Why Hybrids and EVs Are No Solution

Yesterday there was some discussion over the value of hybrids and electrics (EVs) in solving whatever climatological problems are being caused by greenhouse gas production. Some of the remarks were pretty angry or sarcastic so I thought I’d try to put more light than heat into the discussion. I’m going to be a bad storyteller and jump to the conclusion first: the effect of hybrids and EVs is negligible and will be for the foreseeable future.

First, let’s look at where emissions are coming from:

As you can see vehicle emissions from all vehicles account for a little over 25% of all greenhouse gas emissions.

Now, let’s look at what sort of vehicles are on the road:


Passenger cars account for a little over a third of all vehicles. Both of those charts come from the Department of Transportation.

The U. S. “fleet”, all of the passenger cars in the country, takes more than 20 years to turn over. That length of time is actually increasing as vehicles become more reliable. There are about 250 million cars in the United States, hybrids and EVs account for less than 2% of them, and 2012 sales of hybrids and EVs accounted for less than 3% of all passenger car sales.

Let’s start crunching numbers. First, at that rate how long will it take before all passenger cars are hybrids or EVs? Answer: at the present rate of replacement hybrids and EVs will never be more than 3% of all passenger cars in the fleet. Well, at the present rate of increase in sales how long will it take? Answer: sales of hybrids and EVs in the U. S. peaked in 2009 and have declined since then. Even if the decline in sales as a percentage of the total stops, sales of hybrids and EVs will never exceed 3%.

Okay, okay. Let’s assume that a) the lifetime savings in emissions of an EV or hybrid is 24% (the number in the article), b) the percentage of hybrids and EVs rises to 10% of all passenger vehicles (which, barring some dramatic change in purchasing behavior will never happen), and c) the size of the fleet remains the same. How much will that result in decline in greenhouse gas emissions?

That would be

24% (the savings over conventional vehicles) X 28% (the percentage of emissions due to vehicles) X 34% (the proportion of the total represented by passenger vehicles) X 10% (the assumed proportion of hybrids and EVs)

or .22%, 22 parts per ten thousand. Or, said another way, a very, very small amount. Probably too small to measure with any real confidence. That doesn’t accomplish what would need to be accomplished to reduce (or reverse) whatever global warming is occurring as a result of greenhouse gases. It isn’t even a start.

I could go on by demonstrating that the amount by which China is increasing its production of greenhouse gases exceeds that tiny amount of savings but I think I’ve made my point.

I repeat the hypothesis I stated in my previous post on this subject: emphasis on hybrids and EVs is no practical solution. It’s more credibly explained as a symbolic action with the intent of moving the Overton window.

58 comments… add one
  • Drew Link

    “Some of the remarks were pretty angry or sarcastic…”

    Really? Who’s were those? Just another day at the office…

    nyuk, nyuk, nyuk

  • michael reynolds Link

    1) If I am not mistaken that “light truck” category is also essentially passenger vehicles — SUV’s, pick-up trucks. Not sure what impact that has on the stats, but as hybrid versions of SUVs are often popular — the Lexus RX line for example — you may have missed some of the impact.

    2) EV and hybrid sales may have peaked in 2009 because they are generally more expensive and the economic downturn forces folks to make short-term decisions about money — save on the sale price, push the gas costs off into the future.

    3) If hybrids are such a failure I have to wonder why luxury brands are moving strongly into producing them. And non-luxury makers, too:

    Ford Motor Co. (F), which has introduced five new electric-powered models in the past year, expects its sales of hybrid vehicles to surge by fivefold in January to start a record year for the company.
    Ford will report that it sold more than 6,000 hybrid cars and utilities, led by the Fusion and C-Max models, this month, up from 1,209 a year earlier, the Dearborn, Michigan-based company said in an e-mailed statement. For all of 2012, Ford came within 500 hybrid deliveries of its record, set in 2010.


    “We are looking toward 2013 as being a record sales year for our hybrid vehicles,” Erich Merkle, Ford’s sales analyst, said in an e-mail. Of Ford’s hybrid sales last year, 55 percent occurred during the fourth quarter, he said.

