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TreeHugger: In Zoom, you and Iain Carson talk about this “Great Awakening”— capital G capital A. Explain this, what is this Great Awakening?The20th century, we really didn’t see a lot of innovation. We saw the internal combustion engine and gasoline become really the dominant force in motor transport.


INTRODUCTION TreeHugger: In Zoom, you and Iain Carson talk about this “Great Awakening”— capital G capital A. Explain this, what is this Great Awakening? Vijay Vaitheeswaran: What we call the Great Awakening is really the American body politic waking up to the twin problems caused by the way we use fossil fuels, particularly oil. The twin problems are global warming and oil addiction. I think that just in the last few years we’ve seen a dramatic change in American public attitudes towards both the climate change problem, because of the effects of Hurricane Katrina, and finally Americans are listening to our scientists, our respected elders and leaders who have been telling us for a long time—long before Katrina—that climate change is a serious problem that we need to pay attention to. Well, when a great American city was destroyed by a mega storm and the government proved completely impotent in the face of that storm and incompetent, I think many Americans said, even if that storm wasn’t caused by global warming, this gives us an idea that we are vulnerable too, and why don’t we listen to the chief scientists at NASA and other figures who have been saying this is a real problem. That’s one aspect of it. The20th century, we really didn’t see a lot of innovation. We saw the internal combustion engine and gasoline become really the dominant force in motor transport.


01 | Chapter one

Chapter 1

Great Awakening TreeHugger: In Zoom, you and Iain Carson talk about this “Great Awakening”— capital G capital A. Explain this, what is this Great Awakening? Vijay Vaitheeswaran: What we call the Great Awakening is really the American body politic waking up to the twin problems caused by the way we use fossil fuels, particularly oil. The twin problems are global warming and oil addiction. I think that just in the last few years we’ve seen a dramatic change in American public attitudes towards both the climate change problem, because of the effects of Hurricane Katrina, and finally Americans are listening to our scientists, our respected elders and leaders who have been telling us for a long time—long before Katrina—that climate change is a serious problem that we need to pay attention to. Well, when a great American city was destroyed by a mega storm and the government proved completely impotent in the face of that storm and incompetent, I think many Americans said, even if that storm wasn’t caused by global warming, this gives us an idea that we are vulnerable too, and why don’t we listen to the chief scientists at NASA and other figures who have been saying this is a real problem. That’s one aspect of it. The second, of course, is the Iraq war and surge in oil prices of the last few years which have reminded Americans that oil comes from a very troublesome part of the world and carries with it this potential for economic shock that affects their own pocket book. As well as, of course, the perversion of foreign policy that’s always implied by a resource that is concentrated in a few hands. TreeHugger: So this awakening is leading to a sort of revolution; and you say that there hasn’t been such effervescence in autos since the early days of the industry. What do you see in the auto industry that reflecting the magnitude of this awakening? Vijay: Let’s remember, 100 years ago there were more electric cars on the streets of America than there were gasoline cars. Henry Ford’s Model-T car could run perfectly well on ethanol made from corn, as it could from gasoline. It was as we call a flex-fuel car.


Great Awaking | 02

There was an earlier era of experimentation and innovation in cars and clean energy that fell by the wayside as the big Detroit companies, and particularly the big oil companies, got an essentially an oligopolistic hold on the market. For much of the 20th century, we really didn’t see a lot of innovation. We saw the internal combustion engine and gasoline become really the dominant force in motor transport. What I call the effervescence, and in a way returning to the golden age of innovation, right now we have a multiplicity of fuels that are competing with gasoline, whether it’s ethanol from sugarcane or other sources. We have the potential for hydrogen as a long-term way of powering your car and buses in a very clean way. And of course we have electricity, increasingly. All of these things along with energy efficiency, which many people overlook, I see as rival fuels helping to replace gasoline over time.

“Zoom: The Global Race to Fuel the Car of the Future.” Vijay: I think the most important idea that we put forward in this book is that there is no silver bullet. There’s no single technology that’s going to replace oil and the internal combustible engine. For the last few decades a lot of advocates have wanted to replace gasoline, and many people understood the problem. Since the 1970s we’ve been aware in America that we need to do something about oil. But the problem is, everyone who thought this had their own pet solution. Some people wanted corn ethanol, other people only wanted renewable-based electricity powering a particular kind of electric car, some people bet on only certain kinds of hydrogen. And each camp thought that they had to be the winner. So it’s a classic story of what happened to the renewable industry: the solar guys point their finger at wind guys. The geothermal guys want the subsidy but they don’t want any subsidy for anyone else. And in the end everybody loses in the clean energy community.All of these things along with energy efficiency, we have the potential for hydrogen as a long-term way of powering your car and buses in a very clean way. And each camp thought that they had to be the winner.All of these things along with energy efficiency, which many people overlook, I see as rival fuels helping to replace gasoline over time.As well as, of course, the perversion of foreign policy that’s always implied by a resource that is concentrated in a few hands.


