Dig the front cover to the new study on Transitions to Alternative Vehicles and Fuels, by an elite panel at the National Academy of Science:
Charged by the powers that be with studying not the possibilities for building a sustainable transportation infrastructure but merely the prospects for making the U.S. auto fleet somewhat less wasteful, the cover’s admission that efficient cars are vaporware is a classic Freudian slip.
Meanwhile, here’s a sample of the level of thinking involved in this dutiful little scam. Why are automobiles so unusually important in the USA? The panel’s explanation:
With the automobile being by far the dominant mode of transportation for most Americans, facilitating auto travel has been a major part of DOT’s mission.
See? The auto is dominant because it is dominant! Science lives!
Jim Motavalli peddles the notion, in part for The New York Times no less, that there is such a thing as “green cars.” He is, he says, “passionate about hybrid, hydrogen, biofuel and electric cars.” He is also pals with none other than Bill McKibben, the Don Quixote of our epoch.
McKibben, as we know, is on a tour of the nation’s colleges, trying to encourage the kids to strike a pointless pose about Big Oil, which he describes as a mere “rogue industry,” rather than part and parcel of our cars-first transportation order.
In this context, Jim Motavalli reported a highly interesting fact this week:
McKibben is on a 21-city campus tour in a biodiesel bus, speaking and raising hell. He called me from the road, shortly before taking delivery of his new Ford C-Max plug-in hybrid.
Without commenting on the harebrained joke known as biodiesel, let us ponder this very telling “delivery.” Not only is this a hugely over-rated non-revolutionary product, but accepting (and thereby endorsing) it is analogous to C. Everett Koop ordering up a case of Camel Lights after testify against cigarette corporations.
DbC now wonders whether Mr. McKibben is more than a sad enigma and an example of the limitations of endowed activism. Is he, in fact, a positive danger to the world, a beloved misleader and miseducator, a huge hypocrite?
DbC also asks: Was McKibben’s C-Max a gift from Ford?
His latest gesture is even nuttier than the windmill tilt against the Keystone XL pipeline. Now, the proposition is to get universities to “divest” from “fossil fuel” corporations.
ROFLMFAO, Bill. Divesting from things that depend on subsidies and special treatment — things like the not-so-great state of Israel — makes powerful sense. Divesting from the world’s most internally profitable organizations is, well, a pointless gesture.
It’s also, of course, a misdiagnosis. Fossil fuel corporations are where they are today not because of simple corruption, but because of the reign of cars-first transportation policy. To peddle the notion that you can somehow do something about the former without fighting the latter is just plain stupid. It is also, alas, the hallmark of McKibbenism.
“Do the math” indeed. This kind of shallowness and misdirection — C. Wright Mills called it, aptly, “liberal practicality” – is worse than good old inaction. There is only so much time and energy available for organizing and political action. To spend that time and energy in ways that are patently hopeless and silly is a major sin against the future.
If you’ve been following this site, you know that it is a core DbC thesis that automobiles are far closer to their right walls of perfectibility than their sponsors admit or the deluded fans of alternative fuels understand. 100 MPG is simply never going to happen in any car, regardless of its power source, that’s viable in sprawling, cars-first-transportation conditions. The laws of physics forbid it.
To wit, two pieces of news today:
According to this story in the online version of the Albany Times Union the compressed natural gas Honda Civic gets “38 mpg highway, 27 mpg city.” Converting cars to CNG, in other words, would burn up natural gas at the same rate as the better petro-cars now burn oil. Hardly a potential rescue for the status quo.
Meanwhile, here’s why physically tiny cars aren’t as fuel-efficient as you might expect:
NEW YORK (CNNMoney) — When most people look at really tiny cars they figure they must get really good fuel economy.
And when compared to trucks or family sedans, they do.
But subcompact and mini-cars — the likes of the Fiat 500 and Chevrolet Sonic — usually don’t get much, if any, better fuel economy than roomier compact cars.
For instance, at 33 miles per gallon, the most efficient version of the subcompact Chevrolet Sonic gets the same overall fuel economy as the larger Chevrolet Cruze Eco compact car. Other versions of those two models differ by only small amounts in combined city and highway driving.
