out!!

The electric car has simply been another helpless victim, much like the Iranians, Guatemalans, or Chileans... or even Americans ourselves.  These victims became victims of American desire for the more-powerful American gas guzzler, the SUV's and giant Ford Pickups and Hummers, promoted by TV ads and television shows, American shows with greedy tycoons like Donald Trump.  It has become fashionable to be abusive.  

Perhaps, the depletion of this vital and finite resource that we have depended on and coveted for over a hundred years will be enough to revive clean energy resources that we have had even longer than oil.  What's the phrase?  Save us from ourselves?  

A fully electric car (not a #^&#@!! hybrid/deal with the devil) will accomplish this.  A significant problem for the electric car is that car companies can't make nearly as much money on maintenance and repairs, since they generally don't break down as often.  Wow, another plus for us!  lol  It's amazing that we haven't switched long ago.  Well, no it's not... we are slaves to our own greed, aren't we?

Please, people, don't tell me that electric cars aren't a viable resource anymore... please, please, please.  It gets annoying to discuss any historical subject with someone who hasn't read the assigned material!  Don't trust anything you hear on TV.  Do the research and be skeptical.  I've always been trained as a skeptic by many knowledgeable professors in my academic career.  They have never steered me wrong.  There's a lot out there if you choose to read it.  I promise you that it will rarely be on the "boob tube."  Reality has never been one of its strong suits!


Anonymous said...

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