Beo goes off.

I am different than most people, and I have come to terms with that-its OK. There are a few kindred spirits at work, though. One of these was recently promoted, and the changes to him are shaking me. I had always respected the fact that he drove a 13 year old Civic hatchback-lovingly maintained for almost 200,000 miles. We swapped battle stories from our door to door campaigning in the ’04 elections, compared compost bin plans, and talked the environment. I understand that with his promotion the desire to reward himself was strong, so when he said he had been car shopping I was not surprised. I was, however, surprised at the Acura TL he drove home, but more so by his arguments that the 255hp Accord Hybrid ‘didn’t have enough power’-his last car had 90hp! I didn’t push hard at all because as a very recent owner of a Mitsubishi Evolution 8 sports car, I had no moral ground to stand on and I realize that some of my current fervor is a ‘born again’ kind of thing.

But just this week his wife was out East on business and their other car overheated enough to total the motor. We talked thru the options-and I was thrilled to hear that they were considering a Prius-which seemed a perfect fit to their family of 3 with no dogs. The next time I saw him he was leaning more to the Highlander Hybrid-I cringed a little inside. Why did he feel he needed an SUV? But at 33mpg and rated as a SULEV vehicle I was still gungho-it would be a great example to his upper management peers. When I saw him the next day they had opted for a Honda Odyssey minivan because it had more room. He must have seen my face fall a little, because he added that he felt he was just going to sit out the whole hybrid generation and go straight to Hydrogen.

If it was intended as a conciliatory gesture it failed. There is little that will set me off more than the Bush/GM funded Hydrogen Fuel Cell smoke screen outside of someone clubbing a seal in my presence. I snapped-I shouldn’t have, I report to this guy after all, but I barked off something about how, maybe, just maybe his 5 year old son might drive a fuel cell car before he dies-and that it was our generation that needs to change. It proved nothing, didn’t make me feel better-a futile gesture.

Maybe it is the sting of my outburst, or the daily reality of the string of little compromises that takes an eco conscious person from a Prius to a minivan in less than 48 hours. But what I can’t shake-its been 4 days now- is that if even the eco aware won’t change in the face of the reality of our unsustainable culture, how will I convince my truck driving neighbors? What hurts is that the change need be so small as to be almost invisible. Here are some figures:

  • If we raise fuel efficiency standards in American cars by one mile per gallon, in one year, we would save twice the amount of oil that could be obtained from the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
  • Raising it by 2.7 mpg would save enough to eliminate all the oil imports from Iraq and Kuwait combined
  • Raising it by 7.6 mpg would save enough to eliminate 100% of our gulf oil imports into this countrySource: Environmental Attorney Robert F. Kennedy Jr.

The technology is there, and it would be seamless to the average American. The Toyota Highlander Hybrid goes 0-60 in 7.3 seconds and can tow 3500lbs-the Camry seats 5 adults comfortably but still gets 40mpg-the Accord does it for about 35, but with 100 more hp. All of them are 25-50% more efficient than the cars they replace.

Hybrids cost more-I get that, but credits work: effectively removing any price difference. Now I am going to vent because our government won’t let the credits work. We bailed out GM and Ford when we gave them a tax credit for their behemoth Tahoe’s and Expeditions back in 2000-3, allowing small business owners to effectively write them off in the first year of ownership basically $30k+ per vehicle in subsidies. And instead of taking those years to start making smaller cars, the idiots made bigger ones with more bling and are now about to bankrupt the blue collar middle class of America when their domestic operations go down in a Zepplin of financial woes. So what did we learn from that? The answer is depressing: in the 2005 Energy bill we literally penalize carmakers for designing more fuel efficient vehicles in two ways. First the credit is based off the gallons saved, not actual MPG. So the Highlander SUV, getting 33mpg (vs 18 of the non hybrid) gets twice the credit (about $2600 [remember the $30,000 Tahoe credit?]) of the Pruis getting 60mpg. Think of it this way-if I modify my Insight to get 50% better mileage-effectively putting me into the 100mpg range, I save about 130 gallons of gas. Take a Silverado pickup and make it get 20 instead of 14 and you save over 400 for every 20k miles driven-all because the hybrid Silverado still uses 5 times more gas than my Insight.

