Toyota Highlander or Toyota Echo -- which one is better for the environment? Across American legislators, city governments, policy advisors, and every day people are getting it wrong. We need to understand that the word “hybrid” does not mean “great for the environment.” “Dual fuel” does not mean great for the environment. Fuel efficient -- with a specific reasonable benchmark applied -- can mean better for the environment.
Below the benchmark of the US fleet vehicle average of 22mpg, we do find the obvious problem cars:
Hummer 8-10 mpg
Ford Expedition 14-19 mpg
Chevy Suburban 13-17 mpg
But here are examples of two cars with the "hybrid" word attached
Hybrid Lexis GS 450 h 25/28 mpg (highway/city)
Hybrid Toyota Highlander* 27/32 mpg
that are worse performing than these traditional gasoline-powered cars:
Honda Civic 26/34mpg
Toyota Yaris 34/39 mpg
Toyota Echo 35/43 mpg
We should definitely not be giving special dispensation to people who buy SUV hybrids over people who buy small space- and fuel-efficient traditional engine cars.
Amazingly, Al Gore is giving away a Toyota Highland Hybrid to the person who comes up with the winning 30 second advertisement that alerts the American public to the perils of climate change.
Al, I admire and respect you. An Inconvenient Truth changed the way Americans think, but you need better transportation policy advice. Send me an email, I’m happy to help.
Sunday, September 16, 2007
The Climate Change Window of Requirement, and the Myth of the fuel-efficient or alternative-fuel car as Savior
I’m not a climatologist and don’t pretend to be one, ever. So I defer to the top two US experts. Here is what they tell me:
John Holdren, Director of the Woods Hole Institute, and Chairman of the Board of Directors of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, writes “Without swift and urgent action, the problems could spiral toward disastrous, permanent changes for all of life on Earth.” In September, 2006, he told me, “Within five years, we need to not only level but start reducing CO2 emissions if we are to prevent catastrophic human interference in climate change.”
Dr. James Hansen, NASA's Director of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies, and considered the doyen of American climatology said in an interview: “If we do follow the “business as usual” path, even for another ten years, it guarantees that we will have dramatic climate changes that produce what I would call a different planet… It's likely that a large fraction of the species could go extinct.” He said this also in September of 2006.
I am a genius at basic math. I now understand that we have between four and less than nine years to get worldwide CO2 emissions onto a downward slope, or else.
So I took this frame of reference and I plopped it into the transportation sector. Why transportation? Well, a) because I know something about it and b) transportation accounts for 33% of all US CO2 emissions. In fact, our own personal cars contribute 20%.
In fact, driving our cars is the most significant way we as individuals produce CO2 emissions. [Eating beef and therefore demanding a huge worldwide population of cows is the number one contributor to man-made climate change, primarily through methane gas.] After cars, the next largest way we as individuals produce CO2 emissions is through our residential electric bill – and think about how many appliances contribute to that number. Changing your light bulbs to compact fluorescents is a good thing, and we all should do it, but reducing the CO2 output from your tailpipe is much much more significant.
And we know the best ways to do that: buy a hybrid! Support the development of alternative fuels! NOT. Not if you have your eye on the window of requirement. According to a study produced for the Department of Energy, if we all started today replacing our old cars with fuel efficient cars when it was time to buy a new one, in year ten – yes, after the window of requirement has closed, American’s demand for fossil fuel will be reduced by 5% by these efforts. How and why could that be? The average age of the American fleet has been growing. Today, the average car lasts 9 years, so it takes a long long time to swap out our fleet of 200 million vehicles.
Don’t want to believe that it is only 5%? My other source is from the mouth of President G,W. Bush in his 2007 State of the Union address.
Hydrogen Fuel vehicles, solar-powered vehicles, and every other alternative fuel vehicle will not be market ready or widely adopted within the four to less than nine year time frame to help matters. And yes, we should absolutely positively keep pursuing these things because we are going to want them in the long run.
Next up: What can we accomplish in a 4 to less than 9 year timeframe?
Related: Why we should never confuse the words hybrid, dual fuel, and fuel efficiency.