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NYTimes' Thomas Friedman Cites CalCars' Felix Kramer on Global Fleet Electrification
Nov 18, 2009 (From the CalCars-News archive)
This posting originally appeared at CalCars-News, our newsletter of breaking CalCars and plug-in hybrid news. View the original posting here.
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Thomas Friedman, Pulitzer-Prize winning NYTimes columnist, has been writing eloquently and persuasively about cleantech's potential to change and improve the world. He says "E.T. -- energy technology" will have an even greater impact than "I.T. -- information technology." In his bestselling book, "Hot, Flat and Crowded," he devoted great attention to plug-in hybrids and the smart grid, citing CalCars' work and views (see­calcars-news/­996.html ); he also included us in his film, "Addicted to Oil." On Monday, he moderated the panel at the launch of the Electrification Coalition event (more from us on that soon), after which he and I exchanged emails. In today's column, he writes about oil dependency, and cites a comment I made to him. Read the column below, followed by the complete thought from which he quotes part 1.

For an index to Friedman's columns, see­top/­opinion/­editorialsandoped/­oped/­columnists/­thomaslfriedman/­index.html (among the best recent ones are "More Poetry, Please," (Nov 1) and "Real Men Tax Gas" (Sept. 20)

The New York Times
November 18, 2009
"What They Really Believe"
by Op-Ed Columnist Thomas L. Friedman­2009/­11/­18/­opinion/­18friedman.html

If you follow the debate around the energy/climate bills working through Congress you will notice that the drill-baby-drill opponents of this legislation are now making two claims. One is that the globe has been cooling lately, not warming, and the other is that America simply can't afford any kind of cap-and-trade/carbon tax.

But here is what they also surely believe, but are not saying: They believe the world is going to face a mass plague, like the Black Death, that will wipe out 2.5 billion people sometime between now and 2050. They believe it is much better for America that the world be dependent on oil for energy -- a commodity largely controlled by countries that hate us and can only go up in price as demand increases --rather than on clean power technologies that are controlled by us and only go down in price as demand increases. And, finally, they believe that people in the developing world are very happy being poor -- just give them a little running water and electricity and they'll be fine. They'll never want to live like us.

Yes, the opponents of any tax on carbon to stimulate alternatives to oil must believe all these things because that is the only way their arguments make any sense. Let me explain why by first explaining how I look at this issue.

I am a clean-energy hawk. Green for me is not just about recycling garbage but about renewing America. That is why I have been saying "green is the new red, white and blue."

My argument is simple: I think climate change is real. You don't? That's your business. But there are two other huge trends barreling down on us with energy implications that you simply can't deny. And the way to renew America is for us to take the lead and invent the technologies to address these problems.

The first is that the world is getting crowded. According to the 2006 U.N. population report, "The world population will likely increase by 2.5 billion ... passing from the current 6.7 billion to 9.2 billion in 2050. This increase is equivalent to the total size of the world population in 1950, and it will be absorbed mostly by the less developed regions, whose population is projected to rise from 5.4 billion in 2007 to 7.9 billion in 2050."

The energy, climate, water and pollution implications of adding another 2.5 billion mouths to feed, clothe, house and transport will be staggering. And this is coming, unless, as the deniers apparently believe, a global pandemic or a mass outbreak of abstinence will freeze world population -- forever.

Now, add one more thing. The world keeps getting flatter - more and more people can now see how we live, aspire to our lifestyle and even take our jobs so they can live how we live. So not only are we adding 2.5 billion people by 2050, but many more will live like "Americans" -- with American-size homes, American-size cars, eating American-size Big Macs.

"What happens when developing nations with soaring vehicle populations get tens of millions of petroleum-powered cars at the same time as the global economy recovers and there's no large global oil supply overhang?" asks Felix Kramer, the electric car expert who advocates electrifying the U.S. auto fleet and increasingly powering it with renewable energy sources. What happens, of course, is that the price of oil goes through the roof -- unless we develop alternatives. The petro-dictators in Iran, Venezuela and Russia hope we don't. They would only get richer.

So either the opponents of a serious energy/climate bill with a price on carbon don't care about our being addicted to oil and dependent on petro-dictators forever or they really believe that we will not be adding 2.5 billion more people who want to live like us, so the price of oil won't go up very far and, therefore, we shouldn't raise taxes to stimulate clean, renewable alternatives and energy efficiency.

Green hawks believe otherwise. We believe that in a world getting warmer and more crowded with more "Americans," the next great global industry is going to be E.T., or energy technology based on clean power and energy efficiency. It has to be. And we believe that the country that invents and deploys the most E.T. will enjoy the most economic security, energy security, national security, innovative companies and global respect. And we believe that country must be America. If not, our children will never enjoy the standard of living we did. And we believe the best way to launch E.T. is to set a fixed, long-term price on carbon - combine it with the Obama team's impressive stimulus for green-tech - and then let the free market and innovation do the rest.

So, as I said, you don't believe in global warming? You're wrong, but I'll let you enjoy it until your beach house gets washed away. But if you also don't believe the world is getting more crowded with more aspiring Americans -- and that ignoring that will play to the strength of our worst enemies, while responding to it with clean energy will play to the strength of our best technologies -- then you're willfully blind, and you're hurting America's future to boot.


On Monday, Friedman asked, "How close are we at scale from clean power? If not, what's the point of electric cars powered by coal?"

It's of course true that we need to fix the grid while we build green cars. (That's where we get my favorite thing about plug-in cars, quoted in "Hot, Flat and Crowded" -- they're the only ones that get cleaner as they get older, because the grid gets cleaner.)

Still, Nissan's Carlos Ghosn gave the simple answer to that question: we're ahead on emissions even if we power cars by coal. That's because electric motors are up to 4x more efficient than internal combustion engines (well-to-wheel energy use).

But what about China and India? Here's the scenario I've NEVER seen analysts or journalists talk about:

What happens when developing nations with soaring vehicle populations get tens of millions of petroleum-powered cars at the same time as the global economy recovers and there's no large global oil supply overhang? These countries and their customers will have to scramble to fuel their cars. (As you know, China is already working to lock in contracts around the world.)

What if they can't get enough? India and China will then look to their enormous coal reserves. As Germany and South Africa did when they had no supply, they will go the route of liquifying coal into gasoline. The CO2 impacts will be 2-3x higher than using that coal directly to power EVs. (Let's not even talk about water....)

That's why, yes, we'll better off if starting right now, India and China build new cars that run on electricity. Even if (short-term) that electricity comes form coal, long-term they too will have every reason to get their grids off coal. And then everyone will be glad their vehicles can plug in.

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