Same for the teeny Hyundai Accent versus the larger Hyundai Elantra. Again, both get 33 mpg in combined city and highway driving. The subcompact Ford Fiesta actually does get better mileage than the compact Ford Focus. But the Focus, with 30% more horsepower and 43% more cargo space, gets beaten by just two miles per gallon.
It’s even true of hybrids. The tiny Prius C gets the same overall fuel economy (city and highway combined) as the larger Prius. Both are rated at 50 miles per gallon.
No matter how small it is, a car still has to hold people inside comfortably.
“You can shorten it up and make it narrower, but the height of a car can only be so small,” said Scott Miller, director of mass, energy and aerodynamics at General Motors, which makes the Sonic and the even smaller Chevrolet Spark, due out soon.
That means that, once you get past compact car size — the size of an Elantra, Cruze or Focus — cars start looking like tall boxes on wheels.
That’s not the best shape for pushing through the air. Slightly larger cars allow designers to refine the shape to better control airflow around the vehicle. Small cars provide less sheet metal to work with.
In one of the least surprising pieces of news you’re likely to hear, Zerobama spiked Bill McKibben today. Obummer went to Cushing, Oklahoma and, posing in front of stacked pipes, announced he is expediting construction of the southern segment of the much publicized Keystone XL oil pipeline. Once that happens, what would you say are the odds the northern section gets blocked by McKibben’s windmill tilters? Only slightly better than those of McKibben admitting he has been multiply wrong in this whole tempest in an irrelevant teapot, I’d say.
Speaking of being epically wrong, here is McKibben’s latest analysis of the meaning of today’s move by Zerobama:
It’s clear that the power of the oil industry drives political decision-making in America–that’s why we need to go after them directly. The first step is an effort to remove the subsidies that they and the rest of the fossil fuel industry enjoy. 350.org is helping coordinate protests at Ohio State University this afternoon, where students will call on President Obama to stop Keystone XL, fracking, and other “extreme energy” projects
As ever, McKibben makes nary a mention of the actual reason for the centrality of the oil industry — cars-first transportation policy. “Doc, I’m worried I might have lung cancer.” “Not to worry,” assures good Dr. McKibben, “we’re going to stop that chronic cough of yours!”
Alas, mere superficiality and woefully erroneous target selection are not enough for McKibben. Having been clearly slapped down, he now promises to squander further political energy pursuing a blend of gestures both hopeless — stopping Keystone and fracking — and simply absurd — taking away a small tax subsidy from one of the planet’s most profitable industries and suggesting that will somehow change a damned thing.
What a flippin’ nightmare.
Fortunately, it looks like the Occupy proto-movement might be heading in the proper direction, albeit rather timidly. Check out the plans for April 4.
Remember when the Chevy Volt was going to be an “electric” car, meaning one powered (confining one’s attention to the car itself) only by a battery? Remember how that worked out? Yep, a crappy, overpriced hybrid car with a gasoline-burning engine.
Remember, too, when Fisker Automotive was the cutting-edge “electric car” manufacturer that was going to put GM to shame with its sleek, truly high-tech products? Guess what’s happened to that publicly-subsidized promise? Yep, it, too, is vaporware. The next wave of Fisker products is going to have gasoline-burning engines.
Neither that fact, nor the laughable business performance of Fisker stops it from blowing massive smoke up the public’s backside. The model name for its (supposedly) forthcoming over-priced, gas-burning hybrid? The Fisker Nina. That’s right, Nina — as in the ship from the mini-armada that launched the Columbian Conquest/Columbian Exchange, a transition rightly described as the most significant event in human history since the rise of agriculture.
That’s about as subtle as a rock, and 100 percent pure baloney to boot.
Tom Zeller, Jr. is Arianna Huffington’s “senior energy and environment writer.” Here is Mr. Zeller’s take on the meaning of the Keystone XL ruse:
This debate pits rich and powerful fossil fuel interests, which, for both good and ill, have shaped and dominated the last century of American economic, industrial and political life, against a growing swell of citizens who insist that it’s high time — for the sake of the planet and everyone who breathes — to turn the page and support cleaner alternatives.
