Electric Cars have been a clear winner of an idea ever since OPEC (Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries) was formed and Arab members used the “oil weapon” during the Yom Kippur War by implementing oil embargoes and initiating the 1973 oil crisis.
However, even with all the obvious benefits to national energy security, reduction in environmental pollution in major cities and corresponding health benefits governments and major car manufacturer’s did basically very little to try and switch their dependency on using fossil fuel transportation. In fact they did just the opposite. The auto makers on average made larger and more heavy vehicles that used even more fuel and governments delayed imposing greater fuel efficiency and cleaner environmental standards.
The 2006 documentary film ”Who Killed the Electric Car?” explores the role of big business, governments and consumers in limiting the development and adoption of this technology in depth and is well worth watching.
However part of the answer as to why the majority of our transportation needs are not currently being met using alternatives to fossil fuel cars can be found just by looking at the most recent USA Fortune 500 (America’s largest corporations) list, in which three out of the top four companies just happen to be in the fossil fuel business.
The USA Fortune 500 list contains some of the largest and most profitable companies in the world. These companies by design are individual legal entities that never die unless they go bankrupt, so they have an insatiable need for continued profit.
Their quest for continued profit and vast reserves of accumulated wealth give them unmatched influence and political clout than most people seem to realize.
It should be obvious to everyone that the largest and most profitable businesses in the world don’t really need subsidies and special tax breaks, and still governments (not just in the USA) still give it to them…why?
Fortune 500 (Top 4)
(2) Exxon Mobil
The easy explanation is because (at least in the USA) there is no legal limit to how much financial support these companies can give to political candidates, which in turn often pass laws that support the interests of their campaign supporters. Even though these laws often come at the expense of the environment, public health, and competing technologies (such as alternative fuels and electric vehicles).
The delay to switch to alternatives translates into more profit for established companies. In the case of electric cars the automakers and dealers make more money producing vehicles using the internal combustion engine, due to all the service and consumable parts over the life of the vehicle. Obviously the oil companies want to keep fossil fuel burning vehicles on the road as long as possible and will do everything in their power to make that happen.
Sadly it is the 99% of the people that don’t own stock in these companies that are then forced to pay more for their transportation and fuel costs due to big businesses creating oligopolies in their respective industries.
Time and time again politicians propose legislation that coddles the interests and desires of big business. These bills and subsequent laws are often drafted by lobbyist from the very industries that government and politicians are suppose to be trying to regulate! The current laws regulating businesses and business practices are inherently flawed, allowing for too much corporate influence in government and don’t adequately safeguard public interests.
When it comes to infamous examples of big business acting in their own interest at the expense of the public. One doesn’t have to look very far to find plenty of examples of corporations acting irresponsibility. For example the current state of public mass transit and electric cars can easily be linked to fortune 500 company involvement such as Chevron’s anti-competitive behavior when it purchased NiMH battery technology that was being used in electric cars produced by (Toyota, GM etc.) more than a decade ago or Chevron’s part in the Great American Streetcar Scandal, back in the 1950s.
What can be done?
Sadly the public needs to spend way more of their valuable time becoming politically involved and watching how their political leaders vote and modify existing laws. However, perhaps the biggest immediate action they can take is how they spend their money and their time, in short don’t support anything you don’t want to see more of in the future. The more of anything you buy or use, only creates additional demand for more of the same to be produced and manufactured, so monitor your own actions closely.
In addition one could in theory also support the Occupy Wall Street Protest movement, which is growing daily and has spread to over 900 cities worldwide!
CNN contributor, Green journalist, photographer, author and activist. Mr Burridge’s travels have taken him to over 30 countries and 300+ major cities. He is originally from the USA, but has been residing in Australia for the last six years.