    4) The fact that something is not “the” solution does not mean it cannot contribute to a solution. The fact that a problem is not entirely solved does not mean it cannot be ameliorated. That small improvement is an improvement nevertheless. I don’t quite see the point in heaping scorn on buyers who are making small but measurable individual contributions.

    5) The focus of the original piece was on localism. I’d be very surprised if sales of EVs and hybrids were as low as your 3% figure here in the Bay Area. Here in Marin the Priuses are everywhere and even Volt sightings are becoming more frequent. I suspect the percentages will be higher in areas where pollution is a bigger problem — cities like LA, for example.

    6) Finally, the original piece also treated anthropogenic global warming as an issue still in doubt. It is no longer in serious doubt.

  • Drew Link

    I call Dave’s post the pragmatists view. Its similar to mine, although I am more strident: I think the science is nowhere, and that other variables absolutely dominate greenhouse gases.

    And let’s remember, the 24% number is theoretical, based upon car/battery life that is not real and electricity production feedstocks that will only change modestly in the next 50 years.

    So to listen to the AGW hystericals, the effects will be here in spades long before we in the US, or US and Europe combined could really do anything about it. NYC will be under water. Hurricanes will devastate. Tornados will have flattened the Midwest. Food production will be nonexistant..

    If you really, really believe in AGW and its supposed effects, you would either a) immediately move to Hawaii and bring along little froggie native girls (let’s see if anyone gets THAT arcane reference) and enjoy a Bacchanalian retreat with what’s left of your pathetic little life or b) nuke China and India immediately.

    Else we are doomed. DOOMED I tell you!!

  • PD Shaw Link

    @michael, (5) I think most of the priuses you see are simply john personna, driving up and down the coast and around in circles all of the time. I think we established in previous threads here and at OTB that he consumes more gasoline with his prius than Dave (certainly) and me (very probably).

    I don’t bring this up to bash john, he loves his car and is happy driving it, but he is the living embodiment of Jevon’s paradox, increased fuel efficiency leads to an increase in usage. Its not simply the vehicles that matter, but how you use them.

  • michael reynolds Link


    By “hystericals” you of course mean, “every reputable climate scientist on earth.”

    Personally, I’m not worried by global warming. I imagine we’ll adapt. But it’s absurd to pretend, Drew, that you are an expert on global warming or that your uninformed and politically-motivated guesses should be taken seriously.

    That said, is there some down side to EVs or hybrids that I’m not seeing? Is there some reason we should be attacking people who bought them?

    Even by Dave’s numbers, a small improvement is being made. And given the fact that manufacturers continue to push these vehicles and car sales overall are improving, I don’t think Dave’s numbers can be taken as seriously predictive of the next decade or so.

  • PD Shaw Link

    I’m not as pessimistic about hybrids and EVs as Dave. For example, Caterpillar unveiled a hybrid excavator last year that is capable of recouping its higher cost in one year. My criticism is that the government is wasting money by subsidizing favored technologies. AFAIK CAT didn’t receive subsidies to develop hybrid technology; figuring out how to power on-site construction equipment, either with electricity or diesel, have been long-term research issues. What CAT publicly complains about is being taxed for its R&D.

  • michael reynolds Link


    Hah! That may be John. In which case I’d like him to haul his hybrid ass up the hills on the 101 a bit faster. So tired of having to punch past the Prius brigade to get anywhere.

  • My criticism is that the government is wasting money by subsidizing favored technologies.

    That’s really the essence of the point I’m making. If the status-conscious (remember the definition of “smug”: a Mac user who drives a Prius with an Obama sticker on the bumper–probably a familiar sight where Michael is) wish to buy hybrids and EVs, I have no problem with it. I just think we’d be better off subsidizing something else.

  • Icepick Link

    EV and hybrid sales may have peaked in 2009 because they are generally more expensive and the economic downturn forces folks to make short-term decisions about money — save on the sale price, push the gas costs off into the future.

