Monday, September 27, 2010

Mandarin Moon Shots

Thomas Friedman makes a very important point in his excellent column published in the New York Times on Saturday.

The gist of the article is that China is looking decades into the future and building the world's biggest network of ultra-modern airports, creating a web of high-speed trains, developing a world-class cell/genetic engineering industry, and lastly, China is investing $15 billion in its fast growing electric vehicle industry.

After laying out this expansive plan that will undoubtedly make China the most powerful nation on Earth, Friedman puts it all into perspective with this:

"Not to worry. America today also has its own multibillion-dollar, 25-year-horizon, game-changing moon shot: fixing Afghanistan."


We spend billions to fight wars over oil and China spends billions to get off of oil.

Friedman further states, "... the country that replaces gasoline-powered vehicles with electric-powered vehicles — in an age of steadily rising oil prices and steadily falling battery prices — will have a huge cost advantage and independence from imported oil."

This is the best argument for why it's right and proper that our federal and state governments provide incentives to get the initial cost down for plug-in cars.

Consider that every day our country spends over a billion dollars for foreign oil. That's over a thousand million dollars leaving our country every single day. The longer we wait to end this dependence, the higher the price of oil and the more money we ship out of the country.

What's worse is that 90% of the money we spend on gas leaves our communities. While losing much of it to other countries is bad enough, think how many billions of our dollars are lost to local merchants and industries that would hire our friends and family if only those dollars were spent for locally grown or manufactured goods instead of sent to the overflowing coffers of the oil barons.

Of course, it doesn't stop there. Those oil barons spend millions of "our dollars" hiring effective lobbyists to essentially run Congress, and millions more to affect political contests. Witness the massive fight we have on our hands here in California over Prop 23, a measure that will overturn the will of the citizens of this progressive state who enacted AB32, the country's most progressive climate change legislation. Two Texas oil companies and a couple of right-wing billionaires from Kansas are pouring oil money into this fight.

Those who buy plug-in cars will no longer contribute their own money to be used against them in this manner.

Friedman says. "Europe is using $7-a-gallon gasoline to stimulate the market for electric cars; China is using $5-a-gallon and naming electric cars as one of the industrial pillars for its five-year growth plan. And America? President Obama has directed stimulus money at electric cars, but he is unwilling to do the one thing that would create the sustained consumer pull required to grow an electric car industry here: raise taxes on gasoline."

I don't blame Obama alone for this since there are precious few in Congress who would dare promote raising taxes on dirty energy, yet without those price signals, we'll make slow progress in ridding our country of its addiction to oil.

It comes down to individual citizens and their personal position on dirty energy. Ignorance is no excuse, the information on how coal and oil hurts our country is everywhere, you only need to read it.

Every day wasted making the transition to clean, renewable energy results in more sick and dying citizens poisoned by our collective waste and more dead soldiers sent to protect our access to the dwindling supply of oil.

If you are not in favor of higher prices on dirty energy, you are not an environmentalist, you are not a patriot, and you will share responsibility for the failure of our country to thrive in a future where fossil fuels will no longer be cheap nor plentiful.

Vote accordingly.


  1. Great article! What a perspective.


  2. I often hear people ask why there should be incentives on plug-in vehicles. Why can't they compete on their own? Why should we pay subsidies to other people can get new cars?

    This is why. The benefits of a plug-in vehicle don't go to the driver; they go to ALL of us! And they are enormous benefits indeed. We can't afford to not do this.

  3. The article is right to the point, but begs the question of where the electric energy to run the electric cars will come from. A lot of the country's electricity is now coal or natural gas based.
    We are a long way from having adequate facilities for solar and wind power, and nuclear power, while potentially helping to make us independent of oil, arrives with its own problem: disposal.
    We have some really long range problems here.

  4. Worried, one of the beautiful things about plug-in cars is that it gives you the choice to drive on renewable energy. This is key since, as you state, a lot of our electricity comes from coal and natural gas. If you are concerned about dirty electricity, you shouldn't be running your house on that dirty electricity. Either install solar panels, if you have the roof for it, or enroll in your utility's renewable energy program. If your utility does not have one, then organize like minded folks and lobby the utility to offer one.

