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May 19, 2011

The Relationship Between Electric Cars and National Security

Tim Goodrich is a veteran who served in the Middle East. He currently attends graduate school at the University of Southern California and is a Sierra Club member and a partner at the Truman National Security Project. This article originally appeared on KCET.org.

Switch-electric-vehicle
Tim Goodrich, right, with his new EV, and founding member of Plug in America, Paul Scott | Photo credit: Kelly Olsen

I just bought a new car and will never need to buy gasoline again. The reason I have been able to happily drive past increasingly expensive gas stations isn't because I haven't been driving the car, it's because the car I bought runs entirely on electricity.

My decision to purchase an electric car was driven by a variety of reasons, but the simplest reason was this: The cost of filling up with gas is just too much. I'm not just writing about the price we're paying at the pump; I am also referring to the cost to our future generations, our national security, and our economy. As a veteran, I have seen the toll these costs take and I am doing what I can to stop contributing to the problem.

At the age of 18, I enlisted in the active duty Air Force and went on to deploy three times to the Middle East, supporting the no fly zones over Iraq, the initial response to Afghanistan after the 9/11 attacks, and the pre-war bombing of Iraq. My unit also supported homeland defense operations and after my honorable discharge, I traveled to Baghdad as part of a fact finding delegation.

Through these experiences, I came to see that our foreign policy needs to evolve in order to provide smarter national security here at home. After all, how much sense does it make to spend $400 per gallon getting gas to our service members in remote regions of Afghanistan? How much sense does it make to send money to countries that don't like us, don't share our values, and sometimes find ways to get that money into the hands of terrorist organizations? The Rand Corporation found that US armed forces spend up to $83 billion annually protecting vulnerable infrastructure and patrolling oil transit routes. US Navy Secretary Roy Mabus recently said, "The Army did a study and found that out of every 24 fuel convoys we use [in Afghanistan], a soldier or marine is killed or wounded guarding that convoy. That's a high price to pay for fuel."

For these reasons, our military is currently researching and using alternative energy technologies in the field. If our military as a whole sees the importance of getting off fossil fuels, and the lives of our service members depend on it, I want to support that effort.

As a child, growing up in a small suburb of Buffalo, NY, I was introduced to environmental technology at an early age when my parents installed a passive solar heating system on our house. I thought it was amazing that, despite the sub-zero temperatures outside, we could get free heat from the sun distributed throughout the house. All the kids from school who came to see it on a field trip thought so too. Now that I'm older and see the importance of using technology in a way that will allow us to leave the earth in better condition than when we found it.

My current home, Los Angeles, has the second smoggiest air in the country. Most Americans drive less than 40 miles per day, and most new electric car models go up to 100 miles before having to recharge. Just think of how much cleaner our air would be if even a third of the population purchased an electric car, which studies have shown are 35 to 60% cleaner than traditional vehicles -even on today's electricity grid. In future years, as we shift to an energy portfolio containing more renewable resources like solar and wind, driving will actually become greener.

America's addiction to oil is as damaging to our economy as it is to our environment. Every year, we send at least $250 billion to overseas countries because the cars we drive have an insatiable thirst for oil. In other words, about half of our trade deficit is due to imported crude petroleum. This trade deficit has contributed to circumstances that created one of the worst economic downturns in this country since the Great Depression. Wouldn't it be great to save money by fueling our vehicles with electricity rather than gas and also have that money stay in our country where it can be reinvested in our economy?

If you're like me and want to breathe cleaner air, support our service members and national security, and improve our economy, consider making the switch to an electric car. Besides being patriotic, getting thumbs up at red lights all over town and saving a ton of money by driving past the pump feels pretty good.

-- Tim Goodrich

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