    Yes, and the economy is getting better?

    Further, one has to drive a hybrid for a long time (which varies with gasoline prices) before one makes up the added cost at purchase + interest from financing.

    Another point: Hybrids are heavier vehicles than non-hybrids of the same make. That adds to more wear and tear on the roads and on tires. I have no idea what the weight differences are with electric vehicles, although if I had to guess I guess they would be lighter. Since we’re talking about millions of vehicles these things should be considered.

    Basically it is like this: When and if we (my wife and I) purchase another vehicle, there is ZERO chance we will buy a hybrid or electric vehicle unless the gas prices rise even beyond the wet dreams of Obama and his first energy secretary, and even then we’re unlikely to do so. The added prestige (of being someone who loves the smell of their own farts) isn’t worth the economic cost: It’s not enough car for the money.

    But we will continue to subsidize the goddamned things because smug bastards love impoverishing the country for their own sense of self-satisfaction.

  • The curb weight of the base model 2012 Camry is 3,190 lbs. The curb weight of the base model 2012 Camry hybrid is 3,435.

  • Icepick Link

    Yeah, but what I don’t know is how much would an electric Camry would weigh? (Yeah, I know, they don’t make them (or do they?) but that’s the part I don’t know – what the difference in curb weight between two equivalent vehicles, one gasoline-powered and the other purely electric?)

  • BTW, the number of hybrid light trucks sold in 2012 was included in the number I mentioned above. Only about 5,000 of these have been sold since the vehicle was initially released.

  • steve Link

    “And let’s remember, the 24% number is theoretical, based upon car/battery life that is not real”

    I noted in other post that Prius batteries are expected to last 180,000 miles. Owners are reporting them lasting up to 350,000 miles.

    On topic, while I think the science is pretty good that AGW is a problem, it is the policy response which has problems. This where I tend to agree with Lonborg, and to an extent with Dave and Drew. If I had to choose between more money on research vs more on cars, I would tend towards research. However, at some point you really need to make product. I think there is a feedback loop between actually making stuff and the researches that makes things work better. Maybe just better collaboration between the practical minded engineers and the theorists? Look at the advances with organic lithium batteries and Nanowire. (Did I mention that the kid is a physics major?)

    Look at how quickly things have changed. Drew keeps thinking the batteries die after a couple of weeks (LOL), in spite of the recent news that the batteries are lasting much longer than expected and newer batteries expected to last longer. So, my gut feeling is that we should probably be pushing more on projects that have larger scales of return, like natural gas, upgrading the grid and conservation. However, I dont think there is a silver bullet solution. Adding hybrids and EVs to the mix dont seem like an especially bad idea, as long as we dont go overboard on them.


  • while I think the science is pretty good that AGW is a problem, it is the policy response which has problems.

    That’s very much my position. Right now we’re in the position that the policy proposals are laughable. According to the CBO, EVs will cost the federal government about $7.5 billion over the next few years with, essentially, no benefit.

    I return to what I’ve said before: choices can preclude other choices. You can’t spend the same dollar twice. We’d be better off spending the money in other ways.

    If people want to buy hybrids and EVs at what it costs the manufacturers to make them plus a little profit, I’m fine with that. I just don’t think we should have any illusions that is does anything material about AGW.

  • michael reynolds Link

    If hybrids and EV’s make a contribution to reducing concerns about global warming, and reduce pollution, and reduce our dependence on Pentagon-guaranteed energy — and to varying degrees they do all those things — I really don’t get why some subsidy is a terrible idea. We should subsidize oil but not subsidize batteries? Because oil importation hasn’t caused us any problems?

    I mean, yeah, I get the weird class hostility, as misplaced and emotional as it is. Because hybrid subsidies are the problem, that’s how rich people are screwing America. Right.

    Of course we have to set aside the fact that rich people and middle class people — the hybrid-driving classes — actually pay the taxes, but hey, why complicate things? Movie stars screwing burger flippers to make guilt-induced car purchases so they can look cool. Yes. That’s it. That’s why my kid’s teacher drives a hybrid, because she’s secretly a rich movie star and wants to look cool.

