Calling Edwin Black controversial is sort of like saying a tornado raises the wind speed a little bit. His latest book, “Internal Combustion,” is going to set the trucking community's teeth on edge. Black is very straightforward about its subject: detailing the “protracted continuity of avarice, fallacy, and manipulation” of oil companies, automakers, the U.S. government and foreign oil dictatorships that have “ensnared the world.”
“Oil is the root of all this tribulation for in energy, as in politics, power corrupts,” he says. “Today our high-energy world teeters at the brink. The gauge is edging toward empty, and as it does, the political, environmental, medical, and economic cost continue to squeeze humanity. The crisis is not new, but now it has become more urgent. This time it is not money at stake — it is mankind.”
Black says his book “exposes a century of lies about internal combustion that arose from a millennium of monopolistic misconduct in energy — a legacy that has deeply wounded the world's collective health, fractured a fragile environment, and ignited a deadly petro-political war that has escalated into nothing less than a cataclysmic clash of cultures.”
There's much in this book that'll open up the floodgates of debate. For example, he shows that battery-powered electric automobiles used to be abundant, with plans in place to recharge and refill them quickly and cleanly at the electrical equivalent of “gas stations” and at curbside charging poles. Thomas Edison and Henry Ford planned to make them universal in a project that took the country by storm but quickly faded — undermined by sabotage, Black says in favor of internal combustion machines.
There's also the infamous collusion — now substantiated in greater detail by newly uncovered documents, Black says — between Standard Oil, General Motors, and Greyhound to subvert the mass transit trolley systems in 40 U.S. cities in the early 20th century and replace them with petroleum-powered buses.
Yet the real twist is what Black is trying to do with his book: Craft a “call to arms” for the fleet community to start spec'ing vehicles in large numbers that don't use petroleum-based products for fuel.
“The only way off our addiction to oil is to get the fleets to lead the way,” he told me in a recent phone interview. “It won't come from people buying hybrid cars or the tree huggers trying to restrict pollution. The single largest users of oil in this country are the fleets. I'm beseeching them to…look past…quarterly stock reports to the future.”
Black says that many fleets don't need to use gasoline or diesel to get the job done. He points to postal trucks, taxicabs, airport shuttle buses, and other short-range fleets that can easily use compressed natural gas to fuel their needs. “The real cornerstone of my crusade with my book remains the fleets of America. They control the buying power: They are the ones that can literally make the manufacturers build vehicles that run on alternative fuels.”
He also asks pointed questions about why, as a nation, we aren't doing more to import more alternative fuels into the U.S. “Why can't we import Brazilian-made ethanol into this country? Made from sugarcane, it offers eight times the power of corn-based ethanol, yet we restrict its sale here,” he told me.
“When you look at the complete cost of using petroleum, you'll see that switching to an alternative is much less expensive,” he stressed. “You need to include the cost to the world of global warming and the transfer of wealth to the violent Middle East. And remember that someday, all the oil we need won't be available. So we need to make that switch now before we're forced to do so at the edge of a blade.”