December 29, 1940. Nazi Germany had conquered much of Europe and allied with Italy and Japan, and collaborating closely with the Soviet Union, was mortally threatening Britain, the last frontline holdout of democracy. On that day, in one of his venerable fireside chats, Franklin Roosevelt highlighted the phrase that America would become the "Arsenal of Democracy", wiping away any sense of complacency from a then isolationist America. It was a symbolic call to arms. He called on Americans to become the "spearhead of resistance to world conquest". He focused on the then "splendid cooperation between the government and industry and labor" and "how important the manufacture of weapons and vehicles is to being strong as a nation".
FDR then continued in words whose sense of urgency could be applicable to our current enslavement to fossil fuels and the accelerating threat of global warming: "Emphatically we must get these weapons to them, get them to them in sufficient volume and quickly enough, so that we and our children will be saved the agony and suffering of war which others have to had to endure."
That was then and this is now. Then in 1940, almost overnight, Detroit, the city that became metaphorically the "Arsenal of Democracy", in close cooperation with the Washington of that era, changed from being the world's most important builder of passenger cars and vehicles to building the tanks and motorized equipment and armaments that carried this nation and its "greatest generation" to ultimate victory.
As destiny called upon the "greatest generation", so too it beckons to us and to our progeny. 9/11 taught us that we are at war, and that the ongoing risks to our environment, our economy, our national security and to our self respect cry out for definitive action, and definitive action now! Our addiction to driving fossil fuel burning, carbon emission spewing cars have turned them into the wardens of our self imposed imprisonment. It is an imprisonment that we must escape before we become the vassals of the oil producers and our children choke on despoiled and poisoned air.
Our politicians tell us there is no silver bullet. The oil industry tells us that our consumption of oil will continue to grow exponentially, (check out CEO Tillerson of Exxon Mobil). This administration continues to slumber away, content on the riches being visited on their cronies in the oil industry both here and abroad.
Well, they are wrong! Renault Nissan, and California-based Project Better Place, are working together with the government of Israel to make the country oil independent by 2020. Denmark has already signed on to implement the sinews of this major electric car initiative.
In broad outline, Renault Nissan will build cars powered by lithium-ion batteries running purely on electricity and delivering performance on par with a 1.6 liter gas engine. These electric car models will become available as of 2011. A key component will be the preparation and development of a national infrastructure to access electric power. "Project Better Place" will arrange for the installation of 500,000 charging hook-ups throughout Israel. It is estimated electric power charging costs for the lifetime of this car will approximate the cost of fueling an equivalent gasoline powered vehicle for some two years at current gasoline prices.
Denmark plans to provide the power supply for electric cars with wind power. Israel is planning huge mirrors in the Negev Desert to capture the solar energy needed for its electric cars. With an extensive grid of plug-in locations there will be no need for lengthy charge periods so that charging up shouldn't take much more time than tanking up currently.
Will it work? Yes, the cars here described will be limited in size and range (about 120 miles). But since when has evolving greater size and broader scale been an American limitation? Conceptually, it sets the broad outline of what could be replicated here. Especially now that the price of energy is pushing us toward recession and stagflation, and that Detroit and the American auto industry's business is at the lowest ebb in years, with U.S.-based automakers share of their home market dropping to only 48.4% of cars sold. What a boon it would be to have a renaissance of our historic "Detroit Arsenal", with our government and the automobile industry working together once again on a program critical to the nation's future. Together, to begin replacing our gas guzzling toxic spewing cars with their electric-powered counterparts on a massive national scale, bringing us back to the spirit of FDR and the "greatest generation", and in the words Martin Luther King, making all of us once again "free at last".
Certainly, it is a program that will be fought tooth and nail by the oil industry and those beholden to them. This administration won't touch it.
Yet given the political season in which we find ourselves we can fairly ask: what can we expect from those now running for high office? How welcome their comments would be.