Sunday, February 03, 2008


Living in Priusland, Oregon is sometimes a self-image challenge, particularly for those of us who are Prius-less. This isn't a criticism of those who are among the Prius-pious, but rather, a plea for recognition for those who don't own one of Toyota's finest.

On a drive in downtown Portland the other day, I saw a large billboard advertising reduced parking fees for drivers of hybrid cars. How does this make sense? Does someone verify that the driver of the Prius getting the discount doesn't also own 2 or 3 other vehicles, including big truck and SUV gas-guzzlers? A recent survey (no time to find the link) found that many hybrid owners have added the eco-car to their family fleet of bigger vehicles. And many of the newer luxury hybrids, like the Lexus, use the hybrid technology to improve acceleration, with small gains in fuel efficiency.

In our 2-person family, we moved into an urban part of town 5 years ago, reduced our fleet to 1 car, and do a lot of walking to shops and restaurants. I ride my bicycle to the office probably 99% of the trips there - rain or shine, winter or summer. So why don't we get a parking discount downtown?

I lke the Prius and other hybrids. Hybrid vehicles are a good development for a variety of reasons. But let's not get too carried away with it. The reality is that the increase in the number of motor vehicles in the USA and work-wide results in rising fuel consumption and more emissions. The answer to our motor vehicle related problems isn't different fuels and engines, it's changing the basic concept of transportation for people and goods. We need fewer vehicles, period.

Well, gotta go - the sun is shining, and it' a good day for a walk.


pjd said...

I agree 100%. At the BSR conference I attended a few months ago, we heard a keynote from a major "green" venture capitalist, a guy who made his gazillions with the primary investment in Sun Microsystems. He's a smart guy. And he's deeply, personally interested in carbon emissions and green technology.

He argued that hybrid technology is a good baby step, but we need to get off non-renewable fossil fuels. His big thing is some sort of bio fuel (not biodeisel but the next generation).

Regarding your thoughts on the parking and Prius stuff: I do know someone who added a Civic hybrid to their Tahoe and Jeep SUVs, but it's still better for the environment because he uses it for his longish commute.

If every country in the world had as many cars per capita as the USA does, the number of cars would go up by a factor of six. The USA is the largest carbon-emitting country in the world, per capita, yet many Americans think the biggest pollution occurs in the megacities in developing or third world countries. Not so. Local pollution perhaps in bad water and such, but not the global type of pollution we create.

It's a complicated problem, and the only viable long-term solution is to get off oil as our main energy source and to (a) find ways to use energy more efficiently and (b) develop economically viable renewable energy sources that don't lead to other unintended consequences such as deforestation.

Paul said...

Good points, PJ. A couple of points to add: 1) the number of cars in India and China is increasing rapidly. Indian auto manufacturers are introducing very low-cost vehicles that will make cars much more accessible to the average Indian citizen; 2) I wrote a piece on Nov. 25, 2006 about air pollution from Chinese coal-fired power plants sending huge plumes of air pollution over the Pacific to Oregon and other NW states. Oregon researchers estimate that about 14% of the mercury in the Willamette River (runs through Portland) is from these Chinese power plants. Lots of particulates in the air, too (and we wonder why asthma is on the increase). This is an example of global air quality issues from local sources.

At issue here is really life style - the under-developed world wants to be like the developed world, with all our "stuff." I don't think it can happen without very dire consequences. And I don't think Americans are about to simplify our lives.

And, of course, many of the so-called "solutions" just add to the list of problems - example: U.S. use of corn to produce ethanol, drives the price of corn up, creates shortages for food supplies, food prices increase, etc. Why - ethanol production from corn is much more profitable than food production - the greed factor.

Many of us are trying to figure this out and do the right thing, but I guess it means a lot more than driving a hybrid.