Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Samuelson slipping

Geoff at Energy Outlook comments on an OpEd piece in the Washington Post by Robert Samuelson on Prius Politics. I wanted to post the comment to his blog but couldn't get his comments page to accept my comment.

Samuelson says "Prius politics is mostly about showing off, not curbing greenhouse gas emissions."

He concludes this because the Prius has a distinct style (much more so than the similarly priced Honda Civic hybrid) and is out selling the Honda hybrid model by 5 times. The Prius also gets about 10% better mileage than the Civic hybrid, but both get twice the mileage (or more) of the average car.

Sorry, Samuelson completely misses the boat here. Prius driving is mostly about showing off?...and huge SUV/Hummer driving is about what? practicality?

The Prius is the most fuel efficient mass produced car on the road. It has taken off because many people care about the environment/dwindling oil supplies/energy security/rising gasoline costs. Take your pick.

Later Samuelson complains that "The [corn ethanol] program is mostly an income transfer from consumers to producers and ethanol refiners. Americans' oil use and greenhouse gas output haven't declined."

On oil use, he is just plain wrong! If we weren't using that ethanol in 2006 and so far in 2007, we would have used that much more oil (and gas prices would be even higher). As for wealth transfer, he may be onto something, but the fact is that the status quo is a huge wealth transfer from consumers to (largely foreign) oil producers. (to the tune of ~$800 million/day)

As far as total emissions of greenhouse gases emitted by the US not declining, Samuelson may be right, but attacking those few who are actually doing something about it (by buying and driving vehicles that are 2x as efficient) as "hippies" hardly helps matters.

I'm really not certain what Samuelson's point was in his article other than saying too little has been accomplished in the US toward reducing CO2 emission. But the way he did it really tweeks me--hence this post. There is a perception that people concerned about global warming/the enviroment want everyone to give up the modern life and go back to living in caves. Such folks may exist (I haven't met every environmentalist yet), but most environmentalists really just want people to think about what they do and figure out ways to do it using fewer finite resources. In most cases reducing waste also reduces costs (Prius's actually cost less than the average car and use half the gasoline). In the instances where the price of things (coal powered electricity is a prime example) don't capture the full costs of those goods/services to society especially the environment, then we need to figure out ways to encourage greater efficiency and switch to goods/services which may cost a bit more up front but save money in the long run.


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