The Greater Middle East has much of the proven oil and natural gas reserves in the world, and it is those hydrocarbon resources that give the region its central position in US policy. But the dependence by the US and its allies on petroleum is promoting a disturbing religious fanaticism and authoritarianism in the Muslim world, because of where the oil lies. Moreover, burning hydrocarbons causes global warming and sea level rise, threatening American coastal cities like Miami with being submerged, menacing the Southwest with extended drought and forest fires, and contributing to extreme weather events like more powerful hurricanes and typhoons.
28% of the over 5 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide the US dumped into the atmosphere is from transportation, mainly petroleum-fueled.
A crash program to move to solar, wind and wave energy and an end to hydrocarbon subsidies, is the way forward. Encouraging people to move to the cities (a process already underway especially since 2008), better central city planning, and better mass transit fueled by renewables, could have a tremendous impact in reducing oil use. (These processes have already reduced US oil use by 2 million barrels a day since 2007, because of the effects of the 2008 crash and its aftermath an continued relatively high petroleum prices). The right state and Federal policies could revitalize cities like Detroit and also much reduce America’s dependence on dirty and unstable oil.
But for those who have to drive given lack of convenient public transit, the electric vehicle (EV) and hybrid plug-in (PHEV) should be the automobiles of choice. There are now large numbers of models using this technology. If you are in the market for a new car and can afford something in the $30,000 range, it is absolutely crazy not to get a plug-in hybrid. Several, including the Volt and the Prius PHEV, have seen major price drops for 2014 into that range for the no-frills version. At the moment, there is a substantial Federal income tax break for purchasers. Some states also encourage such purchases. If you buy a hybrid and drive it more than three years, and get no more than 40% of your electricity from coal, you will be carbon neutral for the rest of the life of the automobile, even given the carbon it takes to produce the car and its battery.
Charge ahead California has announced a campaign to put a million EVs on the road in that state in only 12 years, and it seems actually a doable project. California sends $40 billion a year out of the state to pay for gasoline, some of it to Saudi Arabia, where it fuels Salafism. If you have a house and put solar panels on the roof and charge the car off them, you have free fuel that pays for the car and the panels in short order.
We don’t need to put Draconian sanctions on Iran or risk harming the economies of allies like Japan and South Korea. We shouldn’t need to keep a naval HQ at Manama in Bahrain in the Persian Gulf. We shouldn’t need to kowtow to Saudi Arabia and its increasingly militant and authoritarian policies. We shouldn’t have to watch as Gulf-style patriarchy and hatred of foreigners is imposed on an open, modern society like Tunisia.
We need to take petroleum out of the equation, both for geostrategic reasons and to reduce carbon emissions by nearly a third. The US and its allies will be far better off in both regards, and the world we are building will be a brighter one.