Are hybrid vehicles really the climate-saving panacea that their proponents claim them to be? Cause for skepticism
(the emphasis is mine):
Spinella spent two years on the most comprehensive study to date – dubbed "Dust to Dust" -- collecting data on the energy necessary to plan, build, sell, drive and dispose of a car from the initial conception to scrappage. He even included in the study such minutia as plant-to-dealer fuel costs of each vehicle, employee driving distances, and electricity usage per pound of material. All this data was then boiled down to an "energy cost per mile" figure for each car (see here and here).
Comparing this data, the study concludes that overall hybrids cost more in terms of overall energy consumed than comparable non-hybrid vehicles. But even more surprising, smaller hybrids' energy costs are greater than many large, non-hybrid SUVs.
For instance, the dust-to-dust energy cost of the bunny-sized Honda Civic hybrid is $3.238 per mile. This is quite a bit more than the $1.949 per mile that the elephantine Hummer costs. The energy cots of SUVs such as the Tahoe, Escalade, and Navigator are similarly far less than the Civic hybrid.
As for Ford cars, a Ford Escape hybrid costs $3.2 per mile – about a third more than the regular Escape. But on the whole, ironically enough, the dust-to-dust costs of many of the Ford non-hybrids – Fusion, Milan, Zephyr – are not only lower than comparable Japanese hybrids – Prius, Accord -- but also non-hybrids – Seville, Civic.
Spinella's finding that a Hummer on the whole consumes less energy than a hybrid than even some smaller hybrids and non-hybrids has infuriated environmentalists. And on its face it does seem implausible that a gas-guzzling monster like a Hummer that employs several times more raw material than a little Prius' could be so much less energy-intensive. But by and large the dust-to-dust energy costs in Spinella's study correlate with the fanciness of the car – not its size or fuel economy -- with the Rolls Royces and Bentleys consuming gobs of energy and Mazda 3s, Saturns and Taurus consuming relatively minuscule amounts.
As for Hummers, Spinella explains, the life of these cars averaged across various models is over 300,000 miles. By contrast, Prius' life – according to Toyota's own numbers – is 100,000 miles. Furthermore, Hummer is a far less sophisticated vehicle. Its engine obviously does not have an electric and gas component as a hybrid's does so it takes much less time and energy to manufacture. What's more, its main raw ingredient is low-cost steel, not the exotic light-weights that are exceedingly difficult to make – and dispose. But the biggest reason why a Hummer's energy use is so low is that it shares many components with other vehicles and therefore its design and development energy costs are spread across many cars.
It is not possible to do this with a specialty product like hybrid. All in all, Spinella insists, the energy costs of disposing a Hummer are 60 percent less than an average hybrid's and its design and development costs are 80 percent less.
One of the most perverse things about U.S. consumers buying hybrids is that while this might reduce air pollution in their own cities, they increase pollution – and energy consumption -- in Japan and other Asian countries where these cars are predominantly manufactured. "In effect, they are exporting pollution and energy consumption," Spinella says.
Even before reading this, I was dubious about the excitement surrounding hybrids. It smacks of the hope -- one that is understandable but which has no basis in reality -- that we can have it all. A lot of people have made a lot of money exploiting that hope. The diet industry, in particular, comes to mind, but the environmental movement has been notably susceptible as well. Envinronmentalism's most widespread success -- recycling -- probably does more for our consciences than it does for the health of our planet. The amount of effort that it takes to cart recycled material to a recycle center, sort it all out, clean it, melt it all down, and refashion it into whatever it is going to be in its next life makes recycling totally impractical without government assistance. Have you wondered why, If recycling saves so much energy and raw material, it isn't able to stand on its own two feet?
And so it is with hybrids. If hybrids are so great, why does the government provide tax incentives to people who purchase them? Why do local muncipalities have to open their HOV lanes to hybrid vehicles? Shouldn't the massive savings on gas that hybrid owners supposedly achieve be enough on its own to encourage people to buy hybrids?
The reality is this: you cannot cut your energy use without causing yourself discomfort. Whether that means driving less, driving a smaller car, driving a car with fewer luxury features, minimizing your use of your car's HVAC system, etc., every option stinks. The appeal of hybrid vehicles is obvious. It is also misplaced.
Thu, Nov. 4th, 2004, 01:42 pm
Why so blue?
I had planned on posting a comment on why I find the election results particularly distressing, but then I woke up today and found that Thomas Friedman has already said everything I was going to write. Money quote:
Why didn't I feel totally depressed after George H. W. Bush defeated Michael Dukakis, or even when George W. Bush defeated Al Gore? Why did I wake up feeling deeply troubled yesterday?
Answer: whatever differences I felt with the elder Bush were over what was the right policy. There was much he ultimately did that I ended up admiring. And when George W. Bush was elected four years ago on a platform of compassionate conservatism, after running from the middle, I assumed the same would be true with him. (Wrong.) But what troubled me yesterday was my feeling that this election was tipped because of an outpouring of support for George Bush by people who don't just favor different policies than I do - they favor a whole different kind of America. We don't just disagree on what America should be doing; we disagree on what America is.
