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Juan Cole

Juan Cole

Juan runs the popular geopolitics blog Informed Comment where he provides an independent and informed perspective on Middle Eastern and American politics.

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Could Electric Cars Make the Middle East Geopolitically Irrelevant?

Petroleum makes the world go round, with 70% of it used to power automobiles. About a fifth of the world’s 90 million barrels a day of oil production comes out of the Persian Gulf/ Arabian Gulf.

A large part of the US stand-off with Iran has to do with petroleum. The US doesn’t want a big military power hulking over the Gulf, other than itself. Iran can’t be allowed to dominate the Gulf oil kingdoms. Likewise, Washington insists that oil countries remain susceptible of being invaded by the US. Non-oil states like Pakistan, India and Israel have been allowed to actually develop nuclear bombs, but Iraq was destroyed even on false suspicion of moving in the same direction. Even an Iranian capability to construct a bomb, i.e. “nuclear latency,” would have a deterrent effect, and the US is determined to prevent Iran from being taken out of the column of countries that can be safely invaded. (There is no good evidence that Iran seeks to actually construct a warhead, nor is Iran a threat to much more powerful Israel; US tensions with Iran are largely over ‘nuclear latency,’ the mere capability to construct a nuclear warhead on short notice).

Iran has launched its biggest ever air defense drills, a week after the US accused it of trying to shoot down an American drone over the Gulf:

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A quick US transition to hybrid and then electric cars, and fueling them with electricity produced by renewables, is necessary to combat increasingly dangerous global climate change. But it might also make the Persian Gulf/ Arabian Gulf geopolitically irrelevant. A green America would be energy self-sufficient, and its many wind turbines and solar panels would be impossible for an enemy to target. The US would be both much more secure and also much less aggressive if it were green. There would be no reason for a green America to care very much about security in the Gulf. The behind-the-scenes push by Big Oil for war to open new fields would be deflated. The US would be freed to move the Fifth Fleet HQ away from dictatorial little Bahrain. It could let Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Yemen go.

In this connection, it is very good news that the Tesla S electric car, created by Silicon Valley, has won the Motor Trend ‘Car of the Year’ award. Some models of the Tesla S are less than $50,000, and the car has the longest range of any electric car. Its price should fall over time, and its range will grow. In states where renewables produce a substantial proportion of the electricity, as in Idaho, Washington State, [pdf] Maine, etc., running an electric car or a plug-in hybrid much reduces a consumer’s carbon footprint. But it may also reduce the likelihood that a couple’s son will be sent off to fight in some godforsaken desert to protect US control of the world’s energy.

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Motor Trend reports on the Tesla S:

Related Article: IMF: Do we Have a Peak Oil Problem?

Petroleum has been at the center of many modern wars. In WW II, FDR told Japan he would cut if off from American petroleum, on which Japan depended to keep its Chinese empire going. Japan fought its way to Indonesian oil to replace the lost American supply, first trying to defang the US Navy at Pearl Harbor. Hitler suffered from lack of access to petroleum, and was driven to open the second front by a quest for the petroleum in the East Bloc. The Axis drive on Egypt from Libya may well have aimed at ultimately pushing on Iraq and Iran for their oil. Iraq’s invasions of Iran and Kuwait were in part an attempt by Saddam Hussein to consolidate control over neighboring oil fields. Israel pumped petroleum from Egypt’s Sinai while occupying it. George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq was connected to the latter’s petroleum. Greg Muttit has used leaked BP documents to show that the company lobbied the UK PM Tony Blair to make sure it got its share of petroleum fields in post-Saddam Iraq.

By. Professor Juan Cole


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Leave a comment
  • Mark Goldes on November 14 2012 said:
    Electric cars are likely to remain a small fraction of the auto market when they need to be recharged from the power grid or solar panels.

    However, new technologies are likely to recharge vehicles from ambient energy or Nickel Hydrogen systems.

    Ambient energy includes Zero Point Energy which may prove practical as it was successfully tapped in Germany before and during World War II by Hans Coler and Willi von Unruh. They demonstrated a 6,000 watt generator in 1937 that became a Top Secret project for the Nazi navy.

    Nickel Hydrogen systems are increasingly under study by small firms as well as NASA and the U.S. Navy. They may only need a small cartridge to recharge at 6 month intervals.

    Such cars would be mobile power plants, capable of selling power to the local utility when suitably parked.

    Should these technologies or others with similar effects prove practical electric cars may begin to dominate the automotive market.

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