03 | Chapter one

TreeHugger: In Zoom, you and Iain Carson talk about this “Great Awakening”— capital G capital A. Explain this, what is this Great Awakening? Vijay Vaitheeswaran: What we call the Great Awakening is really the American body politic waking up to the twin problems caused by the way we use fossil fuels, particularly oil. The twin problems are global warming and oil addiction. I think that just in the last few years we’ve seen a dramatic change in American public attitudes towards both the climate change problem, because of the effects of Hurricane Katrina, and finally Americans are listening to our scientists, our respected elders and leaders who have been telling us for a long time—long before Katrina—that climate change is a serious problem that we need to pay attention to. Well, when a great American city was destroyed by a mega storm and the government proved completely impotent in the face of that storm and incompetent, I think many Americans said, even if that storm wasn’t caused by global warming, this gives us an idea that we are vulnerable too, and why don’t we listen to the chief scientists at NASA and other figures who have been saying this is a real problem. That’s one aspect of it. The second, of course, is the Iraq war and surge in oil prices of the last few years which have reminded Americans that oil comes from a very troublesome part of the world and carries with it this potential for economic shock that affects their own pocket book. As well as, of course, the perversion of foreign policy that’s always implied by a resource that is concentrated in a few hands. TreeHugger: So this awakening is leading to a sort of revolution; and you say that there hasn’t been such effervescence in autos since the early days of the industry. What do you see in the auto industry that reflecting the magnitude of this awakening? Vijay: Let’s remember, 100 years ago there were more electric cars on the streets of America than there were gasoline cars. Henry Ford’s Model-T car could run perfectly well on ethanol made from corn, as it could from gasoline. It was as we call a flex-fuel car. What do you see in the auto industry that reflecting the magnitude of this awakening?There was an earlier era of experimentation and innovation in cars and clean energy that fell by the wayside as the big Detroit companies, and particularly the big oil companies, got an essentially an oligopolistic hold on the market.


Great Awaking | 04

For much of the 20th century, we really didn’t see a lot of innovation. We saw the internal combustion engine and gasoline become really the dominant force in motor transport. What I call the effervescence, and in a way returning to the golden age of innovation, right now we have a multiplicity of fuels that are competing with gasoline, whether it’s ethanol from sugarcane or other sources. We have the potential for hydrogen as a long-term way of powering your car and buses in a very clean way. And of course we have electricity, increasingly. All of these things along with energy efficiency, which many people overlook, I see as rival fuels helping to replace gasoline over time. Vijay: I think the most important idea that we put forward in this book is that there is no silver bullet. There’s no single technology that’s going to replace oil and the internal combustible engine. For the last few decades a lot of advocates have wanted to replace gasoline, and many people understood the problem. Since the 1970s we’ve been aware in America that we need to do something about oil. But the problem is, everyone who thought this had their own pet solution. Some people wanted corn ethanol, other people only wanted renewable-based electricity powering a particular kind of electric car, some people bet on only certain kinds of hydrogen. And each camp thought that they had to be the winner. So it’s a classic story of what happened to the renewable industry: the solar guys point their finger at wind guys. The geothermal guys want the subsidy but they don’t want any subsidy for anyone else. And in the end everybody loses in the clean energy community.All of these things along with energy efficiency, we have the potential for hydrogen as a long-term way of powering your car and buses in a very clean way. And each camp thought that they had to be the winner.All of these things along with energy efficiency, which many people overlook, I see as rival fuels helping to replace gasoline over time.As well as, of course, the perversion of foreign policy that’s always implied by a resource that is concentrated in a few hands. I think that just in the last few years we’ve seen a dramatic change in American public attitudes towards both the climate change problem, because of the effects of Hurricane Katrina, and finally Americans are listening to our scientists, our respected elders and leaders who have been telling us for a long time—long before Katrina—that climate change is a serious problem that we need to pay attention to. The twin problems are global warming and oil addiction.The second, of course, is the Iraq war and surge in oil prices of the last few years which have reminded Americans that oil comes from a very troublesome part of the world and carries with it this potential for economic shock that affects their own pocket book.


Vijay Vaitheeswaran: What we call the Great Awakening is really the American body politic waking up to the twin problems caused by the way we use fossil fuels, particularly oil. The twin problems are global warming and oil addiction.

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