Posts Tagged 'hybrid'

Our New Honda Hybrid

2008 Honda Civic hybrid We researched ad nauseum what fuel-efficient, low-emissions car we should buy. We finally chose the Honda Civic hybrid for its great ratings all around, plus its state AND federal tax credits. We waited and waited for it to arrive at the dealership. Last night we finally brought it home.

Not a car person by nature, I’m learning new things:

  • pzev (our Honda is one) means ‘partial zero emissions vehicle’
  • the Honda hybrid still gets the $1,050 federal tax credit while the Prius does not
  • but both Prius and Honda hybrid get the $1,500 Oregon tax credit
  • new hybrids get better mileage as you keep driving them
  • (that is no excuse to drive any more than truly necessary)
  • ‘magnetic pearl’ is near-black on paper and silver-gray on a real-life car
  • car dealerships these days feature nice, high bistro tables and free coffee
  • I advise bringing your own coffee instead

Ideally, the single car my husband and I own sits at home daily and acts as a watchdog that keeps burglars away while we take TriMet to work. But now I carpool to Salem most days. Tomorrow will be our new hybrid’s maiden voyage to Oregon’s capital. With four of us in the car, we can get about 160 miles per gallon when calculated on a per person basis. Can you beat that for fuel efficiency?

Wait a minute, yes you can. Walking and bicycling get infinite miles per gallon. And since our friend is coming for dinner tonight I have to fetch a few groceries. Definitely a bike errand. Our sleek hybrid will sit at home in the driveway in all its ‘magnetic pearl’ splendor.

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Food For Biofuel? Wrong.

 While President Bush and the biofuel industry are happy with the growth of biofuel, Columbia economics professor Jeffrey Sachs is not. Neither, it seems, are millions in the world currently starving who weren’t starving prior to the push for biofuel. The food riots in at least eight countries over skyrocketing food prices may have been our first clue.

A full third of U.S. corn is now being used not for food but for fuels like ethanol. This is not about classic capitalism, the free market and Adam Smith’s invisible hand. The U.S. government subsidizes the growth of that corn.

President Bush and the biofuel industry deny a cause-effect relationship between subsidizing vast amounts of food crops to make fuels like ethanol and sharply increasing worldwide food prices. Economist Jeffrey Sachs has determined there is a cause-effect relationship between food-based biofuel, rising food prices and starvation.

Who is more objective in their assessment: a highly profitable industry and the politician subsidizing it, or a world-renowned economist and expert on poverty — a person not being subsidized, elected or paid by special interests to say or do anything in particular?

Sustainability has a triple bottom line: environment, economy and equity, as in social equity. Growing food for biofuel violates social equity altogether (and isn’t good for the environment or economy, either). In my view, growing and using food for fuel is wasteful, greedy and plain wrong.

Note that I said both growing and using. The greed is just as much on the part of consumers as producers — and we can climb out of our greed and consume fuels with more integrity and more joy. More on that in my next post. In the meantime, remember that biodiesel made from recycled restaurant vegetable oil is a different animal from the biofuel discussed here. See Heating Our House With Biodiesel.

Also coming up soon: our final decision on which hybrid car we’re buying.

Stampede To Small Cars?

The New York Times has a front-page article today about Americans making a stampede to small cars due to rising gas prices.

I read it avidly since our transportation choices form such a high percentage of our national carbon footprint (and carbon emissions are the primary cause of global warming). It turned out that one in five U.S. car purchases in April were of a compact or sub-compact car, compared to one in eight a decade ago.

This is called a stampede to fuel-efficient cars? I’m underwhelmed.

I see a misguided but very human thing playing itself out around gas prices, cars, carbon emissions and global warming. Science tells us we need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 70-85%.  Yet, media coverage and public behavior reveal a childlike desire for our lifestyles to change very little from what we’re used to — despite full evidence and knowledge that our lifestyles need to change a lot, based as they are on cheap, abundant fossil fuels.

My post on Our Next Car: Prius Or Honda Hybrid? has gotten almost as many hits as the next two most popular posts put together. Clearly, people are hot for green-tinged cars. But why aren’t we talking about cutting our driving in half, rather than having wet dreams about cars in different flavors and sizes? Where is the front-page NY Times story on how 82% of U.S. trips of five miles or less are currently made in cars, rather than on foot or bicycle? Using our bodies for transportation addresses national health and obesity problems as well as global warming. And exercise elevates mood and makes us feel happier, too.

The time when people reported the highest level of happiness in the U.S. was a time when they walked and bicycled more and drove less. Let’s not be impressed by the current so-called stampede to small cars. The transformation needed to effectively deal with global warming calls for changes in us more than in our cars.

Driving A Prius In The Wild West

My job in transportation options has taken me, in a new Prius, to the high desert town of Bend, Oregon (recently named by American Cowboy magazine in its Top Ten list of wild-west towns). The Prius, mud-splattered from the Santiam Pass, is now dusted with snow as well, so it reminds me of an Appaloosa pony.

Appaloosa mare running
photo by emokidsdontcryx3

Oh, don’t I wish. Horses are cool.

So my Prius (actually my employer’s, not mine) informs me it is getting 46 miles per gallon on this trip. Excellent mileage compared to SUV’s, and of course with every gallon of gas we burn creating 20 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions, I’m saving a few hundred pounds of emissions over driving an average car. Also, this hybrid handles and performs beautifully, front-wheel drive and all. The Prius is so popular in our motor-pool that I couldn’t extend my use of it to a third day.

