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Web Letter

America's dependence on fossil fuels to move us around began withinternal-combustion-powered cars. Fuel was cheap. We practically stoleit from the Arabs until they wised up, now they control how much we payfor fuel.

Other fuels have been proposed, primarily by people with a vestedinterest in the source of those fuels, but each option leaves us burningfuel and tying us to someone else's infrastructure to obtain thosefuels.

It is a basic law of physics. If we want to move something we have toinput energy. Moving a car requires an input of energy, period. Howeverphysics does not care what we use as a source of energy.

Burning fuel is not very efficient with today's technologies. Theinternal combustion engine can only go so far. While it is true it hasgone farther in other countries in terms of mileage than it has beenallowed to go here in America, there are limits. Burning fuel is a deadend, not just because of the costs and inefficiencies of the technologybut because of the ecological consequences of exhaust emissions.

Hydrogen is hyped by the Bush Administration to favor its Big Oilinterests. A hydrogen-fueled car is just an electric car with agenerator (fuel cell ) that burns hydrogen. There are numerous problemswith the concept, not the least of which is an almost total lack ofplaces you can buy hydrogen fuel. I know of one I have personally seenon the West side of Washington, DC, near the RFK Stadium. Who would buildthis infrastructure to fuel our millions of hydrogen cars? Big Oil, ofcourse. We remain tied to the same people who helped bring us $4-per-gallon fuel. Oh, and the hybrid is almost a hundred years old too.Google the Owen Magnetic, gas motor driving a generator to power thecar, circa 1915.

Ethanol is only marginally better because we can at least pipe itthrough the existing infrastructure to deliver it to consumers and manypresent cars can already burn it with little modification. But currentmethods of production are consuming corn, the same corn we feed cows,which drives up cost of milk and beef. We could import from Brazil, whouse sugar cane, but there is an import tax on that, sponsored by bigagribusiness--which ruins any cost savings. The actual production ofethanol fuel consumes energy, which only results in energy waste beingshifted, in part, to the processing plants.

Hybrid electric cars have a place but are not the whole answer.Presently their cost exceeds conventional vehicles leaving them out ofmainstream use, thus contributing little to abate the fuel crisisoverall.

It is time to deliver pure plug-in electric vehicles to the showroomfloor. Part of the problem is negative education. People have beensold a bill of goods to delay delivery of electrics because their widespread use would undermine oil company profits. Electric vehicles arenot new; one of the early autos people could buy was the BakerElectric. Jay Leno owns and drives one today, and it works as well as itdid almosta 100 years ago.

Leno says of his Baker Electric, "My Baker Electric dates back nearly 100years--and it's a late model. By then, the company had been sellingelectrics for more than a decade. Unlike other early cars, the BakerElectric needed no cranking, had no gasoline smell and was essentiallymaintenance-free. "

You plugged your Baker into a charger at home. No gas stations.

I'll not get into steam cars because, although there were some prettycool creations early last century such as the Stanley Steamer and thevery advanced Doble, they still burn fuel although they would burn justabout anything.

We need to accept that a pure electric car is a great alternative forthe average American driver. Forget the negative propaganda from automakers and their friends at Big Oil. Range is adequate today. It wasadequate in the fleet of electrics that were driven every day inresponse to California's CARB mandate a few years back. That is untilthey were nearly all destroyed by the makers, over loud objections fromthose who got to drive them. Automakers did everything they could tokeep most of us in the dark about them because they did not want to makethem... they could, they did, they just did not want to give Americansthat option.

The key to bringing electrics to a show room near you is public andpolitical pressure and a proper education campaign. Today's batterytechnologies won't provide all day driving for long trips in excess of acouple of hundred miles, but the fact is 90 percent or more of us never drivethat far on an average day. A pure electric will meet 90 percent of the needsof 90 percent of all drivers. With the typical cost of electricity, even thehigh-performance Tesla Roadster gets an equivalent 135 miles per gallonwhen plugged into an ordinary household outlet over night. And it canblow the doors off most sports cars and drive 200+ miles on a charge.Drawback? It is a hand-built $90,000 car, but it proves the technologyis here now and for sale. More about this on my site.

How do you overcome the "range" issue? In my mind it is simple. Dealerswho sell electrics include in the package, a "time-share" access to agas hybrid. You need to take that occasional long trip or vacation, youpark your electric at the dealer and borrow the gas hybrid for yourtrip. The rest of your driving days you steer away from all gasstations. Absent a "time-share," you can just rent a car for the trip.Many people already rent cars for longer trips to save wear and tear ontheir existing autos.

Another option to disarm the range issue for occasional trips could evenbe an optional trailer you can tow that contains either a "booster"battery or even a generator that charges your batteries as you glidedown the road. I prefer the rent or time-share car and only mention thisfor those would-be purists.

I know, an electric won't fit everyone's needs because there are thosewho make their living on the road as salespeople or what not and drivehundreds of miles a day. A hybrid remains the best short-term option forthem.

Political support has to come into play, not just on the education issuebut in the form of some kind of financial incentive to move people intoelectrics. Forget "tax credits." Those are of value only to people whoare probably already wealthy enough to buy them in the first place andcan afford to wait until tax time. To truly reach the masses we need an"instant rebate" available at the dealer because most of America'seconomy is such that the average family does not benefit from credits.

Other incentives need to be of the "big stick" kind to push automakers.Aside from a financial boost to buyers, automakers and buyers need a taxon vehicles that burn fuel based on their MPG rating and a reduced taxon electrics.