    More to the point, an EV charged from the national grid, which is now down to 45% coal, is more than twice as clean as a Prius in terms of CO2.

    Also, the U.S. installed over 10 gigawatts of new wind energy last year and about one gW of new solar. Combined, that's enough renewable energy to charge about ten million EVs. Every year, there will be vastly more renewable energy added to the grid than the new electric vehicles brought to market that year will ever use.

    the grid is getting cleaner, and

  5. Very salient points, Paul. I find it remarkable that nearly half of total power generation built in 2008 and 2009 worldwide was renewable. And on a world-wide basis solar photovoltaics have grown 60% per year every year for the last ten years. It's time the US stopped putting good money after bad in it's destructive, resource-intensive wars and starting putting money and effort into lasting, creative solutions that make the world a more habitable place in which to live.

  6. Worried,

    This article will help with your concern.

    Essentially, 200,000 million electric cars can be powered by our existing gris simply by capturing the wasted energy in the evening that cannot be stored.

    The EV allows that energy to be stored.


  7. Directed to this site by Robert Llewlyn's tweet (an tv personility in the UK and advocate of EV's).

    What an excellent precis of the issues at hand. It does rather beg the question, will the west beome virtually third world if we cannot retain the ability to plan and to seek new horizons as our forefathers did.

    Before the housing market crash in 2008 I work in housebuilding constructing exclusivley low carbon homes and they technology is with us but people are but of by, what is afterall, a very modest increase in price.

    It's about time we had leaders that developed such national strategies.

    Once again, an excellent perspective of the issues at hand.

  8. sorry, forgive the typos; too used to spell check!

  9. So what you're saying is that the British should power their cars by plugging their car into electricity generated in a French owned power station?

  10. @Ben - Yes, it is rather ironic that Britain decided to ensure that electricity was in government hands; it's just a shame that it's in the hands of the French government.

    Lack of forthought? It seems out hottest debate about future planning is about a couble of aircraft carriers and some nuclear bombs.....

  11. China's airports for the future? Planes fly on JET FUEL, made from CRUDE OIL.
    And it really pollutes the upper atmosphere.
    And that't not likely to change in the next 100 years.

    50% of new power was renewable last year?
    China alone is building a new COAL powered plant about every ten days. In 2007, they added the electric capacity of all of France.
    50% is way off by maybe a factor of 50.

  12. I have a design for an all electric turbine engine, the problem is getting the batteries off the ground.

  13. As long as we price gas low enough that an 18 year old male can afford to buy and operate a truck just to wag his ****, gas it too cheap.

  14. Paul,
    Another very well-done post, as usual. Friedman's spot on -- while we, the U.S., are, to take Jim's metaphor above, pouring billions of $$ into wars in Iraq and Afghanistan largely so that we can continue to wag our oil ****, the rest of the world is investing its billions/trillions in the infrastructure of the future, plug-ins, renewables, etc. The U.S. is very definitely dropping quickly from its global pole position. But there's still time to rescue the U.S. -- if Americans wake up, that is. I'm not always the biggest optimist, but I think more and more Americans can see that our old ways are bringing us down globally.

  15. Send this article to Jerry Brown - Meg W says she is against 23 after she was for it but to even think twice that cutting green house gases would hurt jobs rather than being a job creator, shows whose pocket she is in.

  16. It's not just about cars. That may be our focus, but that's also our fault. China and other industrialized nations have made enormous investments in mass transit and high speed rail. EV's alone are not the answer. EV's designed to connect us to clean mass transit are the only possibility we have to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by 50%. Let's stop advocating for EV's in a vacuum, join with planners and environmentalists and create healthy transportation networks.

  17. Joseph, believe me, none of us in the EV movement are single focused on EVs. We always advocate for walking, then biking, mass trans, and nodal communities. It's just that you can't write a coherent and concise blog if you constantly pour all of those things into every piece you write. Trust me, we're all on board with what you say.

    To take it further, many of us are population activists as well. If you really wanted to advance the cause, you'd always mention over-population in every essay, but again, we want people to read these things, and if you make them too inclusive, people won't read them.

  18. how do you cut population?

