As gas prices continue to rise throughout the nation, rumors of oil conspired wars loom in the Middle East, and the lingering threat of human-induced harmful global warming becomes a reality; it is clear that an alternative form of energy must be implemented soon to replace the nation’s addiction to oil. While oil is used for many different forms of energy, vehicles used for transportation are responsible for a large portion of the oil consumption in the United States. Therefore, the need to convert our gas-guzzling autos to run off of alternative forms of energy is the first step to wining our nation off of oil usage.
Over the past decade, there have been several attempts to produce alternative forms of energy which can be converted to power by our every day drivers. These attempts have encompassed everything from solar to alcohol powered vehicles; however, due to lack of technology most of these non-greenhouse emitting vehicles have remained as nothing more than a dream. However, electric vehicles proves to be the exception as it has already been mass produced in 1996 by one of the Nations leading auto manufactures.
The first initial push that drove automobile producers to create an electric car came from the California Air Resources Board (CARB). The CARB mandated that 2% of the cars sold in California by 1998 must be considered “Zero Emission Vehicles”(ZEVs). After the 1998 dead line, new requirements were made by the CARB, mandating that by 2003, 10% of all automobiles sold in California must be ZEVs (Motavalli, 1997).
General Motors was one of the first companies to meet the CARB’s new mandates for the first zero emission vehicle. They did this with the release of the first electric vehicle known as the EV1 (Electric Vehicle 1). Conversely, soon after General Motors started, they abandoned the popular project joining the Federal Government in successfully suing the State of California to remove the CARB zero emissions requirements.
Hence, despite the large need, want and availability of the mass production of electric vehicles—they are still not being produced due to the overwhelming influence of oil driven industries and the Federal Government’s lack of intervention.
Global warming has been the center of environmental debate since 1896 when Swedish chemist, Svante Arrhenius, hypnotized that the build up of carbon dioxide, produced by burning fossil fuels, such as coal, would increase the temperature on the planet (Clemmitt, 2006). Since the establishment of Arrhenisus’ theory on global warming over 100 years ago, scientific advancements, and new technologies have re-enforced his theory. However, the most convincing evidence of global warming is the actual changes that are occurring throughout the globe.
Since the beginning of the 20th century, the global temperature has increased by one degree Fahrenheit (Clemmitt, 2006). While one degree may not seem worthy of alarm, a change in one degree can cause a devastating domino effect that can lead to the demise of the entire planet. For example, the one-degree increase in the global temperature has caused many of the worlds glaciers to begin to melt. Glacier melting is currently affecting Montana’s Glacier National Park, where nearly 120 glaciers have melted since 1910. As glaciers, such as those in Montana’s Glacier National Park, melt they cause the sea levels throughout the world to rise in both temperature and depth. Although the negative effects of melting glaciers and rising sea levels may not seem detrimental, the increase temperatures from global warming are responsible for “… providing added fuel to growing storms and hurricanes, making them more intense” (Lener, 2006). The overwhelming deadly aftermath of Hurricane Katrina has been directly attributed to global warming. Rising global temperatures are also being blamed for the European heat wave of 2003 that was responsible for killing 25,000 people (Clemmitt 2006). The list of increasing powerful and frequent natural disasters continues to grow as the globe continues to heat up.
The director of Climate and Global Dynamics Division at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, James Hurrell, told the Senate’s Energy and Natural Resources Committee recently that, “The climate is changing, and the rate of change as projected exceeds anything seen in nature in the past 10,000 years” (Clemmitt, 2006). With the deadly effects of global warming already unfolding throughout the world, the solution must be implemented immediately.
Currently, green house gasses are the highest they have been in 75,000 years. In addition, human emitted carbon dioxide is at the highest levels it has ever been in the history of man (Clemmitt, 2006). Hence, it is hard to ignore the theory, of human induced-global warming, when green house gas concentrations are parallel to the large amount of human produced carbon dioxide. It is also hard to ignore a panel of nearly 25,000 scientists gathered together in 2001 to form the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The team of scientist reported “That most of the observed warming of the last 50 years is attributable to human activities” (Cooper 2001). They furthered their argument by predicting that the Earth’s overall temperature could climb up to eleven degrees Fahrenheit, under the worst-case conditions, if the amount of green house gases continue to rise (Cooper 2001). If this takes place scientists have projected that “such a rise could inundate many low-lying islands and eventually threaten such areas as the New York City borough of Manhattan and Miami Beach” (Griffin, 1992). The green house gases responsible for current and future disasters are made-up of water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and ozone. The increased levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere are the direct result of the burning of fossil fuels and the source of most of the danger.