    Whining about curb weight and damage to roads is especially ludicrous. Let’s get rid of those 3400 pound Camrys and stick with our 4500 pound gas guzzlers. Why? Because Ed Begley, that’s why. Hate that guy, so smug and all. Plus liberals and Obama and a grab bag of resentments.

    The argument that global warming is a myth doesn’t stand up. The argument that EV’s and hybrids are not the final solution is a straw man – no one claims otherwise.

    The point that there are externalities specific to hybrids is interesting, but relevant only if we count the same with gas vehicles.

    The argument that we should not be subsidizing small improvements in our environment and global strategic situations is interesting but has not been made but merely stated, in my opinion.

    The argument that rich movie stars screw poor taxpayers is self-refuting – poor people don’t pay taxes, rich movie stars do.

    The argument that practical applications of technology in the real world do not influence further development of the technology strikes me as obviously false — all technology is in the end tested in the real world, and the result is almost always a greater understanding of that technology.

    The notion that 2009 should be used as a baseline is faulty on its face: why would we pick the depths of a sales downturn driven by broader economic problems to assess the future of a particular technology?

    Finally, extrapolating into the future on the grounds that current technology is at X point is a losing game. The Wright Brothers flew in 1903. Within a decade airplanes were bombing and strafing trenches. Were people standing around at Kitty Hawk predicting that? Were they predicting 2.75 billion passengers a year? Were they predicting FedEx? The propeller will never be powerful enough to. . . Yeah, so: jets. But no props, no jets.

  • jan Link

    That was an impressive and detailed analysis, Dave!

    The adamancy of the warmists, in saying climate change is definitely caused by anthropologically produced greenhouse gas emissions, though, reminds me of the locked-in viewpoint that high cholesterol leads to heart disease. By encasing such medical claims as scientifically irrefutable, even young people, with cholesterol higher than the established norms, are often put on statin drugs and low fat diets. Consequently, it is estimated that 25% of the population is currently on cholesterol-reducing drugs. However, we are also experiencing an explosion of diabetes, obesity and even ED in men. Remember, when cholesterol is lowered so is hormone production, leading to a string of negative side effects.

    So many side effects of cholesterol lowering drugs are caused due to their inhibition of proper hormone synthesis from cholesterol. The most common side effects of statin drugs are: loss of use physical strength, sexual dysfunction, memory loss, liver dysfunction, changes in mood, myopathy and several other symptoms.

    Evidence, though, is mounting, along with a greater number of Cardiologists’ receptivity to said evidence, that there are other factors more important than the old conventional cholesterol tests — ones which highlight better markers indicating either the presence or a vulnerability to heart disease. Blood tests such as the Lipoprotein Particle Test (LPP) or the Vertical Auto Profile (VAP) are gaining credibility in the medical community, as far as offering more accurate and detailed measurements of what actually leads to heart disease. And, because of this, there is a gradual paradigm shift occurring in the belief that it is inflammation in the arterial walls, not the amount of cholesterol, that is the real culprit behind clogged arteries.

    Nevertheless, in what is considered more and more to be a misdiagnosis of what causes heart disease, we have seemingly self-imposed a myriad of other medical problems (side effects) onto an innocent public who simply doesn’t know any better. And, however misguided we may be on the factual authenticity of scientific/medical ‘experts,’ it will still not mitigate the ensuing chaos and/or damage inflicted on a number of people because of the unintended consequences of a false cause-and-effect call.

    This medical analogy was given as a cautionary reminder that the same could happen, should the shrillness of warmist advocates win out, closing a trap door on further investigations into climate change conditions. And, the ultimate costly side effects, in implementing this speculative and highly disputed hypothesis, would certainly be of no benefit to our already struggling economy.

  • sam Link


    “AFAIK CAT didn’t receive subsidies to develop hybrid technology”

    As they say, money is fungible: $100 Million Club


    Awarded at least $199 million ($196 million since 2007) from 70 grants in 17 states.