  19. Imagine where we'd be now if all the money that was spent on Iraq and Afghanistan went into education and renewable energy infrastructure! We need to start demanding PROPORTIONATE responses to the issues that face this country. 911 made everyone paranoid and reactionary. The disproportionate response to what amounted to a "lucky break" for a handful of terrorists has put us in this pathetically weak position. Fortunately, there may be light at the end of the tunnel - as long as the Republicans continue to sabotage their premature resurgence... Vote Democrat in November!

  20. Anonymous asked, "how do you cut population?"

    Vasectomies, the pill, education of women, all these are viable solutions. One of the most effective organizations reducing population growth is Bill Ryerson's Population Media. See:

  21. Right on! The question comes down to the courage of the citizens of this country to reject the world empire building, oil soaked agenda of the previous administration and reinforce the political muscle of the present administration. The future of the United States is in the hands of its people. signed Al from Pasadena

  22. I agree with Paul on 'all solutions needed'. I met with a local University advisory group this morning, discussing The EV Project... how and where to locate EV Charging equipment on or near campus. I rode my bike there, and even with 7,500 bike parking spots, I had to look for a place to 'park' my Bike Friday tikit. That, my friend, is encouraging !

    There are 'more and more' of us that care about, perform acts and create change. There is hope, and the solution is not completely political. It happens with personal decisions, lifestyle choices, and every dollar you spend is a vote. Let's hope our positive actions will continue to touch the lives of others and impact their decisions, choices and voting dollars.

    The important thing is to continue discussing this perspective, become educated and continue educating, support the cause, and strive to do more with less. I'm also hopeful that we will continue promoting individuals that care similarly - into positions of leadership, through our own leadership...

    As for me and mine, we'll see you out there, on our bikes of course...!

  23. A friend asked me what a Tea Party response to this might be:

    Is my answer.

  24. Efroymson: I went to your site and read your essay. I tried to comment on it, but could not. Here are my comments. Maybe you can add them.

    "... the Tea Party would have no philosophical objection to Energy Taxes, provided they are revenue neutral, or revenue negative."

    I'm on board with this 100%. We call it "Tax and Dividend". For all carbon-based energy, we internalize the external costs, but do so on a graduated basis so people can prepare without hitting them too hard all at once.

    The external costs are real, and quite significant. We've ignored them since day one, and the playing field is tilted as a consequence.

    The mechanics are that all the taxes collected are then returned to the American people, per capita, equally. Those who use a lot of dirty energy will pay more tax, but get the same as everyone else back. Those who use less dirty energy will pay less tax, but get the same money back. Start small, but increase it steadily.

    This is the most equitable way of doing what's necessary.

    "Some of us feel that the government is too large already... ".

    This is more about efficiency, or effectiveness of government, and I totally agree with you.

    But rather than starve the baby, I'd prefer to feed it well and educate it. History is very clear that educating your young and building efficient and strong infrastructure builds wealth and a strong economy. We've killed our public school system in CA with Prop 13 over 25 years ago. We're doing it nation wide now. We've let our infrastructure deteriorate to the point of danger, and we continue being the least efficient user of energy in the world, by a long shot.

    As energy inevitably rises in price, we will increase our purchase of ever more costly oil and natural gas.

    Both sides of the isle are beholden to the the energy interested due to the massive wealth of these corporations.

    This is why I sell electric cars and solar PV systems. Every single person who buys one or both of these items ends their flow of money to the energy companies. Today there is a trickle. But over the next 5 years, this will flow into a torrent, and then a river that will in 30 years time complete the electrification of the personal transportation fleet. There will still be some older internal combustion engines around, but you won't be able to buy a pure ICE anywhere.

  25. Great post again Paul Scott, If we see the pollution per capita then USA is at number one position where we even doesn't able to find the china in top 20
    Just compare
    America population : 300millions
    China Population : 1324 millions

    after having 1/4 of population we are polluting the world more than china or even combined china,India.

    Then Why?
    1) Our public mass transport system
    2) Much of cargo depending on road transport
    3) Highest use of automobiles ( with below world average MPG )
    4) failure to convince the end users to greener tech.
    5) unable to build the greener products.

    And this list goes on.

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