I keep thinking back to Bill Clinton's speech at the Democratic National Convention:
My friends, we are constantly being told that America is deeply divided. But all Americans value freedom and faith and family. We all honor the service and sacrifice of our men and women in uniform, in Iraq, Afghanistan and throughout the world.
We all want good jobs, good schools, health care, safe streets, a clean environment. We all want our children to grow up in a secure America leading the world toward a peaceful and prosperous future.
Our differences are in how we can best achieve these things in a time of unprecedented change. Therefore, we Democrats will bring to the American people this year a positive campaign, arguing not who is a good or a bad person, but what is the best way to build a safe and prosperous world our children deserve.
Clinton hasn't been this wrong since "I did not have sexual relations with that woman." The fact is that a large number of people who voted for George Bush don't prioritize good jobs, good schools, health care, safe streets, or a clean environment. They want abortion outlawed, gay marriage forbidden, and a president who sincerely believes that America (and its foreign policy) is a gift from God to the world. They could care less if social security is privatized. The good jobs, good schools, health care, safe streets, and clean environment will come not from a thoughtful president who sinks every ounce of energy into bringing them about, but from God, and only after we sufficiently convince Him of our moral restraint.
We're not debating policy anymore. We're debating philosophy. The stakes are suddenly so much greater, and my side's getting creamed. What's not to be depressed about?
Wed, Nov. 3rd, 2004, 10:53 am
To: S and L
Date: Wed, 3 Nov 2004 07:53:35 -0800 (PST)
I feel like I've been dumped by a girlfriend. Couldn't sleep last night. No appetite. Can't think about anything else. It's bad.
Admittedly, however, just about all of my anger and frustration is directed at the idea of four more years of Bush, not at the missed opportunity of a Kerry presidency. That feeling probably explains a lot of what happened. We should have known we were in trouble as soon as we heard about Democrat primary voters walking out of the polls in Iowa and explaining that, although they weren't terribly excited about Kerry, they thought he had the best chance at beating Bush. What a stupid reason to vote for someone! "I don't like this guy, but maybe other people will."
By far, the most stunning realization for me arising out of all of this is how numerous and powerful the bible thumpers are in our country. [My wife] was telling me that in Wisconsin, people ranked moral issues as their most important priority followed by the economy, the war in Iraq, and terrorism. Gay marriage was #1. War and terror were #3 and 4. I don't think I can adequately put into words how shocking I find that. Do people find the idea of gays getting married to be that much of a threat? (A) It's not legal in 49 of the 50 states and (B) even if it were, WHO THE HELL CARES?!?!? Democrats were not the only ones who lost last night. The idea that government should be small and unobtrusive has suffered an even more damaging blow, one that I'm not sure it will ever recover from.
To: Dan and L
Date: Wed, 03 Nov 2004 10:02:01 -0600
Your last point is well taken. What kind of "Republicans" are those that support such intrusion into private life, and such big govt spending?
I was anxious in a good way yesterday - I thought Kerry had a legitimate chance. Or at least that's what the news led me to believe. But Bush still got over 50% of the popular vote. Several million more popular votes than Kerry. I think the "liberal" media didn't want to see it coming. Anyway, today I am anxious and despondent.
I heard the statistics on the "#1 issue for voters" as well. "Moral values." What threat did Kerry seriously pose to those? W and his crew use scare tactics in all areas, from the "war" to this gay marriage/values issue. It is appalling that people would be virtual single-issue voters about that. Abortion as your #1 issue I can kind of understand. But gay marriage? Please. It's a joke and it's yet another reason for Americans to be embarrased in the eyes of the rest of the world.
But stil, I say, Cheer UP! We survived 4 years, we can survive 4 more. And then Hilary will be president and we can all relax!
To: S and Dan
Date: Wed, 3 Nov 2004 08:09:42 -0800
I had no idea you would be so upset by Allan Keyes' loss. Don't worry, he'll run for another office soon.
Look on the bright side, at least you don't have to see Kerry in the "barn jacket" anymore.
I think you are leaving an important fact out about the gay marriage issue: it was on the ballot in nine states (or was it eleven?). In states like CA where those types of referendums abound, it seems they tend to be the major concern for people. For whatever reason, that's where local politics gets galvanized.
That being said, the Democratic party has made a tremendous error (with the exception of Carter and Clinton - both southerners, which I don't think is accidental on this point). The left can continue to adopt the posture of the self satisfied loser: my position is right, and everyone else is stupid for not seeing this. Or, it can learn to speak to the people of this country. Most people want to think of themselves as religious: left and right. Taking the Moore-posture - you're an idiot common man - doesn't play well. Nor do most of the issues that the left pushes. Clinton understood this. You have to know your audience; that's the first rule of rhetoric, which is as a result the first rule of politics. I can't tell you how many people I met who were insulted by the Springstein / Brad Pitt preaching that was being done. If we learned anything in Moot Court is that you can have your argument, stick to it, and lose; or, you can recognize the character of the judge or judges to whom your speaking and tailor your argument. The Democratic party needs to learn to tailor their platform to the people of this nation and not hold to this posture of indifference.
