Ending the tyranny of oil
By Steven Martinovich
Untold billions flow out of the United States every year into Saudi Arabia where some of it eventually ends up supporting the proselytizing of Wahhabism globally, terrorist groups plotting to kill civilians and movements attempting to convert civil societies into theocratic tyrannies. Who are these terror financiers on whom groups like al-Qaida depend on? You. Every time you fill up your gas tank some of the money you hand over eventually ends up in the hands of someone friendly to and supportive of groups that want you dead.
So argues Robert Zubrin in Energy Victory: Winning the War on Terror by Breaking Free of Oil, a treatise which argues that energy independence is the central front in the war on terrorism. He believes that transitioning the American economy from oil to an alcohol-based one is the primary weapon in that battle. The key plank in his platform would be a federal mandate that every single vehicle sold in the United States must be flex-fuel, able to run on a combination of gas and alcohol.
Why alcohol? Zubrin argues fairly persuasively that conservation and hydrogen are not the path to energy independence for various technical, economic and logistical reasons. Alcohol, however, promises independence because all of the ingredients necessary are present within the United States. Alcohol-based fuels can be created from resources like biomass or coal, and if it's eventually necessary to acquire raw materials abroad, America can patronize friendly nations and, as a beneficial side-effect, help develop the farming industries of Third World nations.
A reader could be forgiven for being dubious about an alcohol-based economy being a realistic proposition but as Zubrin points out, one nation has already gone down this road successfully: Brazil. Thanks to an abundance of sugar cane and farsighted politicians who mandated flex-fuel vehicles in the 1970s, Brazil has no need to import oil. The United States, however, is the prize: An immediate mandate requiring only flex-fuel vehicles to be sold in the United States would see 50 million such vehicles on American roads within three years and at least that number globally.
Oil, Zubrin argues, is a corrosive agent – and not simply because of the pollution that results from its use. He writes that its use has forced the United States to take up with questionable allies, that the $3 trillion Saudi Arabia has earned since 1970 from the sale of oil has in part sponsored terrorism and that the American political system has become corrupted.
As impressive as Energy Victory is, Zubrin made some rather curious decisions in what he left out. He completely ignores ethanol's role in rising corn and food prices – something that consumers have noticed if he hasn't – something that can only be exacerbated as more flex-fuel vehicles hit the road. Most surprisingly, Zubrin doesn't address the geopolitical ramifications of transitioning economies from oil. If the Middle East and Africa are unstable now, one can hardly imagine what would happen if the only economic engine powering their economies disappeared. Could ending the use of oil actually create more terrorists? Sadly, it's a question that's left unexplored.
Despite those omissions Energy Victory is a valuable contribution in the debate over a coherent American energy policy. Zubrin builds a convincing case that transitioning to an alcohol-based economy would not only help Americans regain control of their own futures, benefits would ripple across the globe – terrorists would be denied much of their funding, the Third World would finally become an important economic force and automobile produced pollution would dramatically decline. Whether America's policy makers are imaginative enough to take such a bold step is another matter entirely.
Steven Martinovich is a freelance writer in Sudbury, Ontario, Canada.
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