Clean Cars: Salvation or Problem?

Alternative energy cars: will they be our salvation, or will they perpetuate auto-dependency? Jan Lundberg critiques the Sierra Club's longstanding priority on increasing fuel efficiency.

Jan Lundberg's scathing though perhaps scattered attack on the Sierra Club and its new leader, Michael Brune, as well as his predecessor, Carl Pope, holds no punches.

"The idea of 200,000,000 cars replaced in this country by slightly more efficient technology is the height of hypocritical idiocy, both on ecological grounds and from a peak oil standpoint. And as for the 1,000,000 animals smashed to death on U.S. roads every day by clunker and Prius alike - John Muir would not approve for one minute.

What can you expect from a magazine, Sierra, that has had full page ads from Honda and Toyota for decades? That's money in the pockets of nonprofit staffers who probably have cars too (and refrigerators, TVs, computers, etc., all of which trash the Earth when an overpopulated society is participating in consumerism)."

Thanks to Gladwyn d'Souza

Full Story: Sierra Club Slammed for "Clean Car" Opportunism



Cars need impervious surfaces

Cars need huge quantities of impervious surface. Each needs several parking spaces, home, work, shopping, etc plus all the surrounding infrastructure. They also need roads. And because of the claim that so much parking is needed everything is pushed further apart requiring even more roads, and sprawl.
All this impervious surface leads to storm water runoff, usually polluted, which degrades our streams, lakes and bays. This happens if the vehicle is a Hummer or a Prius.


Cars don't actually require impervious surface. In various places in Europe and in other countries, asphalt is not used or is used in limited applications for road surfaces. Pavers are used, underlain with sand, making a pervious surface and reducing runoff.

As for polluted runoff from a Hummer or Prius, I'd note that the pollution comes from leaking oil, antifreeze, transmission oil, and gasoline. To a lesser extent, asbestos brake linings and tire dust. Shifting to electric vehicles will eliminate the first four and probably add one or two other fluids, but likely in smaller amounts.

But here's the real change: as we shift to electricity and from petroleum, we will need to travel less. Why? Because petroleum provides something that wind-, solar-, and water-generated electricity can't: similar portable BTUs. Liquid petroleum is energy dense in ways electricity just isn't.

My prediction is less pollution and less sprawl with electricity.

Semipervious surfaces

I agree with this reply, however the roads are semipervious and slow runoff, rather than percolating and absorbing runoff. Also these surfaces still contribute to the heat island effect. Nonetheless, the points are fair and as cheap energy goes away, it is likely that we indeed will densify as alternatives are likely not out there. It is important to start allowing for wider housing and built environment choices now.



Both/And Rather Than Either/Or

I am glad Jan mentioned the 1,000,000 animals killed by cars every year in the US. To be more precise, that is 1,000,000 vertebrates. The number would be much, much, greater if we also included insects (look at the dead insects on your car's radiator and multiply by 200,000,000). Killing those insects reduces the food supply and populations of reptiles, amphibians, and birds.

But I don't think this is an Either/Or. For many decades, the federal government considered fuel efficiency and other techno-fixes to be the only way to reduce the impact of the automobile. Now, the Obama administration is promoting both fuel efficiency and what Ray LaHood calls "livable cities" - which he defines as cities where you do not need an automobile.

If we want to control global warming, we will have to focus on both of these. Even if we built only walkable neighborhoods and transit beginning tomorrow, we would still not be able to reduce automobile use quickly enough to control global warming.

Incidentally, I happen to know that one Sierra Magazine staff member does his grocery shopping by bicycle. I don't think those people decided to work for Sierra Magazine in order to put money in their pockets.

Charles Siegel

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