Green Auto Primer for the Confused

  1. Hybrid cars are not intended to save fuel, and do so poorly. They are intended to reduce emissions. The reason they exist is that auto makers are required to reduce their overall emissions and to provide some zero emissions vehicle by law. In order to continue producing luxury trucks with inefficient pushrod V-8 engines, they must produce a token amount of the hybrids, on which they lose money. When you purchase one you are personally producing less pollution as you drive, but the overall problem is not solved, nor are these vehicles a solution of any kind to the problem of the car.
  2. Biodiesel requires more petroleum to produce than ordinary petroleum-based fuels, according to recent studies. This is because industrial agriculture in the United States requires so much energy, from the nitrogen fixation to the machinery used, that the fuel oil produced from crops is basically inefficiently converted oil. Biodiesel is a great idea if you already have a source of free biomass around, and it is a great idea for a small number of vehicles that can live off the waste biomass others discard. The overall problem is not solved, nor are these vehicles a solution of any kind to the problem of the car.
  3. Ethanol and ethanol-gasoline mixes do not reduce the U.S. dependence on foreign oil. Ethanol is made almost entirely from corn. The corn is indeed domestically grown in huge quantities and not imported. However, the corn yields depend absolutely on high-powered artificial fertilizers which require so much energy to produce that they are basically congealed electricity. Unless the plants that produce these fertilizers are somehow powered by some unknown renewable or domestic energy source, this country is still absolutely dependent on oil to make the fertilizer so that the corn can be grown and converted into ethanol. When there is a surplus of corn and a temporary shortage of petroleum, ethanol is a fine idea, because it reduces the consumption of gasoline in the short term. The overall problem is not solved, nor are ethanol-based fuels a solution of any kind to the problem of the car.
  4. Great strides have been made in improving the passenger car. If the current technology was appropriately used to its maximum, pollution and fuel consumption from cars could be reduced tremendously. However, almost everything in this country is distributed by truck. It would be difficult to change this, because the country is very spread out. Commercial trucks predominantly use older diesel engines which are inefficient and dirty. Even if every new truck sold was required to be much, much more efficient and clean, the current trucks would be on the road for a long time. Trucks are rarely replaced; they are repaired. It’s very expensive to replace them. Any large-scale change in the trucking industry would require a tremendous amount of government subsidy to compensate the small companies and individual contractors who own these trucks, because they can’t afford to upgrade. A sharp increase in the cost of trucking would be felt throughout the entire company. There is currently no good solution to the problem of the truck.

Have a nice auto-doom!

17 thoughts on “Green Auto Primer for the Confused

  1. In that last line of #4, I assume you mean “the entire country?” I have no doubt that that is true. Would you agree that the recent rise in gas prices constitutes “a sharp increase in the cost of trucking?” Or soon will? And if not, is it because diesel prices have not risen as precipitously as the regular unleaded? It seems to me that the follow-on effects have not yet manifested themselves. A friend of mine who’s in his mid-50’s told me that back in the 70’s when gas went up, there was a period of months where it didn’t seem to affect anything else, and then all of a sudden, the shit hit the fan. I wonder if we’re right now in the calm before the storm, and by November a gallon of milk is going to be 9 dollars.
    Either way, whether this year or next year or in 2016, a shitstorm of epic proportions does seem to be a-brewing…

    1. I have read that there is a delay between fuel prices going up and consumer prices etc. reflecting them through trucking. I assume that’s because it takes a bit for the trucking companies to raise their prices, competition, invisible hand blar blar. I was a kid during the ’73 crisis and I don’t remember what happened then, except for gas lines and people siphoning your gas away. And since we live in a multivariate universe, Other Shit Will Happen.

      1. Being the same age as you, I don’t recall ’73 with any greater clarity, but I do remember someone stating that much of the problem was actually related to local supply. People began to panic, caused a run at the pumps that overwhelmed the supply chain from about the middle to the end without ever really running levels dangerously low on the national level.
        That’s just a misty recollection, however, and a quick trawl through wikipedia doesn’t offer any useful corroboration.

  2. Do you see many people cycling instead? I know a lot of cycling commuters but work at a university so it’s hard to gauge actual practice.
    Do they hold Critical Mass events there?

    1. Bicycling in my immediate area is done mostly for recreation or by poor Mexicans. Anyone who can afford a car drives. Public transit is also a form of punishment, unfortunately.
      Suburbia is a disaster this way. Everything is some distance away, and doing a set of errands requires multiple multi-mile trips. I’ve done this on public transit and it’s more of an epic journey than errands.
      The people who commute via bicycle are either as above very poor, or had their licenses pulled, or are unusually committed to an ideal.
      Motorcycles and scooters have become more visible since the fuel prices started to go up, though.
      The nearest critical mass event I’ve seen has been on the central coast. They may have them here or in LA/SD, but I don’t know.

      1. We have the same suburbia problem but no one ‘group’ riding bikes.
        There is a weekly bicycle commuters report on the local university radio station every Wednesday which is always very funny when it is -30 and everyone listening is thinking ‘those crazy bicycle fuckers! I just chipped an inch of ice off my entire car!’
        I think I’m weird, because I think taking the bus/train is fun. But we are a city that is trying to be progressive, because we’re apparently about to boom. We also have a kick ass recycling program. Unrelated but further evidence of people willing to continue the hippie love whilst starting hockey riots.
        I’ve seen a ton of Smart Cars this summer. So bloody cute!

