When discussing the United States’ marriage to foreign oil, it’s important to note that environmentalism (whether Al Gore’s Global Warming warnings are remotely real) is entirely irrelevant to the conversation. Groups like the Set America Free Coalition note that roughly ¾ of the world’s conventional oil reserves are owned by the Organization for Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). Eight of nine of the top oil exporters are dictatorships or autocratic monarchies. OPEC pumps less oil today than it did 35 years ago, yet demand for petroleum has more than doubled. As of 2010, the United States spends approximately $400 billion per year on oil (about a third of the cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan). We are addicted to oil, most of which comes from unfriendly people. We spend far too much money on oil, most of which goes to unfriendly people. Since the administration of President Carter, very little action of substance has been taken to reduce this perilous dependency. However, now is the time to take action and the action is easy to take.
There are two hypothetical panaceas. The first, Congressional adoption of an Open Fuel Standards Mandate (OFSM), implies a shorter-term implementation. Such a bill would force car manufacturers to produce increasingly more Flexible-Fuel Vehicles (FFV’s) over time until all cars on the road have flex fuel capability. Programs like “Cash for Clunkers” could help to strip the roads of gas-guzzlers at a faster pace. The simple part (which is technologically able to be used in any modern automobile) would cost car companies only about $100 per car, and it could be further subsidized by the government. The mandate would be easily enforceable, like seat belt and digital TV laws.
Currently about 5 per cent of fuel at the pump is Ethanol (or another alcohol-based fuel). In Brazil, an exemplar of a successful OFSM, 90 per cent of new cars produced are FFV’s. Many of those cars are even produced by American auto manufacturers, like General Motors. FFV’s would make automobiles more tolerant toward alcohol-based fuels, which corrode non-FFV’s over time. An OFSM is the ideal conservative-minded solution to this crisis because it is a direct embrace of the open market. Currently, the oil cartel has a monopoly on fuel because cars are made unable to take alcohol-based fuels. An OFSM would enable cars to use different types of fuels mixed in different concentrations. This would allow the market to determine the prices of different sources of energy, based on supply and demand, as cars will ably demand different types of fuels.
As electric hybrids, a big part of the second potential solution, are more widely produced, they could easily be built with both a power adapter and liquid fuel consumption capabilities, allowing another form of auto fuel to be introduced to the market.
The second resolution, which would require phased integration, is the establishment of a national electric power grid to charge vehicles. Chevrolet has made big inroads through the release of the Chevy Bolt, the 2011 Detroit Auto Show North American Car of the Year. Likewise, corporations like Better Place and General Electric have advocated for the creation of an electric grid in North America and introduced products to those ends. Better Place, a Silicon Valley start up, has made significant progress through its work in Israel. The group is also involved in Japan, China, Australia, Hawaii, Canada, Denmark, and the San Francisco Bay Area. The most viable paths to implementation should be modeled off the progresses in Denmark and the Bay Area.
In Denmark, certain means of public transportation have begun to partially and, in some cases, fully use battery power to fuel vehicles. According to the Taxi and Limousine Commission’s (TLC) New York City Taxicab Factbook of 2006, in March of that year, there were 12,779 yellow cabs trolling the five boroughs. On top of that, 22,900 car-service vehicles (including town cars and limousines) roam the city. If Mayor Bloomberg, whose clean-energy efforts have been notable, made a ten, or even twenty, year commitment to transitioning all of the more than 35,000 service vehicles in New York City to battery powered automobiles, the difference could be remarkable. In addition to this, charging spots, like the GE WattStation ™ and those of Better Place, and battery-swap stations would be built on a small scale throughout the city. The initial infrastructural investments could be quickly expanded upon as battery-powered vehicles gain consumer availability.
In the Bay Area, four mayors, led in large part by the work of then-San Francisco Mayor and current Lt. Governor of California Gavin Newsom, reached an agreement to work with Better Place to develop battery-charging infrastructure throughout the popular area of California. This would allow all commuters within the areas of those four cities the ability to use a battery-powered vehicle without fear of running out of power without a charging spot, outlet, or swap station nearby. If other mayors, like the mayors of the C40 cities (which elected Mayor Bloomberg as its chair in September 2010), work toward similar goals, oil consumption could be drastically reduced. There are more than 20 million vehicles in 19 cities in the C40. Such a conversion could leave a serious dent in the conflict.
In order for the United States to successfully promote its national defense and strategic global position, swift action should be taken to lessen dependence on foreign and domestic petroleum. The solutions are readily available and involve relatively simple implementation. Other countries have already embraced the technologies; however, now is the time for the United States to make the necessary moves to secure its position as a technological, environmental, and defensive superpower through the twenty first century and beyond.