Tuesday, September 27, 2005

THE FUTURE IS NOW

If you believe the coal and oil industries, global warming isn't a genuine concern. Those industries have spent millions of dollars to keep the public skeptical about the issue.

That's because in order for the climate to stabilize, a 70 percent reduction in the use of coal and oil would be required. That would obviously threaten the very survival of a multi-billion dollar industry.

In 1995, during public utility hearings in Minnesota, it was revealed that the coal industry had paid more than $1 million to four scientists to speak out publicly against global warming. And ExxonMobil has spent more than $13 million since 1998 on an anti-global warming public relations and lobbying campaign.

In 2000, "big energy" got a tremendous boost when President George W. Bush was elected president and subsequently allowed the industry to shape climate and energy policies.

But experts say that the most direct solutions to the problem of global warming could come directly from the auto industry. There are alternatives and solutions to fossil fuels presently available, just not the will to execute them on a national scale.

A dozen known experimental hybrid cars have gotten up to 250 mpg. A California-based company, Energy CS, has converted two Toyota Priuses to get up to 230 mpg by using powerful lithium ion batteries.

University of California, Davis engineering professor Andy Frank built a plug-in hybrid from the ground up in 1972 and has since built seven others, one of which gets up to 250 mpg. They were converted from non-hybrids, including a Ford Taurus and Chevrolet Suburban. Extra batteries allow the vehicles to store extra power by plugging them into a wall outlet when not in use.

This wouldn't be ideal for a long-haul trip, but the average daily usage of a car in the U.S. is somewhere around 30 to 40 miles per day. These types of vehicles would be more than adequate to meet those demands. And plug-in hybrids are ideal for companies with fleets of vehicles that can be recharged at a central location at night. Federal and state governments would also be ideal candidates for such vehicles.

These private efforts have gotten the support of not only environmentalists but also from conservative foreign policy hawks as well. These security experts insist that Americans are fueling terrorism through their gas guzzling.

As a result, plug-in hybrids are getting the backing of prominent hawks like former CIA director James Woolsey and Frank Gaffney, President Reagan's undersecretary of defense. They have joined Set America Free, a group that wants the government to spend $12 billion over four years on plug-in hybrids, alternative fuels and other measures to reduce foreign oil dependence.

Gaffney, who heads the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Security Policy, said Americans would embrace plug-ins if they understood arguments from him and others who say gasoline contributes to oil-rich Middle Eastern governments that support terrorism.

"The more we are consuming oil that either comes from places that are bent on our destruction or helping those who are … the more we are enabling those who are trying to kill us," says Gaffney .

So it's not just tree-hugging environmentalists that are concerned, but domestic security experts as well. The technology is not as developed or as affordable as it could be if the government would only make a genuine commitment to the effort. Don't count on it with this administration, but it's nice to know that there are conservatives voices out there who back the movement.

Reducing our dependence on foreign oil would be good for all Americans, Democrats and Republicans alike. Big Energy might not yet have warmed to the idea, but there's a whole industry awaiting them which has enormous, and very lucrative, potential. With their deep resources, they are poised to exploit this burgeoning technology and profit from it generously. Our government should join with the oil and auto industries in a joint effort to make the technology commercially feasible by the end of the decade.

This is the future, and to those who are willing to make the commitment will go the spoils.

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