As show in Figure 1, nearly 1/3 of the increased levels of carbon dioxide can be contributed to transportation ( Cooper 2001).
Carbon dioxide is one of the byproducts that are produced by the burning of gasoline within the combustible engine found in all cars and trucks on the road today.
In other words, one of the solutions to preventing further global warming is to either stop transportation all together or implement an alternative form of energy, which does not produce carbon dioxide, to power our vehicles. Obviously, the economy and the human way of life would cease to exist if we stopped transportation altogether. However, the obvious decision to use an alternative form of fuel to save the earth is rejected by major oil companies and other related industries to keep Americans addicted to oil in order not to loose their $300 billion dollar a year industry (Motavalli, 1997).
The Kyoto Protocol
Recently, measures have been taken to curb the production of carbon dioxide, not only on a state level with the “Zero-Emissions Law” passed by the California State Legislature, but these efforts are also seen on a global level as well. In 1997, more than 150 countries met in Kyoto Japan to sign the Kyoto Protocol. The Kyoto Protocol is an international treaty that required signing countries to reduce green house gasses to 5% below 1990 levels by 2005 through the implementation of taxes and laws. The United States, responsible for emitting the largest amount of green house gases, vowed to cut their share by 7% under the Clinton administration. As the deadline for the Protocol was set for February of 2005, the United States, under the Bush Administration, has since changed their stance stating that there is a lack of scientific evidence to support global warming (Cooper, 2001). Bush was also quoted by saying it [the Kyoto Protocol] shackled the U.S. economy(Cooper, 2005). In addition to the Bush administrations lack of support to the Kyoto Protocol, the U.S. Senate and the House of representatives are also opposed to the treaty (Clemmitt, 2006). One can only speculate that the rejection of the Kyoto Protocol and California’s zero emissions laws are just two examples of a larger picture: the oil and auto industries massive influence on the United States Government.
The Oil Industries Influence in the Government
The WSPA (Western States Petroleum Association) is made up a coalition of oil companies that are located in the western United States including: Mobile, Shell, Chevron and Arco. The WSPA is also one of the top five lobbyist employers in California. Therefore, much of the lobbying done in California is influenced from the major oil companies. Two of the major activist seen in California State’s legislature is know as CAUCA (Californians Against Utility Company Abuse) and CHAT (Californians Against Hidden Taxes). Both of these lobbyists are funded in part by the WSPA (Motavalli, 1997). The executive director of the “Grass Roots” lobby CHAT, Linda Mangels, even said, “I believe most, if not all of our funding comes from WSPA –that’s no secret,” (Motavalli, 1997). With such a powerful influence in the state legislature the WSPA has declined how much money it has invested in the campaign against the electric car mandates such as the Zero Emissions Mandate by the CARB and the CETC. (California Electric Transportation Coalition).
In addition to the massive influence of the WSPA, the coming fourth electric vehicle has also been hit hard by the AAMA (American Automobile Manufactures Association). The AAMA has done its own lobbying campaign against the electric vehicle. In six months, the auto industry spent around $500,000 to campaign against the electric car mandates (Motavalli, 1997). While that number may not seem that impressive, it represents nearly four times the amount of money the California Electric Transportation Coalition has available each year.
In a recent study named the Pollution Politics, done between the years 1991-1995, revealed that nearly $34 million dollars in public policy was spent by oil companies and automakers to influence public opinion against the electric car mandates. Of the $34 million spent, $29 million went towards lobbying and $3.97 million went towards donations to legislative candidates (Motavalli, 1997). The majority of the public relations campaigns done by both the auto and oil companies were aimed at the increase of taxes that it would take to promote the electric car. The public, however, was not informed of the larger amount of money they are currently spending to continue the use of gas-powered vehicles. As the numbers and facts are examined it is clear that the oil industry has used its power and influence, both monetarily and legally, to keep the electric car from being produced.
As gas prices rise and rumors of oil conspired wars are consistently looming in the Middle East, it comes as no surprise that the general public would prefer an electric powered vehicle over a gas powered vehicle. While a mass produced electric vehicle is not currently available on the market, the electric and gas hybrid is. The hybrid car takes electric technology and combines it with the traditional gas powered engine. The result is a low emissions vehicle that has a high mile per gallon rating, as the car relies on both electric and gas power.
In a resent study done by J.D. Power and Associates, 57% of the consumers in the U.S. who expected to purchase a new vehicle by 2009 are considering a hybrid vehicle (King Flounders, 2007). This attraction to hybrid vehicles offers the most realistic glimpse into the future of the motor vehicle industry. Hence, it seems only logical that if the hybrid vehicle is attracting consumers because of the electric qualities, that a completely electric vehicle would gain an even greater demand.
