Sunday, June 10, 2007

Why We Don't Need Big Hybrid SUVs

Eric, with his keen eye on the financial world, alerted me to this twisted non-argument about why we supposedly need big hybrid SUVs. And since my baseball team just got shellacked tonight, I feel like bullying around something else to make up for it.

The article basically claims that we need more hybrid SUVs because they save more gas over regular SUVs, compared to the savings between small hybrids (such as the Honda Civic hybrid) and their non-hybrid counterparts (the regular old Honda Civic). That's like saying doing acid is better for you than eating an oatmeal cookie, because doing acid is more improved over doing crack cocaine than eating an oatmeal cookie is over eating a Twinkie.
I'm not trying to hide from the obvious here. Someone who switches from a non-hybrid GMC Yukon to a Toyota (Charts) Prius will save about 611 gallons of gas a year. That switch would make a huge difference.
The author apparently doesn't realize that inserting this little disclaimer pretty much disproves the rest of the article.
But how many people do you think could actually do that?

That assumes that all consumers are able to buy the smallest possible vehicle and that no one who drives a large SUV or other full-sized vehicle actually needs one.

Even as consumers have been ditching mid-sized SUVs for smaller SUVs and cars amid rising gas prices, sales of large SUVs have stayed relatively flat. That indicates that these buyers can't easily switch.

I didn't have to go very far to find a perfect test case: my sister. She lives in Cape Cod, Mass., where it snows heavily in the winter. She has three boys who all play hockey, a dog and a husband; and she usually has a couple of her kids' friends - and their hockey equipment - tagging along wherever they go.
Editorials like these love to try to universalize isolated examples to prove a point, which is, of course, a fallacy of multiplication. How many people are really like this guy's sister, having to cart around a whole line of hockey players and their equipment? I doubt all those SUVs motoring around Palo Alto or Orlando are bus services for youth hockey.

What's more, it's wrong to think that one needs an SUV to handle snowy roads. With a high center of gravity, SUVs are actually more dangerous in one regard when driving in unpleasant conditions. My brother has a smaller European car, and it handles the snow without any problems. In fact, he can park it on top of miniature snow banks in the winter that no one else dares parking in.

So what we have here is a desparate attempt by some money writer to justify a now failing business practice. As people are finally -- finally -- starting to buy smaller, more efficient cars, expect more smoke-and-mirrors arguments used to pitch hybrid SUVs.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Like a Johnny-Come-Lately on Global Warming, But Not Even That

Now look who's "coming around." George Bush has proposed "aspirational goals" for capping CO2 emissions ahead of G8 talks on the subject.
Mr. Bush promised to convene a series of meetings, beginning in the fall, with 10 to 15 countries that produce the most greenhouse gas emissions, including China and India. Each country would establish midterm national targets for reducing emissions over the next 10 to 20 years, while working together to set a longer-term goal.

The talks also would bring together industry leaders, Mr. Bush said, so that the countries could work with them to pool their knowledge and promote investment in energy-efficient technologies, including solar and wind energy, clean coal and nuclear power. But each country would be free to set its own goals, and there would be no binding international framework for enforcement.
One look at these two paragraphs shows you why it's too generous to say he's even "come around" on global warming.

But what can you expect from someone who took five years into his rule to even acknowledge the basic connection between humans' incessant greenhouse gas emissions and the perilous increases in the average global temperature?
“The United States is taking the lead, and that’s the message I’m going to take to the G-8,” Mr. Bush said.
That message couldn't be farther from the truth. Sick and tired of trying to get the runaway train that is the U.S.-as-polluter on board the Kyoto Protocol, smart nations have gone on their own and proposed binding, much tougher emissions reductions standards. The UK has already proposed to cut carbon by 60% by 2050. Germany and Japan have proposed a 50% cut by the same year. Sweden plans to be oil free by 2020. Then there there 169 countries that have ratified Kyoto, which calls for reductions of emissions below 1990 levels.

U.S. cities, too, have left the laggard federal government behind and have taken bold actions to reduce their carbon emissions. Cities have always been the best realms for effecting change anyway. In 2005, the US Mayors Climate Protection Agreement was introduced by Seattle mayor Greg Nickels and eight other mayors (including Rocky Anderson of Salt Lake City, RT Rybak of Minneapolis, Gavin Newsom of San Francisco, Tom Potter of Portland, and others). The agreement urges mayors to strive to meet Kyoto Protocol emissions targets, and encourage their state governments and the federal government to take action on climate change. As of this writing, 522 mayors have signed it, from North Pole, AK, to Key West, FL. Portland has actually stabilized or come close to stabilizing its emissions levels through sound planning, strong transit systems, its urban growth boundary, and the environmentally progressive mindset of many of its citizens and local officials. The C40 has now been formed, which is "a group of the world's largest cities committed to tackling climate change." That the group is working with the Clinton Climate Initiative is telling that our former president and vice president have already done leagues more for pointing us in the right direction on climate change than our current president.

So for Mr. Bush to say that his administration is "lead[ing]" on climate change is the most farcical, ludicrous bit of tripe I have ever heard. He has fiddled while the Earth has burned and forward-thinking government officials around the world have fought to put out the fire. Perhaps the reason he still thinks he can win brownie points with a non-binding "aspirational goal" that doesn't take effect for another four years at a time when other cities and countries are already leagues ahead of him is that major American media outlets are still his lapdogs, as Dan Froomkin astutely observed.
The White House yesterday showed that it still knows how to play the American press like a harp.


...a change in rhetoric was enough to generate some headlines about the administration's attention to the issue: Bush Proposes Goals on Greenhouse Gas Emissions, reads the New York Times headline. Bush Proposes Talks on Warming, says The Washington Post's front page. Bush offers to take climate lead, proclaims the Los Angeles Times.
"Bush offers to take climate lead"? That's like Kent Hovind offering to take the reins of the National Academy of Sciences.

What we can take out of Bush's non-announcement (which was really just a bedizened restatement of his administration's inadequate policy of voluntarism) is the constant reminder that we don't have to wait for the federal government to do something about global warming. Local action is the most effective, whether it be on the personal, familial, neighborhood, community, city, or county levels. Leave Bush to his fiddling and we'll save the world ourselves.