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North America » United States » California » Los Angeles
February 1st 2007
Published: February 5th 2007EDIT THIS ENTRY

On my travels towards the smoggy skies over LA, California, I came across this interesting little tale... In light of the so-important climate and environmental issues at hand, I thought it would provide seat-gripping reading! Haha. Anyway, let me know what you think... True or false?


IN the late '80s to mid '90s, Californians emitted some of the worst air pollution in the world. Highways were clogged with fuel-guzzling cars producing huge amounts of CO2 and other greenhouse gases. Pressure mounted on the Government to do something - not only because of environmental damage, but also due to the sharply rising health disturbances Californians were suffering.

As through a call of faith, General Motors announced the breakthrough results of their design team's latest project - the electric vehicle. Not only was GM able to produce a vehicle emitting no carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, they were able to produce it commercially. The State of California and the Californian Air Resources Board (CARB) jumped at the news. The electric car would solve all of their problems; although energy to power the battery cells would at first be coal, oil or gas fired, the actual car emissions could be reduced to zero.

CARB took the bold step of passing the country's first Zero Emissions Vehicle Mandate, a law which would see car manufacturers producing a base percentage of vehicles with zero emissions - 2% in 1998, 5% in 2000, 10% in 2003. The streets of California were going to have more and more environmentally friendly cars.

Initially, manufacturers obeyed - the first electric vehicles began to fill highways in '96. GM created the EV1; sleek, fast and zero emission, consumers were soon paying between US$250 and US$300 pm to lease their newest creation.

Nissan, Honda, Ford and others followed suit, producing EV versions of models such as the Rav 4 and Ranger. The State was fully behind the move towards electric, building Electric Fulling Stations on highways and in townships, where drivers simply power-charged their EVs. Overnight, the cars could be 'plugged' into owners' garage walls and charged for the next day's travels.

But opposition grew. 'Californians against Utility Company Abuse' lobbied local Government and Councils to cease support for the electric vehicle, quoting reasons of unfair hardship for the car giants. Editorials began appearing in the country's leading publications, arguing that the stated environmental benefits of the electric vehicle were uncertain and speculative only. Further, the auto makers filed suit against CARB.

The State of California listened. Despite the fact that most lobby groups (and editorials) were funded by the major oil companies, CARB compromised their own situation, reducing the mandate from fixed-percentage driven to production-based-on-demand. Car manufacturers were jubilant. They ceased pushing the sale of EVs. GM began shutting down its productions lines and firing employees in the electric vehicle division.

In came the Bush Administration... If the EVs ever stood a chance, the White House ensured the destruction of it. In a bid to wipe talk of 'electric' off the table, they announced US$1.2b funding for the supposedly breakthrough technologies of the Hydrogen cell. Governor Schwarzenegger sported a Hydrogen Hummer, boasting of the unbelievable opportunities it presented to the people of California.

Amongst heated protests from citizens, GM (and others) re-possessed one EV after another - when lease terms ceased with their customers, the manufacturers were simply refusing to renew them. By Summer 2004, not one EV remained on the roads of the US.

The media retrieved footage of crushed EVs at GM's proving grounds in Arizona, as well as brand new Honda EVs at a shredding plant in California. Ironically, a spokesman for the car manufacturers assured America that every individual part of the EVs would be recycled, passed on to museums or utilised in research. "They won't end up as landfill, that is for certain."

And so, the end of the beginning of conversion to electric arrived (arguably) prematurely.

The car manufacturers blame the lack of consumer demand, stating they could not carry the financial burdens to build up such an unknown product. Insiders, though, say car giants purposely failed to push the marketing of EVs.

Also in the spotlight were the oil companies, allegedly placing huge pressures on CARB, State and Federal Governments to stop supporting the introduction of electric vehicles. Given the increasing profits of these giants (Exxonmobile, Chevron Texaco & Conoco-Philips reported combined profits of US$33b, US$47b and US$64b in 2003, 04 and 05, respectively), the potential threat of EVs to their bottomline was, and still is, likely substantial.

The White House added fuel to fire - since Jimmy Carter left office in 1981, the importance of environmental protection policies proceeded to the back of the list; The US' dependence on oil increased, with imports of foreign oil going from 8.8m barrels per day in '77 to 13.5m in '05, a total of 54% (bear in mind, the population of the US increased by only 35% in this period); Fuel economy in cars stood stagnant for 20 years. Reagan killed off anything Carter had put into place. Bush Snr followed suit. Clinton pushed for research into the hybrid vehicle, though achieving little in the arena of improving fuel economy.

Bush Jnr, in the steps of his father, destroyed. Instead, his Energy Policy pursued the increased crude oil production in the USA as part of a strategy to improve the energy situation in his country. Also, the hydrogen cell driven vehicle, as mentioned earlier. Problem was, experts say, that a) the production of a single Hydrogen vehicle currently costs US$1m, b) there is no known devise to man which will hold sufficient amounts of Hydrogen fuel to last the distance required, c) Hydrogen fuel is extremely expensive, d) there is no fuelling infrastructure, and e) competing technologies - such as the electric vehicle - are likely to surpass the Hydrogen cell driven vehicle within little time. Further, manufacturers say the Hydrogen vehicle will not be commercially available for at least two decades - just in time for when the oil stops flowing??

So, true or false, kids?

X M

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