The Story of the 2005 GM Electric Car

This post could be titled: “Ending the Middle East Conflict, Breathing Clean Air and Making Livable Cities”.

When cars in Asia, Europe and the Americas convert to electric power the consumption of fossil fuels will plummet; dependence on oil trading will end; and many many long-sought results will be triggered including clean air and the restructuring of local economies. The change will be of a scale as great as the French Revolution (ushering representational government), the Great Depression (restructuring the economy from horse-and-buggy to rubber-oil-and-steel), or the Second World War (implementing air flight, weapons of mass destruction, centralized planning and telecommunications).

The real question of course is whether it has to be as messy the second time around, or whether we can make a major shift in our economy while managing unwanted and unforeseen consequences. As the award-winning documentary “Who Killed the Electric Car” shows how this change will revolutionize our economic and political power structure. It also shows how great the stakes are, representing too high a risk for the largest multi-nationals to join in without some grumbling. GM pulled its production model battery car from the market ten years ago. The giant opted for self preservation over innovation. The only conclusion we draw from this analysis is that our democracy will grow stronger when cars run on fuel they get from a thin solar panel stuck on the roof of the garage rather than from the competition of multi-nationals over dominance in trade, consolidation of power and influence over local politics. [Links to the documentary are provided below. If Sony Pictures has blocked viewing in your area, then you can read a synopsis by downloading the press kit here].

The changes that follow from shifting the car fleet from fossil fuels to electric power are significant. For starters the U.S. 5th Fleet—staging area the Persian Gulf—can be re-committed to another theatre. It is hard to imagine that the Middle East problem will continue once the oil dollars dry up. The fight there has never been about religion, human rights, or anything else but petro-dollars. Ending the Middle East conflicts will have significant trickle down effects. Halliburton and the rest of the military-industrial complex will be major losers. Big oil will be ‘big’ no longer. And the auto industry will be diminished as well. Consider that electric engines last much longer, needing fewer repairs and maintenance. That’s enough reason for GM and the parts industry that supplies it to pull the plug. However, it also means a heavy recommitment of labor.

Changing to renewable fuel to power our cars will score a major win for our cities. Because electric motors are clean where internal combustion engines are dirty everything from the air that we breathe, to the streets where we operate the cars and the garages where we store them will be clean. Gone is the soot in the air and on the ground, the blackening our lungs and our buildings. When we plug in electric cars it will mean simply this: putting a strangle-hold on pollution. However, to finish the job the attitude of citizens may also shift.

It is hard to imagine that the switch to green house gas-zero transportation technologies will not bring with it an increased demand for fast and efficient mass transit. For example, 90% of all commuter trips can shift from private automobiles (gas or electric) to walking and riding fast and efficient transit. This change awaits folks realizing the senselessness of driving at peak hour and wasting precious time in congested traffic when there is a fast and efficient alternative. However, it also hinges on local governments enacting policies that will encourage the construction of cities built as a clustering of walkable neighbourhoods. The commute to and from work presents as low-hanging fruit in the effort to abandon the private car and curb traffic congestion. Yet, we ride transit as pedestrians. We will not abandon our cars if at trip-start and trip-end we are plunged into an automobile landscape where pedestrians are second-class citizens.

Thus, in a real way the shift from driving to riding transit is likely to lag re-making our neighborhoods as walkable places. Here, having clean air will help. Yet, nurturing a new mindset in the population will be just as important. Electric cars will not diminish the problem of traffic congestion. In fact, with the cost advantages of electricity over fossil fuels it has the potential to magnify it. Here, a new attitude in the general public must emerge that is transparently apparent in our voting habits. The new democratic spirit must favor common sense solutions—like dropping oil for electricity; and leveraging clean air to make our cities more livable.

Of course, all this is a house of cards, a pipe dream, and vain hope until we find ways of making clean electricity. Natural gas, coal and oil just won’t do. The toxic products from atomic energy are also problematic. And the combined power of the elements—hydro, solar, wind and tide—have yet to reach levels necessary to power our lives and our cars all at the same time. Our challenge is capturing enough energy savings to off-set transportation needs in the domestic market. Thus, an critical component of a balanced energy strategy is the reduction of energy consumption within the built urban footprint.

The greatest reduction in energy consumption achievable within the urban footprint drops by half energy use in buildings built before 1990. It is achieved simply through building maintenance and upgrading. Retro-fitting double-glass windows and significantly higher levels of roof insulation has been shown to cut heating costs in half. A further 50% drop in energy consumption for heating and cooling buildings can be achieved by building ground-oriented or human-scale buildings in place of towers. To discourage the construction of one building type over another, buildings that don’t meet national energy standards can be taxed at a higher rate.

Summing up, change in five key areas can put an end to war in the Middle East, clean the air and humanize the streets in the places we call home:

  • Change the fleet from fossil fuel to electric engines
  • Build fast and efficient transit
  • Shift the urban paradigm from driving to walking and transit (suburban to urban)
  • Shift to the renewable environmental energy sources (hydro, solar, wind and tide)
  • Incentivize ground-oriented construction built from renewable materials, upgrading buildings and retro-fitting passive-solar design

The only conclusion to draw from this analysis is that our democracy will grow stronger when cars run on fuel they get from a thin solar panel stuck on the roof of the garage.

Who Killed the Electric Car (2006)

Part I: What Happened to that pre-1920 Darling Little Electric Car?

Part II: I LOVE the EV-1

Part III: Automakers—Going Backwards into the Future

Part IV: 2003 California Air Resources Board Blinks

Part V: GM Destroying the Evidence

Part VI: Detroit Fights Back

Part VII: The Hydrogen Fuel Cell Dead End

Part VIII: All the Usual Suspects

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