    I went looking PD because I cannot believe that there is a large company in the United States that does not or has not, at some time, received taxpayer-supplied funding, be it state or local.

  • sam Link

    I of course meant, ‘state or federal’

  • steve Link

    Link to CBO article.


    The subsidy will run about $1.3 billion/year. But, we also know the following. First, the batteries are lasting twice as long as indicated in his article (at least). That should at least double that 24% number. We also know that electricity from coal is decreasing as natural gas drives it out. Nanowire batteries should be arriving soon, with organics a bit behind. that will make them more commercially viable and decrease their carbon impact, further raising that 24% which has already been doubled.

    None of that happens w/o the initial investment. The technology is being spun off into other sectors with spillover effects. Is this enough to justify the expenditure? As the CBO notes, it is a long term investment. It looks to me like the private and research sectors have responded pretty well and progressed pretty quickly and we have had rapid change in battery development. I would favor continuing for a while, but then I know from my past investing that I am prone to the sunk cost problem.


  • PD Shaw Link

    @sam, my point was that AFAIK CAT wasn’t given a government subsidy to develop electrical engines or batteries for its construction equipment. michael tends to think that if Uncle Sam doesn’t write a check to a company or give them a tax credit, they wouldn’t be looking for ways to improve their product anyway. Lobbyist like that outlook, but I don’t think its true. I also think many of the people that bought electric cars would have bought them without the tax break.

    But your right CAT will take and shop for government handouts with the rest of them.

  • PD Shaw Link

    BTW/ sam, this is why I’m skeptical about claims that people are opposed to tax loopholes for the wealthy. The average Volt purchaser makes a $175,000 per year and could easily afford a $40,000 car, but its apparently widely popular. I suspect many tax loopholes similarly contain private advantage for public popularity.

  • steve Link

    jan- Just so you know, inflammation is the new (again) hot topic in medicine. We may change our opinions about cholesterol, or we may not. I am just careful about jumping on the inflammation bandwagon.


  • steve Link

    PD- Agreed. Tax loopholes/expenditures are insidious. Give someone govt money and people complain. Create a tax loophole or expenditure and people are just being allowed to keep more of their own money.


  • Icepick Link

    Because hybrid subsidies are the problem, that’s how rich people are screwing America. Right.

    It’s $7.5 billion dollars. Against the rest of the federal budget, that isn’t huge. But it isn’t trivial, either. But hey, deficits only matter when Republicans are in charge.

    I mean, yeah, I get the weird class hostility, as misplaced and emotional as it is.

    Right. Drive up costs and taxes and cut benefits that the poorer classes need, and subsidize something that only benefits people in the upper income brackets. No reason for us stupid poor folk to get upset about our betters looting the treasury. But hey, you’re only looting the treasury a little, right?

  • jan Link


    Appreciate your tempered comment regarding inflammation. I agree that jumping on band wagons can produce hasty but inaccurate judgments, which can then create haphazard and sometimes harmful remedies, as to their unintended side effects.

    This is what I think about the interpretative data produced from various GW ‘experts,’ as well. This is why I included a topic that has little relationship to GW, except as an analogy for how opinions and paradigms can change, with the introduction of more information and new/better measurement methods.

  • Icepick Link

    It’s funny, the numbers can’t possibly make such vehicles more than a drop in the bucket BEFORE considering rapid industrialization in the places like China, India, Brazil, and yet you liberal wealthy people are still whining for your subsidies. Truly, it’s amazing to watch. So far this year my wife and I have had increased taxes take a bite out of our asses, increased gas costs take a bite out of our asses, increased healthcare costs take a bite out of our asses, and so on and so on, and you assholes in the top ten % aren’t willing to give up a goddamned thing to sacrifice for fiscal responsibility. What a bunch of looters.

  • michael reynolds Link


    The science is as settled on GW as science generally is on anything. That’s not to say it couldn’t still prove to be wrong, but beyond a certain point people are just refusing to believe to refuse to believe. There’s no longer any convincing case for skepticism.

