Posted on April 26, 2016 by Matt Pressman
Tesla's electric vehicles represent a critical step forward in reducing carbon emissions. However... is there something else major about electric vehicles that we might have overlooked? It dawned on me while watching a recent presentation by Diarmuid O’Connell, the Vice President of Business Development for Tesla Motors [NASDAQ: TSLA]. It turns out O’Connell has an unusual background for someone working at an automotive company. Before joining Tesla, O'Connell actually served as Chief of Staff for Political Military Affairs at the U.S. State Department, where he was involved in policy and operational support to the U.S military in various theaters of operation. During O'Connell's talk, I was struck by a heartfelt statement he made when questioned about his previous role in the State Department.
Above: In honor of those who’ve served in the U.S. Armed Forces, Tesla Motors created this unique camo’d Model S (Source: InsideEVs)
When discussing his decision to take a position at Tesla Motors (see video below), the expected answer from O'Connell might have been "to accelerate the transition to sustainable transport" -- the mission statement often cited by Tesla's top brass. Instead, he admitted climate change "at that time, wasn't really on my radar screen. It was a much more pragmatic view of what American foreign policy would look like in the absence of dependence on foreign oil coming from troubled areas of the world."
Is O'Connell onto something here? Just last month, after the terrorist attacks in Belgium, Business Insider published a piece titled Buying an electric car can help defeat ISIS that advised: "The sooner we wean ourselves from oil, not just the Persian Gulf variety but oil in general, and the sooner we electrify transport, the sooner we can extricate ourselves from religious holy and civil wars that we do not understand and have no business getting involved in."
Above: Electric vehicle advocacy group, Plug In America, featuring proud Tesla Roadster owner (Source: Plug In America)
So I decided to check in with Plug In America, a leading U.S. electric vehicle (EV) advocacy group. Sure enough, it turns out that Plug In America also highlights National Security as a key reason to buy an electric vehicle: "Our addiction to oil has huge national security implications. That's one reason ex‐CIA chief James Woolsey is on our advisory board. The U.S. imports around $1 billion of foreign oil every day with 2/3 used for transportation. Every time you fill up your car, you are sending a check to foreign countries to pay for their oil. Why not send your money to the local electric utility or your neighborhood solar installer instead?"
Above: Although he doesn't (yet) own a Tesla, former CIA Director James Woolsey owns a Chevy Volt and a Prius PHEV (Source: Washingtonian / Photo: Stephen Voss)
Wait, the ex-CIA chief supports EVs? I decided to dig deeper, and apparently James Woolsey is, in fact, a huge proponent of EVs. According to Mother Jones, "He has served in four administrations, both Republican and Democratic... [and] being a green neoconservative is becoming less lonely, Woolsey says, especially as more hawks come to see energy as a security issue." In a fascinating interview, he explains we need to stop paying foreign countries for oil because: "that huge economic rent [we pay] tends to concentrate power... [therefore] it's not accidental that eight out of the nine top exporters of oil in the world have dictatorships or autocratic systems."
Source: Miller Center Debates
A prime example of this is Saudi Arabia. Woolsey elaborates: "with a little over one percent of the world's people, the Saudis exercise control over about 90 percent of the world's Islamic institutions. So in the West Bank or in Lahore in Pakistan, they teach little eight-year-old boys to hate Shiite Muslims, Jews, and homosexuals. They cross states to oppress women and try to make them dedicated enough to become suicide bombers. If you wonder who is paying for that type of education in those places, next time you pull into a gas station, before you get out to charge your gas, do what I try to remember to do -- move your rearview mirror a couple of inches so you are looking into your own eyes. Now you know who is paying for those little Pakistani boys to learn how to become suicide bombers. So, to put it mildly, we have some very serious malevolent problems with oil."
Above: The custom edition 'Stealth Fighter' Tesla Model X stationed at Tesla's Factory as a tribute to U.S. Veterans (Source: Skepple)
And let's also not forget, of the 19 hijackers who carried out the terrorist attacks on September 11th, 15 hijackers were from oil-rich Saudi Arabia. And remember: Saudi Arabia is by far the largest and most-profitable oil exporter in the world, with enough capacity to function as the swing producer to balance the global oil market, it serves as OPEC’s de facto leader.
Above: Oil Producers in North Africa and Middle East (Source: The Energy Standard)
So how do we end our deadly addiction to oil? Woolsey concludes: "most importantly, to move, with respect to our transportation sector of energy, away from oil as quickly and as thoroughly as possible. The most important [step] is moving toward electric power, particularly in the form of electric hybrids, although as time goes on, moving toward all electric vehicles." To validate this further, CleanTechnica reported that the Electric Drive Transportation Association (EDTA) released a report stating a key societal benefit of electric vehicles is that they increase national security.
Above: EDTA's report cites electric vehicles can benefit national security (Image: Electric Drive Transportation Association)
And Forbes reported, "Are electric cars a matter of national security? You bet, says Tim Goodrich, who spent three tours of duty in the Middle East, including Air Force service in Iraq and Afghanistan... the obvious question to ask Goodrich is, 'Are these conflicts wars for oil?'" Well, it turns out Goodrich drives an electric vehicle himself [see below] and explains, "How much sense does it make to send money to countries that don’t like us, [sometimes] don’t share our values, and sometimes find ways to get that money into the hands of terrorist organizations?”
Above: Tim Goodrich and his Nissan Leaf (Source: KCET)
Let's leave the last word to Tesla's VP Diarmuid O’Connell. It turns out he penned The Promise of Electric Vehicles in which he concluded, "If you don’t believe there is anything wrong with the monopoly that oil has on our transportation sector, if you don’t believe that we spend at least $75B in our national defense budget every year on securing access to foreign sources of oil and associated supply routes... then there is nothing that can be said in support of Electric Vehicles. If, however, you believe in the power of American innovation to fundamentally change and improve our individual lives and our larger societal interests, then there is no question the time is right to step up and support the development of a viable EV market."