This demand for an electric car was recently experienced by General Motor Company with the release of the first production electric vehicle, the EV1. The first EV1 concept car was revealed in the Los Angles Auto Show, in 1990. General Motor executives were surprised by the large demand for the concept to become a reality. The demands were not only from the public but also from the California State Legislature as they continued to enforce the Zero-Emissions Law that required General Motors to produce the vehicle. The EV1 was released by General Motors to the general public in the fall of 1996. As the public discovered that the completely electric car was about to hit the market, it became obvious that the demand for the EV1 was still strong.
Even with the limited availability, there was a large waiting list to purchase the new electric cars. Perhaps the large demand for the EV1 spawned from its ability to accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in nine seconds, the standard air bags, anti-lock breaks, cruise control, traction control, electric locks, keyless entry and ignition, liquid free batteries, aluminum frame, or the 90 mile highway range of the batteries (Cook 1996). The car had such a high demand that the Saturn dealerships, where the car was offered for lease, had to screen the potential owners and then select only the most qualified applicants from the list (Cook 1996). Those that qualified were only allowed to lease the EV1 with no option of purchase. Of course the EV1 had its share of critics; however, due to the popular demand, it was apparent that General Motors had taken a step in the right direction.
At the end of the leasing option in 2003, many of the satisfied owners offered to buy the EV1. Instead of taking the buyers offers General Motors had all the EV1 returned, taken to a junk yard in Arizona and crushed (More, 2006). This bizarre decision to suddenly crush the vehicles raised the eyebrows of many EV1 enthusiasts. The decision to crush the EV1 came the same month the State of California lifted the Zero-Emissions mandate to accept lower forms of carbon producing vehicles (Silberg, 2006).
After the recall of the EV1, General Motors stated that the production costs for the all electric vehicles were too high and the technology did not allow for their production. While this excuse may have been effective over ten years ago, it has become more apparent that the technology is currently available and affordable. The technology to build an electric car has become so affordable that as Bill More, an author of the Mother Earth News, points out, “Anyone who has the time, talent and the resources can convert a conventional automobile to electric drive” (More, 2006). Of course most Americans do not have the ability to convert their daily driver into an electric vehicle, but it does show that the technology is currently available.
Often times many critics of the electric car debate that the car would need re-charging too often in order to allow the user to travel the distances needed throughout the day. Amazingly enough, one of the breakthroughs technologies of the EV1 was the ability to reuse kinetic energy displaced when breaking. This recycled energy could charge the battery up to 30%. Of course advanced breaking methods do not replace the need for recharging the batteries, but there are ways of incorporating charging batteries into our everyday life as seen in Europe.
Electric cars are one of the fastest growing forms of transportation in London; the number of electric cars jumping from 49 to 1,278 in two years. To make up for this increased form of electric transportation London has provided re-charge bays next to most parking meters (Britain: Charging around the city; Electric cars, 2007). It is only a matter of time before all of England is equipped to handle the electric car.
While the mass produced electric car is not currently on the market, smaller simpler electric vehicles are. The electric
scooter [http://www.mycityscooters.com] and electric bike are two forms of electric vehicles that are mass produced and can be bought at the local toy shop or even over the Internet. The electric scooter can be bought in two forms; the classic Vespa style, which appears resemble a motorcycle; or the children style electric scooter that represents a push style scooter. Both types of electric scooters are extremely popular amongst college students and inner-city commuters alike. The electric scooter is powered by batteries that can be re-charged using a conventional AC adaptor. Jerome Byrd, a web publisher, who lives in Philadelphia, has driven to work and throughout Philadelphia on his electric scooter and has gone nearly a total of 30,000 miles (Moore, 2007).
Even more popular is the electric
bike [http://www.mycityscooters.com]. Just like the electric scooter, the electric bike is powered by batteries and can come in two forms: the human assisted (comes with pedals) or the completely electric bike (does not need pedals). While there are many different forms of e-bikes they are all measured in watts and amps. The more watts and amps that you purchase the more powerful the electric bike (and scooter) are. These bikes can reach up to 24 mph and travel up to 15 miles on a single charge. Although, the electric scooter and electric bike are by no means an alternative to a car, their ability to be mass produced commercially is paving the way.
Each year, as the temperature rises and more human lives are lost to the intensified natural disasters due to global warming, we are reminded of the need for a solution to combat global warming. The solution comes in the form of a pollution free electric vehicle. While the mighty oil companies and their minions, the U.S. government and auto manufacturers, have done all they can to stop alternative forms of energy from emerging, the overwhelming need, the undeniable want and the available technologies cannot stop the electric car from once again quietly gliding down a street near you some day soon.
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