    In any event, what is harmed by making efforts to reduce greenhouse gases? At the very worst if everyone buys an EV or hybrid the air is a bit cleaner and we use a bit less oil.

  • michael reynolds Link


    What have we spent on ensuring a free flow of oil from the middle east? A trillion since the 40’s? Two trillion? What would the price of a gallon of gas be without the US Navy? And who pays for the Pentagon?

    Personally I’d let the subsidies lapse in a few years once they’ve helped to establish this market. We paid for the highways, we subsidized rail, we subsidized air travel, we subsidized telecommunications and the internet. By hook or by crook we’ve subsidized a lot of fledgling industries (and then unfortunately kept on well past the fledgling stage). The Pentagon has subsidized the hell out of technologies that have proven very useful. GPS comes to mind. Our main competitors — China, Europe — regularly subsidize their industries. Ideology aside, I don’t see a big practical problem with subsidy in the abstract. If we had a way to sunset those supports that’d be helpful.

  • Andy Link

    Posted this in the other thread, meant to put it here:

    Of course the 90% solution is to go with diesel, which is pretty common in Europe. I’m looking at the Consumer Reports mileage figures (based on actual testing of real-world driving conditions, not EPA estimates which can be wildly inaccurate), and the Volkswagon TDI diesels are just as fuel efficient as most hybrids. And they are significantly better than a Chevy volt running on its gas engine (it can run on electricity for 25-50 miles, then switches to a small gas engine which only get about 32mpg). So, for anyone doing a lot of miles, a diesel is a much more efficient choice. The Prius is a clear front-runner, however, about 10-15% better mileage than other hybrids and the diesels.

    Finally, I think there is a right way and a wrong way to provide incentives. Subsidizing gasoline and infrastructure for cars incentivizes more driving and less effficient vehicles. Turning around and subsidizing “green” alternatives is exactly the wrong thing to do – the subsidies work at cross purposes and the “green” alternatives will never be able to compete without subsidies. Best to put the cart before the horse rather than dump a bunch of money at a technology that might not be economically viable.

  • michael reynolds Link


    I agree re: diesel. Everyone in Europe drives diesel and when I’ve driven them they get astonishing mileage. But I had the impression there was some compelling argument against diesel in the US, though I don’t recall what it was.

    the “green” alternatives will never be able to compete without subsidies.

    Aren’t you a bit leery of being so categorical?

  • Andy Link

    In any event, what is harmed by making efforts to reduce greenhouse gases?

    If the efforts are free, then there’s no harm. The problem is that the efforts are not free.

    Also you point out we’re subsidizing oil. Are we to believe the answer to that is subsidy for potential competitors to oil? How does that make sense?

    You bring up highways. Well, if we’re going to “go electric” then we’ll need big investments in electrical infrastructure. That is something government could and should provide incentives for. And then there’s local generation – something our grid isn’t really built to handle and is about impossible from a regulatory standpoint.

    Consider the historical context – we didn’t get to where we are by pure chance. It was government investment in highways that helped kill off rail and make suburban sprawl possible. It was centralized rural electrification that killed off local and point generation. This isn’t to say that we should have gone with rail instead of highways, but one must be aware of the long-term effects of such choices and, at the very least, align incentives with a coherent vision and policy, not what happens to be politically convenient at the time.

  • Andy Link

    Aren’t you a bit leery of being so categorical?

    Ok, never is obviously too strong a word. The point I was trying to make is that “green” alternatives will probably need significant subsidies as long as the sources they are supposed to replace are also receiving subsidies.

  • michael reynolds Link

    Are we to believe the answer to that is subsidy for potential competitors to oil?

    If option A means war in the middle east and option B means no war, shouldn’t we happily subsidize B? (I’m overstating obviously, just to make the point clearer in the abstract.) In theory wouldn’t that make a lot of sense?

    And let’s say for the sake of argument that hybrids really would make a difference in global warming. Lets pick a number, say a trillion bucks to adapt to GW. If subsidizing alternate energy cut that cost by adaptation cost by 300 billion, wouldn’t it make sense to support such an effort to the tune of something less than 300 billion?