To: S and L
Date: Wed, 3 Nov 2004 08:14:44 -0800 (PST)
Here's what my favorite blogger, Andrew Sullivan
, had to say on the topics that S and I just commented about (emphasis added):
I've been trying to think of what to say about what appears to be the enormous success the Republicans had in using gay couples' rights to gain critical votes in key states. In eight more states now, gay couples have no relationship rights at all. Their legal ability to visit a spouse in hospital, to pass on property, to have legal protections for their children has been gutted. If you are a gay couple living in Alabama, you know one thing: your family has no standing under the law; and it can and will be violated by strangers. I'm not surprised by this. When you put a tiny and despised minority up for a popular vote, the minority usually loses. But it is deeply, deeply dispiriting nonetheless. A lot of gay people are devastated this morning, and terrified. We have seen, and not for the first time, how using fear of a minority can be so effective a tool in building a political movement. The single most important issue for Republican voters, according to exit polls, was not the war on terror or Iraq or the economy. It was "moral values." Karl Rove understood the American psyche better than I did. By demonizing gay couples, the Republicans were able to bring in whole swathes of new anti-gay believers into their party. With new senators Jim DeMint and Tom Coburn, two of the most anti-gay politicians in America, we can only brace ourselves for what is now coming.
For some reason, I feel like it would be easier to tolerate my candidate's loss if it had been based on a difference of opinion over how to handle the most important issues of the day (i.e., Iraq, the economy, terrorism). I don't agree with how Bush has decided to conduct the war on terror, but I can see why other people might think his handling of it is better than Kerry's would be. But the idea that a huge swath of people chose our leader based on something that I think is not only unimportant, but is incredibly mean-spirited makes this a particularly bitter pill to swallow. We've got hundreds of soldiers dying every couple of months in the most incompetently run war effort in American history, a federal government working its way towards insolvency, a stunning growth in the number of hostile countries developing nuclear weapons, a madman on the loose three years after he conducted the most devastating attack ever on American soil, and this is what people care about?
This is interesting on a number of levels:
Oil prices fell heavily on Monday, taking U.S. crude below $50 on speculation that a U.S. election win for Senator John Kerry (news - web sites) could ease the geopolitical friction that helped fuel this year's record-breaking rally.
In other words, people whose livelihoods depend on their ability to accurately predict the future are starting to conclude that Kerry is going to win, that when he does, he's going to "ease the geopolitical friction," that the geopolitical friction that he is going to ease is Bush's fault, and that the geopolitical friction that Bush has caused has had practical consequences for those of us living in the reality-based world.
Malpractice insurers have bamboozled doctors into thinking that a cap on malpractice awards will magically hold down malpractice insurance premiums. But surprise! Now the nation's biggest malpractice insurer says it's not so. In a regulatory filing, GE Medical Protective says that capping damage awards saves only about 1%. And why would GE say such a thing? The statement was part of a filing in which GE was seeking a premium increase of 19% in Texas -- which had just passed damage caps.
This is what's known as talking out of both sides of your mouth and it is shamelessly practiced by corporations and most politicians. Basically, you say whatever suits your scheme at any given time. Want damage caps? Say that malpractice awards are driving up premiums. Want higher premiums even after you get damage caps? Simply ignore your previous statements and assume no one will notice. Hey, it almost always works.
Nicholas Kristof writes:
[George Bush,] Nov. 5, 2003: "In the debate about the rights of the unborn, we are asked to broaden the circle of our moral concern. ... We're asked by our convictions and tradition and compassion to build a culture of life, and make this a more just and welcoming society."
Abortions declined in the U.S. in the Clinton years; the abortion rate dropped by 22 percent in the 1990's. But while data are incomplete, abortions appear to have increased sharply since Mr. Bush took office. Glen H. Stassen, a Christian pro-life theologian, estimates that 52,000 more abortions occurred in 2002 than would have been expected based on the previous trend. Professor Stassen attributes the rise in abortions in part to the troubled economy and concerns among pregnant women that they cannot afford to have babies.
Wed, Oct. 27th, 2004, 12:30 pm
Evil for Bush
TEHRAN, Iran - The head of Iran's security council said Tuesday that the re-election of President Bush (news - web sites) was in Tehran's best interests, despite the administration's axis of evil label, accusations that Iran harbors al-Qaida terrorists and threats of sanctions over the country's nuclear ambitions.
Historically, Democrats have harmed Iran more than Republicans, said Hasan Rowhani, head of the Supreme National Security Council, Iran's top security decision-making body.
"We haven't seen anything good from Democrats," Rowhani told state-run television in remarks that, for the first time in recent decades, saw Iran openly supporting one U.S. presidential candidate over another.
Though Iran generally does not publicly wade into U.S. presidential politics, it has a history of preferring Republicans over Democrats, who tend to press human rights issues.