Wrong — radically wrong — at both ends, Tom.
First of all, not only is the Keystone XL scuffle a minor issue to the ruling class, that ruling class is absolutely not organized around “fossil fuel interests,” as if the system is just randomly corrupt. In reality, we live under corporate capitalism. As such, the most important systemic and practical factor is maximum salable waste, not the random promotion of one or another “bad apple” industry. The ultimate problem — the one that makes fossil fuel interests so crucial — is cars and the geo-spatial sprawl they engendered. The oil companies are certainly a major part of the automotive industrial complex, but they are secondary, not primary, in it. The point, to the overclass, is to find a way to keep selling 10 million new cars every year. Change that, and oil becomes a minor issue. Fail to even mention it, and oil is certain to keep flowing in present patterns, Keystone or no Keystone, until there’s no more oil left.
Second, what cleaner alternatives? The so-called “electric” car, pathetic as it is, is actually running on hydrocarbon combustion and nuclear fission. If you are going to paint “cleaner alternatives” to oil as so readily doable, then you are obliged to offer evidence of their viability. Of course, you can’t, because your suggestion there is even more dishonest than the silly idea that the Keystone XL project is somehow vital to the national interest and/or the human future.
It takes amazing chutzpah to try, in the 21st century, to imprint the word “innovation” on anything having to do with the automobile. So it’s no surprise that the Nissan corporation is also aggressively preying on the public’s enforced energy ignorance. Here is the current form of that effort, an ad being run in heavy rotation during NFL football games:
The Nissan Leaf, of course, is barely selling, given its exorbitant price and pathetic performance. But the haloware effect is, given the otherwise inexplicable existence of this expensive TV ad, obviously of great value to car marketers.
The above ad shows people in various settings dealing with smoke and inconvenience from an imaginary world in which small appliances burn gasoline. “What if everything ran on gas?” intones Robert Downey, Jr., Nissan’s voice-over actor.
“Then again, what if everything didn’t?” Downey smugly concludes, suggesting that the “electric” car isn’t every bit as toxic and stupid as a petrol-powered dentist’s drill would be.
So, okay Robert, what if all cars were electric?
A few images relevant, for rather basic reasons, to that suggested reality:
Multiply as needed to create a world of a billion+ new “electric” automobiles…
They Might be Giants is a pop music group who fancy themselves intellectuals and teachers of children. Here is one of their supposedly smart and educational offerings:
Excuse me, but this is (tuneless) ignorance on very creepy stilts.
The lyrics, amid a string of familiar phony green pablum, include the line “no diesel, steam, or gasoline.”
Okay, TMBG, tell us: Where does the “electric” car gets its electricity? Is it magic? Spontaneous generation? Something, as TMBG would apparently have the kiddies conclude, “verdant green”?
Nope, not even close. It’s 90 percent from nuclear fission and the combustion of coal and natural gas.
Meanwhile, what’s the title of the album from which this amazing piece of brainwashed brainwashing emanates? Here Comes Science. ROFL.
It’s a bit cruel to pick on people who still think the Democratic Party serves a human purpose, but it’s nonetheless interesting that the Daily Kos is fully on board with the practice of publishing blatantly unfounded promises of impending physical miracles bound to rescue cars-first transportation from its own massive internal contradictions.
The latest example is from Kosnik Keith Pickering, who yesterday ran his piece, “The Edible Battery That’s Too Good for Electric Cars.” Reporting on “aqueous sodium batteries,” Pickering would have his readers join him in thinking that these items could be put into “electric” cars, save for the fact that doing so would be a waste of the batteries’ potential.
Problem? There is no existing sodium-ion battery that could be used in an automobile:
Researchers have looked into sodium-ion batteries in the past, although typically they have used high voltages and organic electrolytes. Using lower voltages reduces the amount of energy the batteries can store–a problem for electric vehicles, where space and weight are limited.
“I hope [the] DOE funds the nonaqueous [potentially usable in cars but presently non-existent] work, too,” [comments an interested professor.]
So, the proper title for Pickering’s article is “The Non-Existent Edible Battery That’s Too Good for Electric Cars.”
Here is the Music Player. You need to installl flash player to show this cool thing!