The MPG Hoax

donkey-car I often lambaste “electric” cars in this space. My aim in doing that, however, is not to lend aid and comfort to petro cars, which are, in their actually existing form, even worse than “electrics” and hybrids, from an energy-use perspective. I am against “electric” cars because they are halo-ware, a carefully planned distraction from the only kind of reform that stands a chance of bringing transportation systems into line with the requirements of energy and ecological sustainability. Converting to “electric” cars is something that directly competes with radical reconstruction of towns and cities to favor walking, bicycling, and public transit.

Yet, as a kind email commenter on my recent re-post at CounterPunch pointed out to me, it certainly isn’t enough to observe that the energy efficiency of “electric” cars is vastly exaggerated. The same is also increasingly true for petro cars.

The reason for that is the same as the reason I discussed yesterday in relation to “electric” cars: Assessing vehicle efficiency from the point of charging or filling excludes the huge energy expenditures it takes to deliver the charge or the fuel to the plug or the tank.

In the case of the “electric” car, the amount of energy (in the form of coal, natural gas, nuclear, wind turbines, or solar panels) it takes to produce an electrical charge for the car’s engine is significantly larger than the energy embodied in the delivered charge.

But just as (contrary to the childish suggestions of corporate marketing on the topic) electricity is not magic, neither is petroleum. Just as it costs energy to get electricity for “electric” cars, so does it costs energy to discover, drill, process, store, and deliver every gallon of gas pumped into an automotive tank.

In the past, the EROEI for petroleum was extremely high. Over time, as the easy and obvious reserves have declined, it has taken much more energy to discover and drill for petroleum. As a result, oil’s EROEI has plummeted and will undoubtedly continue to decline into the future.

As this happens, it becomes increasingly misleading to use MPG as the basis for evaluating the efficiency of petro-powered cars.

If we had an actual (rather than merely a nominal) green movement in this country, it would be pushing for a universal dust-to-dust standard for comparing the energy-use rate of various form of transportation machinery, including all cars, whatever their engine type.

That, of course, would be purest anathema to the corporate capitalist overclass, which is institutionally and psychologically addicted to perpetuating cars-first transportation right up and into Carmageddon’s awful dawn. Ergo, it is squarely off-the-table, even among the greens. They prefer gestures and pathetic photo-ops and going along to feel like they’re getting along.