It’s Not Easy Seeing Green, Ctd

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A reader sees a missed opportunity:

“We tend to focus far too much on outward symbols (like Prius driving) in judging whether people are energy conscious.” How could you post that quote from Chris Mooney without referencing the Prius scene from South Park?

Seen above. Another reader:

There are differences between being energy conscious, conserving energy, and energy consumption.  In the scenario presented, what is missing are reasons for driving the number of kilometers.  If the Prius driver has a profession where he/she must drive 28,700 km per year, then one could argue that he/she was being both energy conscious and energy conserving, even though the energy consumption is greater. On the other hand, if the SUV driver were truly energy conscious, he/she would drive a more efficient vehicle to conserve more energy even if the limited distance was for energy conservation.

Another provides a longer critique:

It’s not clear what the actual amount of gas/emissions are used by the Prius (at 48mpg – I’m not converting to kpg right now!), and the SUV at something like 15mpg.

At first blush, the Prius is more than likely getting at least double the mileage so the Prius driver is using less fuel, right? Not that I disagree with the premise of the study. Or, the conclusion.

The hybrids and Priuses are certainly getting more credit than they may deserve. Here in northern Virginia we have a section of US Interstate (I-66) that is HOV only for all lanes in both the morning (into DC), and the afternoon (outbound), in order to cut back on massive traffic; primarily not allowing cars with single drivers. They somehow decided years ago to allow hybrids the luxury of driving the HOV lanes with just single occupants for some unknown reason not at all related to actual traffic on the road. I’d say you see at least 30% of the cars on that road during HOV hours with one occupant. Of course, when you ponder the process what you see is a fuel-saving/carbon-reducing vehicle getting a benefit on a capacity road issue. Strange, isn’t it? I guess the planners just assume that since you get better mileage, you don’t congest roads?

Lastly, the mileage of a car isn’t the most important factor when taking into account fuel usage and carbon emissions – it’s people miles per gallon burned. A single driver of a Prius getting 49mpg is less efficient than my wife and I commuting into DC together in my 32mpg Nissan Versa: we are getting 62 people miles per gallon, they are getting 49 people miles per gallon. And, we are two people in one car – not a bunch of singles.

Carpooling, or multiple riders per vehicle, is far more important than just mpg, but I don’t think people consider that when buying and driving.

Update from a reader:

Something that doesn’t come up much in discussion like this is the following. Folks talk about electric and hybrid cars (anything that uses a charger to fill up the batteries) as if the power source stops at the battery. But that electricity doesn’t just magically appear at the wall socket. It’s generated somewhere by some process that uses some other energy source to provide it.  Depending on where you are, that could be, yes, solar, wind, or hydroelectric or even nuclear generation.  More likely it’s from plants burning fossil fuels: natural gas, fuel oil, or – dirtiest of all – coal.

So. Whatever bright future shines ahead of us, that electric car which does not have a local fossil fuel source – gas or coal in the tank burned locally in the car, but it is still, for the foreseeable future, a fossil fueled machine.  It may be displaced several steps away from its energy source, but it’s energy source remains the same.

Another responds to that reader:

True as far as it goes, but it’s far easier to control emissions at a power plant than at millions of vehicles. Also, as a dirty power source gets replaced, it has an immediate effect on all the vehicles that derive power from it.