Wednesday, December 1, 2010

New Electric Cars Are Still the Problem and Bikes Are Still the Solution

andrew sullivan bike vs car

An interesting thread of posts on Andrew Sullivan's Daily Dish includes a great quote from a reader about why electric cars are not as good a choice as a bike:
As a transportation-focused environmental advocate, it pains me to see all the fawning over electric cars and their buyers, while ignoring scores of innovations that make bicycling a viable choice for more trips: cargo bikes, folding bikes, bike sharing, workplace showers, secure bicycle parking, and so on. I suppose it's a good thing to make a car that doesn't require any oil, but energy use is only one of the problems with cars, especially in a "livable" urban environment. Show me a car that doesn't require a parking space, then I might be interested.
It is the reason electric cars never inspired Worldchanging's Alex Steffen who wrote:
The answer to the problem of the American car is not under the hood, and we're not going to find a bright green future by looking there...The best car-related innovation we have is not to improve the car, but eliminate the need to drive it everywhere we go.
The Volt and the Leaf don't do that, they take up the same amount of space, need the same pavement and parking and infrastructure. And as pointed out in the post that started the thread at the Daily Dish, (and on TreeHugger) they may not even reduce emissions all that much.
volt sticker

The story that started the thread was Chris Korbus's complaint that the Chevy Volt is really a coal-fired car, and that the MPG ratings are meaningless and even fraudulent:

Here's where the fraud is perpetrated: the electricity for those vehicles is being generated by mostly coal power plants that are only about 33% efficient (minus transmission losses and losses from charging). Coal plants are off-site power generators (whereas car engines are on-board) and are totally ignored in the EPA rating.... The EPA is purposely comparing apples to oranges, conveniently hiding the fact that you are simply displacing gasoline usage with coal. The fact that you don't have to directly throw coal into your car doesn't mean you aren't using any.
Mike made the same point in his discussion of the MPG of the Volt and the Leaf:
The problem with this approach is that while a gallon of gasoline is a gallon of gasoline (depending on the source, the impact can be higher or lower, but there's still a clear range), the electricity used to charge the LEAF's battery can come from a wide variety of sources with a HUGE range of environmental impacts. If the LEAF is charged from a coal plant, it might not be much better than a gasoline car (and maybe even worse if it's a very old and inefficient coal plant).
John Laumer made the same point three years ago when the Tesla was launched in A Vote For Electric Vehicles Is A Vote For Coal:
Like the coal-powered 1873 Bollee Steam Car pictured here, every plug in hybrid dream and every all-electric car prototype sold in North America currently endorses a dirty-coal-fired, climate-destroying future. With over half the electricity currently produced in the US generated by coal... no intellectually honest observer can look at the all-electric, rechargeable Tesla car and see good odds for reduced climate risk.
If we are ever going to reduce our carbon footprints and get off foreign oil (since not every car will be electric for a long, long time) we need to promote dense, walkable communities, good, safe and clean transit, and bikes, lots and lots of bikes.

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