    As for investing in a more efficient and robust grid, that’s something we should do regardless of EV’s, but if done it would probably make electricity less expensive (eventually) and thus improve the economics of EVs. Throw in solar charging stations in some areas (California’s Interstate 5 being a good example) and shift away from coal to natural gas and the numbers improve again.

    Wouldn’t pushing for EV’s in turn create the political will to improve the grid? Wouldn’t you quite possibly get a self-reinforcing cycle that resulted in major long-term improvements? Isn’t that in effect what happened with the federally financed interstates, that more interstates demanded more gas stations and restaurants and hotels? And wasn’t the end result quite amazingly profitable when weighed against even the very substantial taxpayer cost?

  • Icepick Link

    GPS was subsidized to provide for a military need. It turns out it could be applied elsewhere. The same is true for many electronic subsidies.

    Subsidizing rail, roads and canals at least had a rationale that made some modicum of sense: Increased traffic in goods and people.

    Subsidizing EV and hybrids accomplishes what? Well, you’re STILL going to be subsidizing roads because hybrids don’t fly through the air. So you gain nothing there. You’re still going to want to fly all over the place, so we’re still going to have to subsidize some sort of stability in the global oil markets. No gain there. We’re still going to have to import stuff from east Asia, and I don’t think anyone is working on EV for shipping. (That would be the mother of all extension cords.) So you need oil for that too.

    Seriously, all you’re doing is supporting the existing type of transportation scheme for a drop in emissions that will be wiped out if a big herd of cows in Texas takes to farting more than usual, not to mention what will happen if the BRICs keep expanding their industry.

    So the effect is that you want another subsidy for some of the biggest companies on the planet to benefit the feelings and pocketbooks of the wealthiest 5% or so of the population.

    It’s so fucking stupid that it buggers the mind of anyone that has functioning neurons.

  • jan Link

    In any event, what is harmed by making efforts to reduce greenhouse gases?

    It’s a matter of “do no harm” principles, Michael. My husband and I have been avid environmentalists since our early 20’s. We’ve researched wind mills on a rural property when we were 32 years old. We’ve been composting and recycling since forever. Water-saving sevices have been installed in our home and properties before they were mandated by law. We have solar panels on our southern CA home, and would like to put them on our N. CA one, except we are surrounded by redwoods, and don’t receive enough direct sunshine to make it worthwhile. Our cars are medium in their gas consumption — our mini cooper holding honors for MPG.

    However, I’m a realist regarding how far environmentalism should go before it creates a down side in it’s implementation. I think the current electric car craze is kind of stupid, being more symbolic of people showing they are trying to be kind to the planet than really doing any real good, in the long run. The electric consumption utilized to make the batteries, the isolated places supplying plug-in refueling, and the as-yet-to-be-considered disposal of all these batteries concern me.

    At Harris Ranch, CA. an isolated outpost of civility on the I5, there is an electric car plug-in. The only problem is that it is solely reserved for the owners of that enterprise, who own expensive Tesla Roadsters — $100 thousand plus electric cars. My husband and I were sharing a sandwich there a few weeks ago, and watched the owner pulling into the plug-in station, unlocking it for his own personal use. Now how is this helping the ordinary public in any way? What many electric car purchases have turned out to be are nothing more than a superficial symbol of being environmentally compliant. However, there are those of us, in less splashy ways, who have been observing environmental discipline in much smaller gestures — ones that don’t get attention, but nevertheless help protect the natural assets that need more respectful usage.

  • michael reynolds Link


    You avoid the fact that we don’t just subsidize roads, we subsidize gasoline, and we do it by incurring huge military expenses and by accepting risks — terrorism, war. Not to mention the effect on balance of trade.

    We are becoming somewhat more self-sufficient in energy, but still rely on imports. Lower our consumption and we’d have less concern with Persian Gulf oil, right? At some point the rising domestic energy line and the sinking domestic usage line cross. We could shift that burden onto the shoulders of the Chinese and Europeans and save a few bucks. And we could avoid sending trillions of dollars to dangerous and unstable areas of the world.