The downside of not just the Prius, other hybrids and actually all gas and energy conservation measures is that if we don’t stay conscious of the reality of peak oil, we can easily offset our conservation measures to some degree by then driving or consuming more carelessly. The irony of our nation’s overconsumption is that it does not make us happier. Juliet Schor, the Harvard economist, shows this clearly in her body of research.

Bearing that in mind, I am parking my Appaloosa-colored Prius this afternoon and taking a vanpool with about ten colleagues over to Redmond, saving a few hundred more pounds of emissions. Kind of like taking a stagecoach in the days of the old West. I wish.

Happy Hybrid Easter!

Hybrid: a result of cross-breeding. Easter: a Christian holiday celebrating the resurrection of Christ — celebrated the Sunday following the first full moon of the vernal equinox.

Wait a minute. Easter is famously Christian, but its timing is completely earth-centered, ruled by nature, which is to say it is pagan. Easter is a hybrid holiday. Christianity has been shown by scholars to have deep roots in the earlier earth-centered religions, described well by Viola and Barna in their book Pagan Christianity.

I find Easter joyful. I also find working the earth joyful. The hybrid thing is in me, body and soul. I have a both/and life of going to church and also being earth-centered. The first art-show I ever did, back in 1993, was actually called Pagan Christianity (long before the above book was written).

Every year in church I sing the centuries-old hymns like “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today” and feel a deep, swimming flood of connection to all things and all people. I don’t worry about details of dogma or theology. There is so much we share in common. We all have our struggles, our dark nights, our joys and little victories. We all eat food that comes from the earth; we’re all dead without that. We all seek hope.

Jesus being resurrected after his crucifixion, his conquering of death, carries the same archetypal principle as the life-giving spring (the vernal equinox) emerging victorious from the bitter, death-dealing winter. This is not just a Christian principle, but a life principle.

Hybrid cars, very popular these days, are powered by a cross between electric batteries and a combustion engine. Like many agricultural cross-breedings, a hybrid car uses scarce resources more efficiently, more wisely than either of its parents. Maybe Easter, hybrid that it is of pagan and Christian truths, has equally good things to offer us.

Doing The Unthinkable

Every household has its own little culture. Within Thor’s and mine, I did the unthinkable last night: I drove (did not walk) the 3/10 mile from our house over to choir practice.

This was not even in the Prius or other hybrid we have yet to purchase, but in our 1993 Nissan Sentra. As I was stepping out the door to walk to the church, I realized there was a hard, driving rain. Changing into rain gear would make me late. I didn’t want to be either late or soaked, so I jumped into the car for the 3/10 mile journey. Normal in many households; unthinkable in mine.

How would I respond to a ‘normal’ person’s charge of being obsessively PC (politically correct)? Well, my answer is about context and about the dismissive power of labels.

The context is that Portland Oregon (where we live) wins awards for being the Most Sustainable City in the nation. We are ‘early adopters’ in that arena, with excellent public transit, bike lanes, land use and biodiesel availability. So my household makes choices in a city-state context of sustainability.

Concerning the label of PC or any other label: it’s a form of dismissal. For instance, to say that New Yorkers are rude, or Southerners ignorant, dismisses them from further thought. It also makes them lower-than, less worthy than the one labeling them. “Portlanders not wanting to drive? How PC!” — and the speaker and listener toss away the notion of driving less, without thinking about what they’ve tossed.

That thing of not thinking is how we’ve landed in the global warming mess we’re in.

My work-day today involves getting input from my statewide transportation-options group about my idea of an Oregon residential energy tax credit (RETC, rhymes with Betsy) for carpooling, and then meeting up with a leader of the state’s Drive Less, Save More publicity campaign.

And you can bet I will not be driving to those meetings — though I’ll admit to my colleagues my slip-up last night :).

Our Next Car: Prius Or Honda Hybrid?

With my new, longer commute we’re going to finally replace our single car, a 1993 Nissan Sentra, with a newer car. The question is: what car makes the most sense, given both that we’re thrifty and that carbon emissions are prime drivers of global warming (no pun intended)?

We sized it up last night, now that we’ve finished doing our taxes (we’re early this year). The Prius can get 50ish miles per gallon, while a Honda Civic hybrid yields 38ish, but then the Prius costs about $4,000 more. And we’re convinced gas will be at least $4/gallon for most of the car’s lifespan.

Even so, the Prius would only save us about $300/year on gas. However, it would mean we were producing 25% less carbon emissions.

Because we’re financially solid with two good salaries, we care a lot more about our carbon footprint than saving $300. But if we saved $4,000 on the purchase price, what good things could we accomplish with that money? The jury is still out, and I’m wide open to input. What do you think is the best decision?

Finally, the elephant in the room I never see anyone addressing is: what is the carbon footprint of manufacturing all these ding-dang cars in the first place? That is to say, what is their embodied energy? My hunch is that it is enormous, and dwarfs the emissions we create by driving. Please give me a link to this information.

Possibly in the global picture, the best course is to buy no new cars at all until our current ones are literally repaired to death. I realize that course would shake up the economy — but a market transformation is what it will take, regardless, to deal effectively with global warming.