CAPSULE: The documentary PUMP looks at the political strength of the petroleum corporations and gives the viewer a survey of already available or near-available alternative fuels. In fact, there seems to be an abundance of fuels superior to gasoline, and most seem to be ready for use now or will be shortly. The film makes a strong case that we should be converting over to use alternative fuels. At least that case is convincing for this non-technical viewer. While this is definitely a good time to be looking at fuel alternatives that would mean less pollution, less greenhouse emissions, and less cost at the pump, a large part of the argument is that gasoline was over $3 a gallon at the pump and will never go below $3 again. Of course, gasoline prices were well below that level at the time of the film's release. PUMP was written by Johnny O'Hara and directed by Joshua Tickell and Rebecca Harrell Tickell. Rating: +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10
The United States is not alone in its loving relationship with cars. Just about every country that goes from the bicycle stage of affluence to the automobile stage goes through the same love affair. The car does not only symbolize freedom and mobility, it delivers on its promise. Countries in Asia just getting cars are getting cars first and worrying about smog and global warming very much less and very much later. This is a disaster for the countries going through the transition and one for the rest of the world. The overwhelming majority of cars run on gasoline, which is an extremely dirty fuel. So why do we use it? PUMP gives the background on the dispute going back to petro-founder John D. Rockefeller and automobile inventor Henry Ford who favored petroleum and electricity respectively. Today in the United States the power of petro-dollars has blown down all political opposition.
PUMP illustrates the dangers of petroleum. It shows China and the immense cloud of pollution that enshrouds cities like Beijing. The cars that belch pollution also facilitate climate change. Their huge financial resources for purchasing petroleum will dangerously impact the world economy and politics. There is also a survey of what has happened in Detroit when the demand fell badly for cars that ran on previously cheap gasoline.
One problem for the filmmakers is the timing of their film release. Their experts tell their viewer that Saudi Arabia has greater oil supplies than the United States does and that gasoline is over $3 a gallon and will stay there. The price of crude, they claim, is going to go up to $140 and stay up there. Yes, at its height the price of crude went up to $143 a barrel, but then it fell. At the time of PUMP's release the price of crude was $48 a barrel. The price of gasoline is under $2 a gallon. This is a matter of bad luck, at least for the makers of this film. It does not mean that their other arguments and predictions are incorrect, but to clearly say that we will never see gasoline under $3/gallon, and then to have it below $2/gallon just months later undermines their arguments.
At about the halfway point the film shifts gears to listing the successes from around the world in finding alternative fuel sources. There is a profile of Elon Musk and his electric car, the Tesla. They also show several other electric cars with promising results.
Brazil has had great success with a car that runs on ethanol, a fuel considered superior to gasoline. The process that creates the ethanol also makes (as a by-product) cattle feed. The claim is made that Brazil is comparable to the United States having a land area nearly as large. It may well be nearly as large, but that is misleading because so much of it is covered by rain forest.
Government studies are presented that showed bio-mass, something that the United States has in abundance, can be used to make methanol, a much cleaner fuel than gasoline. They move on to a point that many cars apparently are already ready to accommodate flex fuels (a combination of ethanol, methanol, and gasoline in any proportions. It appears that many American cars sold are flex- fuel-ready and many would have to have only minimal effort to make them flex-fuel-ready.
The reason these cars are not using better fuels is not technical but political. The Tickells, directors of the film, make a case that the petroleum industry is making it illegal to use alternative fuels even though it would be perfectly safe. At just short of 90 minutes there is plenty in this film that informative and more that is infuriating. I rate PUMP a +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2630916/combined
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/pump/
Mark R. Leeper Copyright 2015 Mark R. Leeper