Global Skywatch

Ted’s essays

dark green Pious

While GOING GREEN is popular and feels good for thoughtful inhabitants of this planet, it is often not as simple as many would like to think. While taxpayer subsidies often obfuscate proper accounting, those costs remain very real.

Most people purchase their Prius for $30,000 feeling by paying double for an “economy car” is a small price to pay for lower fuel consumption and reduced negative environmental impact. That assumes going 45 miles on a gallon of gasoline instead of 30 is the end of the argument.

45 mpg x $3/gallon x 100,000 miles = $6,667

First let me blow the doors off their personal accounting. I averaged 45 mpg from a ’91 Honda CRX HF that you can buy today for $3,000. Same fuel consumption for one tenth the entry fee. If we consider insurance, registration, maintenance cost, the old Honda wins even bigger.

30 mpg x $3/gallon x 100,000 miles = $10,000

There are a plethora of neat used cars out there getting 30 mpgs or better costing under $10,000, well under. Fuel economy is not identical to personal economy.

Unfair, you say. Some people do not want used cars. Fine. For $10,000 less there are plenty of choices, regular gasoline non-hybrids delivering 40 mpg or better.

40 mpg x $3/gallon x 100,000 miles = $7,500

Most new economy cars live up to that name. Save ten grand on the purchase price and pay $833 more over the next hundred thousand miles for fuel.

So it is not about personal money saved

They are saving the planet, or doing their share. But are they? A quick look around says, “Maybe not.”

Does hybrid car production waste offset hybrid benefits?

According to an in-depth study by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory, hybrid cars do, in fact, require more energy to produce than conventional cars, emitting more greenhouse gases and burning more fossil fuels during the manufacturing process. The production of hybrid batteries, in particular, requires much more energy than producing a standard car battery and results in higher emission levels of gases like sulfur oxide [source: Burnham et al].

But do the environmental impacts of hybrid vehicle production outweigh the long-term benefits of driving a cleaner running automobile? That answer is a resounding “no.” If you drive both a conventional and hybrid car for 160,000 miles (257,495 kilometers), the conventional vehicle requires far more energy to operate and emits far more greenhouse gases over its lifetime, significantly canceling out any imbalance during the production stage [source: Burnham et al].


Is the Prius Bad for the Environment?

An article in Wired’s car blog Autopia covered this topic quite eloquently, concluding, “You might feel better driving a hybrid, but you won’t necessarily be greener.”

That’s because each Prius consumes the equivalent of 1,000 gallons of fuel before its odometer clicks to 1. As we saw above, this is due to the manufacturing and shipping costs associated with the Prius. So while the Prius may not be worse for the environment than a Hummer is, it certainly would be given a run for its money when put head-to-head with a used car with reasonable fuel economy.


Prius Outdoes Hummer in Environmental Damage

Building a Toyota Prius causes more environmental damage than a Hummer that is on the road for three times longer than a Prius. As already noted, the Prius is partly driven by a battery which contains nickel. The nickel is mined and smelted at a plant in Sudbury, Ontario. This plant has caused so much environmental damage to the surrounding environment that NASA has used the ‘dead zone’ around the plant to test moon rovers. The area around the plant is devoid of any life for miles.

The plant is the source of all the nickel found in a Prius’ battery and Toyota purchases 1,000 tons annually. Dubbed the Superstack, the plague-factory has spread sulfur dioxide across northern Ontario, becoming every environmentalist’s nightmare.

“The acid rain around Sudbury was so bad it destroyed all the plants and the soil slid down off the hillside,” said Canadian Greenpeace energy-coordinator David Martin during an interview with Mail, a British-based newspaper.
All of this would be bad enough in and of itself; however, the journey to make a hybrid doesn’t end there. The nickel produced by this disastrous plant is shipped via massive container ship to the largest nickel refinery in Europe. From there, the nickel hops over to China to produce ‘nickel foam.’ From there, it goes to Japan. Finally, the completed batteries are shipped to the United States, finalizing the around-the-world trip required to produce a single Prius battery. Are these not sounding less and less like environmentally sound cars and more like a farce?

Wait, I haven’t even got to the best part yet.

When you pool together all the combined energy it takes to drive and build a Toyota Prius, the flagship car of energy fanatics, it takes almost 50 percent more energy than a Hummer – the Prius’s arch nemesis.

Through a study by CNW Marketing called “Dust to Dust,” the total combined energy is taken from all the electrical, fuel, transportation, materials (metal, plastic, etc) and hundreds of other factors over the expected lifetime of a vehicle. The Prius costs an average of $3.25 per mile driven over a lifetime of 100,000 miles – the expected lifespan of the Hybrid.

The Hummer, on the other hand, costs a more fiscal $1.95 per mile to put on the road over an expected lifetime of 300,000 miles. That means the Hummer will last three times longer than a Prius and use less combined energy doing it.


I did let my miserly HF go, though I don’t remember why. Since then I went back to Honda’s old CRX in the form of their higher-performance model that was subsequently, and quite seriously pumped up by a couple of dedicated autocrossers. Even with the engine on steroids and my inability to resist applying the loud pedal from time to time, I consistently am over 30 mpgs tank after tank.

The complete environmental impact of building a car for Ted = 0. I merely extended the life of yet another car built originally for someone long ago and re-used over and over again.

RE-USE trumps RE-CYCLE every time.