      2. I love public transit when it works. I grew up partly in Europe, and I’ve also admired the transit in cities here that have clue.
        Then again, I also rode public transit in the greater Los Angeles area for ten years. It was not enjoyable in any way.
        In Orange County, where I live, the transit is so bad, and avoided by everyone but the poor or handicapped or restricted from driving or crazy, that it is called the “Shame Train.” That’s an evocative piece of slang, isn’t it?

  3. All so true, the do-gooders just looking for a cause are so UNinformed. I also find it ironic that we get less then 10% of our imported oil from the middle east, so what’s this pointless war all about anyway?
    Also you just have to look to Europe to see the free market solutions to high fuel prices. The gas in Europe was at an equivalent of $4-5 per gallon back in 1977 when I spent the summer there. The solution has NEVER been hybrids. They drive very small diesel and gas cars with small low power engines. But primarily they depend on efficient public transportation and live in very densely populated cities instead of our sprawling style cities. America is coming to some major cross-roads on how we live very soon.
    No, I do not live in the sprawling burbs, I am in an older city 1 1/2 miles from the Detroit border. If Detroit was a decent city like Columbus, Chicago, Toronto, Cleveland I would live even closer to the city center.

    1. I also find it ironic that we get less then 10% of our imported oil from the middle east, so what’s this pointless war all about anyway?

      Sssshhh! Don’t say that! If the general population finds out that 50% of your oil and natural gas comes from Canada, we’re screwed! They’ll have the tanks in Red Deer by sundown.

      1. Iguess there is some advantage to having the stupidest world leader running our country! I am amazed at how much he parallels Hitler. He takes control of the country under shady circumstances, he creates his own secret police who are outside all law (Homeland Security), he invades foriegn countries on a whim against world opinion (Afghanistan and Iraq), he even has big corruption scandels by members of congress in his own party and barely any national outcry, he has apparently muffled the news media as thiese wars have turned silent for most of their duration. So unlike the news media and Vietnam, which I am old enough to remember very well. Civil rights are being made illegal by state and federal legistlatures. That’s our George W. Hitler!
        Oh yeah, hello to those homeland security spies reading this with illegal monitoring equipment! Enjoy!

      2. HUH?
        I LOVE REAL AMEWRICAN CARS WITH BIG BLOCK V8s!!! I’ve owned a few too. One fav was my 1976 Cordoba with a 400 V8, 6,000 pounds of real car! I am an old car nut, I used to have a 1938 DeSoto touring sedan with a flathead 6 cylinder too. An old boss had a 1936 V16 Cadillac convertible touring car. That beast was beautiful!!!
        These days I lease cars, just for practicality, the best is the 3800 V6 from GM, Lots of smooth power.
        I hate this new trend of trying to make a “muscle” car out of some wimpy jap tin can 4 cylinder with 2 turbos so it will make an attempt at getting out of it’s own way! I heard a young guy say he “didn’t get all the old guys making a big deal out of big block V8s”! There is only one way to horse power and that’s cubic inches!

      3. Re: HUH?
        Hehehe I knew you’d say that. šŸ™‚ It’s a matter of taste. I like big V8s and I like the super-efficient small engines too, for different reasons.
        Ricing up a Civic is indeed a waste of time, but the Subaru STI and the Lancer Evo aren’t toys; they’re rally racers, which is just a different kind of fast. If you want to scramble up a mountain road at 80 mph in the wet, that 300 hp 2.5L boxer four in the Subaru ain’t no wimp.
        I think my favorite engines, though, are the very very efficient normally aspirated small- to mid-sized ones. I especially think of the BMW inline six and the inline 4 in the Honda S2000 getting 100 hp/l without a blower.
        But, you know, I have tremendous nostalgia for the golden age of American cars, and around here there are lots of very well-preserved flathead Fords, ’57 Caddys, ’60s Corvettes, etc. I just think it’s kind of over now except for hobbyists, because they’re so thirsty.

  4. Biodiesel & Ethanol
    Man, get your facts (or some facts) straight. Ethanol (1.4) and Biodiesel (3.2) both produce net energy gains in their production as compared to Gasoline and diesel.
    See page 59 for the National Renewable Energy Labs (NREL) Biodiesel and pertroleum diesel comparison.
    NREL:
    http://www.nrel.gov/docs/legosti/fy98/24089.pdf
    The ethanol peice is referenced from a recent Argonne National
    Laboratory (ANL) study and a seperate USDA study.
    ANL:
    http://www.ncga.com/public_policy/PDF/03_28_05ArgonneNatlLabEthanolStudy.pdf
    http://www.ethanol-gec.org/netenergy/UpdateEnergyGreenhouse.pdf
    http://www.anl.gov/Media_Center/News/2005/NCGA_Ethanol_Meeting_050823.ppt#4
    USDA:
    http://www.ers.usda.gov/publications/aer721/AER721.PDF

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