Warren Brown: Hybrids Are "environmentally Insensitive"

Robert Farago
by Robert Farago

In The Washington Post, the dean of DC car hacks reports of his meeting with GM engineers to discuss gas – electric hybrids. The boffins convinced Warren Brown they're a duff deal. "In terms of what engineers call 'well-to-wheel energy costs,' gas-electrics actually are more energy consumptive and environmentally stressful than the traditional gasoline-powered cars and trucks they are supposed to replace. It takes lots of energy to design, develop, manufacture, transport and install nickel-metal hydride and lithium ion batteries. And, again, once their energy is used, once those batteries have become entropic, something has to be done with them." Full marks for recycling an old argument. But it's more than that; it's Warren's Road to Damascus. "It was in that context, over a luncheon of killed and cooked fish [dig the symbolism] we were eating to fuel our bodies, that we ventured into a conversation about Christian religious beliefs… Energy conservation is nothing more than an attempt to delay and manage the inevitable. It requires intelligence. It demands compromise. You can even argue that… it requires a certain amount of love. Essentially, it is an act of faith in something better." Amen.

Robert Farago
Robert Farago

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  • Ghillie Ghillie on Aug 21, 2007

    Cowbell: - you forgot to allow for recycling. Though surely there will be some loss through the manufacturing and recycling process, most of the nickel produced for one Prius battery will be available for use in a long line of its successors. I drive a Prius but driving a Prius isn't going to save the planet. I agree with Cowbell that the environmental cost/benifits of hybrid cars is far too complex to be answered on this forum. But whatever its merits, the Prius is not "the answer". But I do think it is a step in a direction that is better than the direction our love of cars has been taking us in. The Prius says "I will make buying choices based in part on the environmental impact of my consumption even if it does mean I am inconvenienced (i.e. - it costs me more so there is something else I can't buy)" It's as much a statement to manufacturers as it is to other people. I think this is why hybrids (and hybrid owners) get criticized so much. Cars have created previously unimaginable mobility but the environmental cost is enormous and unsustainable. We know this even though we love the prestige, power, speed and cheap travel that cars bring. By making a statment about the need to reduce the environmental impact of cars, the Prius is a direct affront to our happy fantasies about the car culture. Which is a bit of a joke really because the Prius may be a step towards improved environmental sustainability but it is only a tiny step and it is surely not any threat to a car dominated transport system (in fact it probably supports it). But it still pisses a lot of people off because it is perceived to be a raised finger towards our love affair with cars. What I find most curious is the reluctance most of us have to sacrifice even a little bit of convenience or pleasure in the interests of improved efficiency or better road safety. Use some of your purchasing power to buy a more fuel efficient, smaller, lighter, slower, more recyclable,less luxurious car (that does everything you actually need it to do) rather than a heavier, thirstier, bigger, taller, faster more luxurious vehicle that allows you to dominate the other traffic (in one way or another)? Bugger off!

  • Engineer Engineer on Aug 21, 2007

    @Stephan Wilkinson: Waste of time. Tell me your “solutions,” your “answers,” and I’ll ask you exactly how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. The solution is technology, as always. In the late nineteenth century, the doomers were predicting that London was about to be buried under horse manure. Their projections of London's population growth "proved" it. London (and many other cities) were saved by technology: the much-maligned internal combustion engine. Who would have thought? ICE as an environmental saviour! Think of it this way: Earth could not support 6 billion hunter-gatherers. Each one needs to much area. But cubicle workers? No problem! What does this say about the future? Better enjoy all that office space, while you still have it. So, Stephan, how many angels do you count on the head of a pin? Or maybe that should be future office workers...

  • Htn Htn on Aug 21, 2007

    I don't have the knowledge to fo the calculation but how much energy does it take for 2 persons to walk 100 miles vs. how much energy for a 100 mile trip in a 35mpg car. I think that mammals are pretty inefficient compared to oil burning equiptment. Walking and biking might be good for the body and soul but it may well be that the energy you would consume in the 7 days it would take you to cover the 100 miles at a reasonable pace is not that different and may be much more than 2.5 gallons of 87 octane.

  • Rpn453 Rpn453 on Aug 22, 2007

    I read somewhere that a bicycle gets about 930 miles per energy-equivalent-gallon. At 10 calories of oil energy per calorie of food energy, that’s still 93 mpg. I personally enjoy being physically fit, too! I'm sure walking is nowhere near as efficient as cycling.