Could electric cars fuel a new dictator?

Published 11:56 am Monday, January 26, 2009

By Staff
The environmental movement and a growing portion of the general populace seems enthralled with the coming waves of electric cars.
At the Detroit auto show earlier this month, GM and Ford – and just about every other automaker – announced plans to roll out mass-produced plug-in electrics within three years.
At first glance, it sounds great. Cars that run on electricity alone, or a battery recharged by a small gasoline engine, seem to be a giant leap forward, both for the environment, and also as a move toward "energy independence." For those of us who would plug in our electric cars to safe, clean nuclear power, it's even better.
But every action has a reaction, and nothing is without consequence.
A major resource needed for these future vehicles sits under the ground of a country ruled by a near-dictator with strong anti-American rhetoric. The country's poorest live in squalor while its wealthiest live lavishly.
The country has a history of violent wars. Its leader is friendly with other dictators in the region.
Sounds a lot like oil, doesn't it?
The best batteries for electric cars are lithium-ion batteries, and 50 percent of the world's supply of lithium is in the salt flats of Bolivia.
Evo Morales, the president of Bolivia, has been reluctant to allow foreign companies to harness his country's resources, and has nationalized the exploitation of most of its natural resources.
With battery makers looking for cheaper sources of lithium, Bolivia might hold the key to that technology's future.
Morales is friendly with Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez and Cuban dictator Fidel Castro, and views the United States as imperialist.
He actively resists anti-cocaine law enforcement and kicked DEA agents out of his country.
What strikes me as more troubling, though, is he has taken almost every usual step to becoming a true dictator.
Just Thursday, Morales launched a state-run newspaper, one day after it was learned that he plans to nationalize electric companies there. It was also revealed on Friday that the Bolivian military will take delivery of five Czech fighter jets as part of a larger program to increase the size of its air force.
It's a pattern we've seen before – the slow eradication of a free press, the nationalization of large industries and the build-up of military force. I'm not saying that Bolivia is our next national threat, but I'm also concerned that billions of dollars being sent into Bolivia for lithium in the future will fuel a state-sponsored military-industrial complex under the thumb of an anti-American ruler.
Does this mean we should give up on the electric car? Of course not. Should we abandon lithium-battery technology? No.
In our haste to break away from the confines of oil, which mostly comes from hostile or at least unfriendly regions in the Middle East, much of the attention on new vehicle technologies is overly sunny. There's no such thing as a perfect solution, or of a zero-impact car.
Fossil fuels such as oil are not an ideal long-term solution, but there are many good things about gasoline. It packs a lot of energy in a small package, is relatively cheap and fuels relatively inexpensive technology.
Every few years, environmentalists say a new transportation technology is nearly flawless and is the wave of the future.
If that were really true, we'd all be driving solar cars or riding corn ethanol-fueled monorails.
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