I can almost buy the argument that getting people to change the culture of buying vehicles too big for them is too much to ask, so giving them a bigger incentive to switch to a more economical version of a car too big for them will save more gas-most of these people (like my friend) will never buy a Prius. But the law goes asinine when it cuts the credits in half once a carmaker sells more than 60,000 autos that qualify. So a carmaker like Toyota that spent hundreds of millions in marketing, R&D, etc to create an incredible car that people love-each one saving 2-5 tons of CO2 and 500-1500 gallons of gas annually-and we pull the incentive from them if they actually catch on. Lobbyists are killing our country.

1 mpg saves ANWR, 3 mpg saves our troops in Iraq and 7 mpg pulls the money from terrorist funding or at least misogynist regimes.

I know not every one can afford a hybrid, but if your drive a Flex Fuel Vehicle-and millions do- switch to E-85, if you drive a diesel find some B20 (dealer links here) or make your own (driving on B100 makes my hybrid look downright dirty), if you drive a Pontiac, or regardless of what you drive, try incorporating some of these tips from the guys at into your driving. The average hybrid driver becomes 25% more effecient regardless of what they are driving-habits matter a lot:

  1. Don’t speed. Driving 65 mph instead of 75 mph will increase your fuel economy by about 10 percent. Pride yourself on being a slowpoke.
  2. Avoid “jack rabbit” starts. Flooring the gas pedal wastes gas and leads to drastically higher pollution rates.
  3. Anticipate stops. Think ahead to anticipate stops so your vehicle can coast down. Accelerating hard and braking hard wastes gas, increases pollution, and wears out your brakes.
  4. Keep your tires properly inflated. For every 3 pounds below recommended pressure, fuel economy goes down by about 1 percent.
  5. Avoid rush hour, if possible. Stop-and-go driving burns gas and increases emissions of smog-forming pollutants.
  6. Travel light. An extra 100 pounds in your trunk reduces fuel economy by about 1 percent.
  7. Combine trips. Warmed-up engines run more efficiently and generate less air pollution.
  8. Leave off the air conditioning, if possible. AC increases fuel consumption, increases smog-forming NOx emissions in some vehicles, and can involve environmentally damaging fluids. At high speeds, open windows increase drag; use vents if possible.
  9. Check your own fuel economy every few weeks. If you notice the numbers slipping, then think about how your driving might have changed, and consider getting a tune-up or an oil change.
  10. Drive less. Give your car a rest by taking public transportation, riding a bike, or walking. The exercise will do you good.

Be the Change.


2 Responses

  1. I’m in no position to moralize about MPG. I’m selling my car with the best mileage (the repair rate is skyrocketing), and I just bought an old gas hog truck. Hopefully I don’t use it much. But if I were buying new, or even close to new, I’d be all over the hybrids. Your co-worker sounds like he’s under the influence of a differently-minded spouse. Or maybe it’s just a showroom impulse. I don’t know how anybody can impulse buy a vehicle, but people do it all the time.

    But the real bummer for me is the “waiting for hydrogen” comment. I hear this a lot. Hydrogen will solve our problems. Hydrogen fuel cells would be great if we had lots of free hydrogen lying around. But it’s not easy to get hydrogen. It takes more power than it gives back. I think we’d be better of going back to the electric car concept, using electricity directly rather than using (and losing) energy to make, store, and transport hydrogen for powering cars.

    The only long term solution may be redesigning our lifestyles and relocalizing our goods…

  2. A change in behavior-regardless of what you drive- can easily save 1-2 MPG. If every American did that we’d literally save millions of barrels.

    And think-with your homestead you ARE relocating your goods. You make your own milk, grow more of your own veggies, go to the goat barn instead of Menard’s for manure, and spend more nights at home tending the flock or watching the sunset than at Applebee’s.

    Behaviors matter: Be the Change!

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