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February 23, 2012 | Posted By David Lemberg, M.S., D.C.

Anyone who's ever seen the terrific documentary, "Who Killed the Electric Car?" knows that our decades-long putative energy crisis is an unnecessary, highly destructive burden on all persons, not only on Americans but on the man- and woman-in-the-street, worldwide.

The General Motors EV1 electric car was a gorgeous machine. GM developed the EV1 in response to strict California emissions laws established by the California Air Resources Board (CARB). The board mandated zero emission vehicles (ZEV) in 1990, incorporating new standards in the Low-Emission Vehicle Program. The ZEV program was enacted by the California government, requiring that each auto manufacturer's sales fleet be composed of at least 2% ZEVs in the model years 1998 through 2000, followed by 10% ZEVs in the sales fleets by 2003 and beyond.

Of course, this never happened. But it could have been world-changing. A division of General Motors designed and built the EV1, a sleek, futuristic electric car with an emissions-free range of 100 miles. The EV1 became available for lease in 1996 and was immediately successful. Eventually more than 1000 cars were leased by avid consumers. But the auto manufacturers had already begun to dig in their heels and fight back. Backed by their historical allies, the global oil corporations, auto manufacturers lobbied long and hard against the CARB regulations. Production of the EV1 slowed to a trickle once GM executives got wind of what was going on in one of their smallest divisions.

The advent of electric cars and the long-term conversion of much of America's fleet to ZEV would have had multiple devastating effects on the oil industry and would have led to permanent changes in auto manufacturing. The impact on oil interests is obvious, but understanding why the auto industry would oppose the manufacture of non-polluting vehicles requires a bit more investigation/cynicism. First, a substantial percentage of auto profits derived from planned obsolescence. New cars were designed to wear out rather than being built-to-last. Second, auto dealerships derived substantial revenues from car repairs. While these vehicles were wearing out, their owners needed to ongoingly replace parts and systems. So an electric vehicle built with significantly less complexity would kill many revenue streams at once.

EV1 production was nipped in the bud.

There's much more to this story, but one footnote is key. The EV1 had a range of 100 miles, which might be considered short. However, contemporaneous battery design would have enabled ranges of 300 miles, but these improved designs were quashed. GM never included 300-mile-range batteries in its production and went so far as to sell majority interest in the battery manufacturer to an oil company, which naturally buried the project.

Thus in 2012, more than 15 years after the introduction of the EV1, we could all be driving zero-emission vehicles and hugely reducing our use of oil, specifically, foreign oil. But such a scenario is at great odds with global corporate interests. Exxon Mobil 4Q 2011 profits were $9.4 billion. And yet gas prices at the pump continue to rise. There is no oil shortage driving up prices. There is corporate greed.

The prospect of fracking is yet another manifestation of this energy madness. Fracking is short for "hydraulic fracturing", a process that shatters subsurface geology to enable natural gas to rise under its own pressure and flow through new cracks. The damage done by fracking to rivers and streams is permanent. Water supplies are fouled and people and industry suffer the consequences. Public health will be impacted immediately and for decades by the process which brings to the surface oil-soaked mud, radium, chromium, iron, and other salts that were trapped in the rock.

Which has now been fracked.

We don't need fracking. We don't require new sources of oil. We do need new energy policies and strategies that will, in reality, cause a permanent shift in our behaviors and habits. We do require honest, clear-headed, forward-thinking legislators (these associations may well be oxymorons, but without hope we're lost) who will declare they are not tools of corporate interests and, in fact, are willing to uphold the rights and welfare of the voters who elected them.

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers graduate online masters in bioethics programs. For more information on the AMBI master of bioethics online program, please visit the AMBI site.

0 comments | Topics: Bioethics in the Media, Energy Policy, Environmental Conservation, Sustainability


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BIOETHICS TODAY is the blog of the Alden March Bioethics Institute, presenting topical and timely commentary on issues, trends, and breaking news in the broad arena of bioethics. BIOETHICS TODAY presents interviews, opinion pieces, and ongoing articles on health care policy, end-of-life decision making, emerging issues in genetics and genomics, procreative liberty and reproductive health, ethics in clinical trials, medicine and the media, distributive justice and health care delivery in developing nations, and the intersection of environmental conservation and bioethics.
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