There will be naysayers who point to the fact that we are shifting theconsumption to power plants, and that is true. However, the ecologicalimpact is far less in the cities where the most people breathe the airand electrical production is for more efficient at using cruder fuelsthat we have in abundance here in America. And the infrastructure todeliver this energy is already in place with zero additional investmentrequired.

There will always be need for some vehicles that can find their fuelalong the way. Over the road trucks are an obvious example. (BTW, Ibelieve government needs to eliminate tax on diesel sold at truck stopsjust as they do for agricultural users. )

Paul Kruger

Interlachen, FL

Jun 9 2008 - 5:52pm

Web Letter

When we were in the space race, we followed the lead of the pre-eminent rocket scientist of the day, Wernher Von Braun. Now we are in a race for the survival of life on Earth and we are so afraid of losing our current lifestyle that we refuse to listen to the most accomplished climate scientist of our time, James Hansen. Is the American lifestyle so glorious that preserving it is worth risking extinction? We have epidemics of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure, mental illness (including depression), ADHD and obesity. All of these are lifestyle illnesses and almost all of them are directly related to the very same aspects of our lifestyle choices that are causing climate change. One would think that a rational nation would long for change from the nightmare we have created.

Dr. Hansen says we must reduce our emissions by 80-90 percent over the next fifteen years. It will clearly be tough to do, but it is also quite possible. Pain free? No, but neither is physical rehab after a serious injury. Our society is injured and clearly needs to do some rehab. Do we really need to use the amount of energy we are using? I know that my parents didn't use anywhere near this amount during WWII and the stakes weren't nearly as high for humanity during that crisis.

But my goodness, it is hard to not lose hope when my fellow citizens cannot even do the easy things. I watch carpenters who are in their slow season refuse to insulate their own homes. Our police refuse to enforce the traffic laws so that people can feel safe riding bicycles instead of using fossil-fool powered wheelchairs. My city's public buildings are heated to 76 F, as are most homes here. I have the only yard among the hundred in my neighborhood where food is grown. At the nearby community garden (which is located along the major bike path in this city) I find 90 percent of the gardeners arriving by car.

It is so depressing. Both candidates seem to want to assure a place in history by leading us to the end of history. They both seem imply that we can just wait for some magical technological fix and then we can go back to our wasteful ways. While we wait for the easy solution we will likely seal our doom. My hope is that a President Obama is intelligent enough to truly lead. Like many hopes, this one is based on scant evidence that it will occur. However, the alternatives are unacceptable.

Brad Foster

Eugene, OR

Jun 7 2008 - 12:26am

Web Letter

I was quite disappointed that the biggest explosive in the minefield was never mentioned by the author: nuclear power. The biggest most flagrant blasphemy in the proposed Climate Security Act S.3036 to address global warming was set up to give up to $544 billion to the nuclear industry in subsidies via amendments to the bill (which fortunately was withdrawn).

McCain wants the USA to go 80 percent nuclear to generate our electricity "like the French." Obama received at least $227,000 in campaign contributions from the biggest nuclear power utility in the USA, Exelon, headquartered in his homestate of Illinois.

Nuclear power is a very bad way to assist global warming. Besides its causing cancer and mutations, with the latest evidence being that childhood leukemias and cancers indeed were connected to their increased incidence around German and UK nuclear plants in the New Scientist, April 24, 2008, and Dr. Alexey Yablokov telling us in his 2007 book that at least 300,000 people have died prematurely because of Chernobyl and the radioactivity it dispersed (not the thirty-one nuclear power enthusiasts often claim as the death toll), renewables are ready to fill the gaps.

In fact, Dr. David Goodstein states that an eighty-mile square area in our southwest desert can supply all the electricity the USA will need via using solar power. It may take a decade to garner all the logistics... unless we have that US Chernobyl suddenly?

Similarly, we have been called the Persian Gulf of wind, with the Department of Energy telling us that two-thirds of US electricity can be generated via the winds of the Dakotas alone, and the other third via Texas's winds in our number-one windpower state of today, Texas. T. Boone Pickens is investing $10 billion, not in nuclear power, but in what will be the world's biggest windfarm in Texas.

Imagine if we really wanted to take care of the problem now. There are approximately 200 million cars on the roads in the USA. Ford made 15 million cars in 2007 alone. What if we really decided to build all the wind turbines necessary in those car plants we are closing? What if we built maybe 3 million 1.5 megawatt GE turbines that are the most commonly utilized? That would be 4.5 million megawatts of wind. We have 104 nuclear plants, average 1,000 megawatts per plant. That equals approximately 100,000 megawatts of electricity from nuclear today. With nuclear power generating about 19 percent of our electricity, we certainly, at least, could replace nuclear-generated electricity with an ambitious program of wind turbine siting and production.

With both solar and wind, we could replace all fossil fuel pollution generation of electricity and the ultimate polluting energy source: nuclear (radioactivity and radionuclides are radioactive and potentially cancer causing for hundreds of thousands of years: e.g., plutonium-239 has a hazardous life of 240,000 to 480,000 years; 400-1,000 pounds are produced each year in each of our 104 nuclear plants; one millionth of a gram can cause lung cancer, and do it over and over again for those 240,000 to 480,000 years; there are 454 grams in a pound; one pound theoretically, if dispersed in small enough particles by an accident, could kill 454 million people!).

We mustn't forget all this as we chose the right way to preserve planet Earth from our own consumption and pollution.

Conrad Miller, MD

Southampton, NY

Jun 6 2008 - 2:19pm

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