Occasionally Prius owners put a bumper sticker on their car reading “Al Qaeda Hates This Car”. In fact, former CIA Director James Woolsey has made a big deal of putting that bumper sticker on his plug-in Prius. But, really? Why would they hate the Prius? Doesn’t that seem like a backwards interpretation of reality?
The line of thinking spoken by Woolsey is that because the Prius consumes less gasoline, it decreases the money flow to the oil countries. Over 70% of gasoline consumed in the U.S. is imported, meaning of every tank-full purchased 70% flows outside the U.S. This little factoid is a national economic problem due to the money flowing out of the country. And it’s a national security problem because most of oil producing nations are unfriendly to the U.S. and other western powers. The overly simplistic statement is that gasoline purchases fund Islamic extremists who are intent on harming the West.
Following that line of reasoning heads to the vision where fuel efficient cars decreases gasoline purchases decreasing the funding of Islamic extremists, and one might think Al Qaeda would hate this because it decreases their funding.
It’s interesting to think about the flaws in that line of reasoning. a) Hybrid cars are gasoline powered. b) What do the extremists really want? c) How much really ends up in the hands of Islamic extremists?
The first flaw is thinking that a fuel efficient car changes anything in the situation. Hybrid cars are gasoline powered and do nothing to change that fundamental essence. The currently available hybrid cars get all their energy from gasoline. The electricness of the drive train is an inconsequential sideshow to the fact that every erg of energy driving the vehicle comes from gasoline. Yes the electricness makes the car more efficient, but so what, it’s energy comes from gasoline. Hence a hybrid car does nothing to stop the flow of money out of the U.S., some of which supposedly theoretically ends up in the hands of Islamic extremists.
The only way to fundamentally change this equation is with vehicles whose ergs come from energy other than gasoline. Such as an electric car or to make even more radican changes like mass transit or bicycling.
What do the Islamic extremists really want? Is the only life purpose of the Islamic extremists to cause death and pain and suffering? Really? Islam is supposed to be a religion of Peace, perhaps there’s something else going on here. Oh, like, a people fighting to free their lands from what they perceive as foreign control and meddling. To ensure delivery of oil to the West, the Western powers have for decades meddled in the political affairs of the Middle East. Typically when a country has outsiders meddling in its affairs, a war of resistance follows where the meddled-upon people fight against the meddlers to drive them out of their country. It has occurred time and again over the millennia. A modern example is the Irish conflict which was a bloody terrorism campaign attempting to drive the British out of Northern Ireland.
If the West were to stop using gasoline, then would we need to continue meddling with the Middle East? Perhaps al Qaeda would like for us to stop meddling in the Middle East. Wouldn’t they welcome widespread adoption of vehicles whose ergs come from energy other than gasoline?
How much of the gasoline dollars really end up in the hands of Islamic extremists? Of the 70% of gasoline dollars that leave the U.S. only a small portion is sent to the Arab countries. The pattern is that oil consuming countries don’t have much oil reserves, and the countries with major oil reserves do not consume much oil. Because the oil producing countries are not all Arab, not all of the gasoline dollars flow to Arab countries. And of the gasoline money flowing into Arab countries, only a portion goes to the extremists. Hence it’s overly simplistic to say gasoline funds Islamic extremism, because the bulk of the money goes to other purposes. For example it’s widely recognized that oil rich countries tend towards corrupt dictatorships that are harsh on their citizens.
Robert Hurst, author of The Cyclists Manifesto, wrote: “If every driver of a gas-powered car in America were suddenly forced to switch to a hybrid-electric vehicle we would still be dependent on imported oil and subject to the violent whims of the oil markets.” But, as he notes, many see their hybrid vehicles as some kind of savior. And for some a hybrid vehicle is a big step towards solving the national energy security problem. But as we’ve seen, fuel efficient vehicles (regardless of whether they’re hybrid) do nothing to change the fundamental situation. Wouldn’t al Qaeda gladly welcome moves to wean ourselves off of oil?