    And of course less burned oil means less pollution and lower medical costs associated with inhaled particulates.

    So, setting aside GW entirely, it’s an indisputably good thing if we reduce our energy use. Add GW back in — and I’m sorry, but I think the numbers Dave cites are dubious given the various exceptions noted above — and it may be an even better thing. Do EVs and hybrids lower our energy use? Clearly.

    Yes, the Chinese can wipe out the effect on GW. Absolutely. Which is why EVs and hybrids are not our only approach. But it is worth noting that China is suffering terribly from urban pollution and is pushing on its own for hybrids and EVs to ameliorate their own problems.

    Will the Chinese government subsidize Chinese developments in batteries? The question answers itself: government and industry are one in China.

    So we should refuse to assist a technology that is likely to be critical, a technology that improves our global strategic posture, that lowers our risk of military confrontation, that improves the quality of our air and our health and may help to ameliorate the effects of GW? And why? Because we all agree Ed Begley is kind of a douche?

  • jan Link

    I would like to address the often reiterated phrase regarding experts saying this or that, which somehow sinks their theories into sanctimonious cement, immune from criticism or questions, for all time.

    After all, experts are ordinary people with extraordinary educational/professional credentials. I respectfuly give them their proper due, for accumulating more knowledge than most people on the planet. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean they are always right. In fact those, with only wisdom and common sense gracing personal resumes, oftentimes pose counter-intuitive assessments, more fortified with simplicity and workable solutions than those having attained notable scientific notoriety. Unfortunately, they are the ones often dissed, as not knowing what they are talking about.

    However, I listen to everyone, and don’t judge individuals by their degrees, but by how logical and/or pragmatic their POVs seem to be. And, oftentimes, it is the common man that makes the most sense of things.

  • jan Link

    Yes, the Chinese can wipe out the effect on GW.

    It’s not only the Chinese, but also India and Russia who do nothing about reducing their pollution or carbon emissions. That’s the main reason why Bush didn’t sign on to the Kyoto Treaty.

    Fossil fuels, natural gas are prolific and our most reasonably-priced sources of energy. IMO, we should be exploring and putting these natural resources into use, while, at the same time, introducing and growing alternative green energy into our economy. It should be a slow, easy transition into the latter, from the former, rather than the arm-twist that the current administration is attempting to do, at a great cost to consumers, mainly in the low and middle income classes.

  • sam Link

    One thing that we don’t talk about, and I admit it had never occurred to me until I watched last night’s NPR story, is What is the effect of all the CO2 we are pumping, and have pumped, into the atmosphere on the oceans? According to the research, it has the effect of acidifying the oceans. This has deleterious consequences for shellfish (less calcium carbonate for them to use make their shells) and coral reefs (the corals cannot tolerate the higher levels of carbonic acid – the reefs are said to be in danger of dying off completely). What the long-term effects of increasing acidification will be on marine life above the levels of corals and shellfish is not known, but it probably won’t be good. Something to think about.

  • That’s actually a more imminent danger than global warming, sam. All the more reason to pursue safer, cleaner, cheaper nuclear power since it’s the only ready alternative to fossil fuels for large-scale power production. I personally favor small thorium reactors.

  • TastyBits Link

    @michael reynolds

    I am not sure if you are aware, but with an engineering degree, one has the scientific knowledge to discuss GW. The degree requires at least chemistry, general physics, statics, dynamics, and thermodynamics, and depending upon the discipline, additional science courses are required.

    Unless you can understand the underlying science, you are making a “leap of faith”.

  • A feel for numbers really helps. That’s something that may be innate but more likely comes with working with numbers over many, many years, day in, day out.

    Icepick has a feel for numbers. I gather that you, TastyBits, have a feel for numbers. My impression is that both steve and Drew have a feel for numbers. I have a feel for numbers.

    Having a feel for numbers does not mean that one is always right. It does increase the odds a bit. I think that’s one of the problems with our Congress. Most of the guys in it haven’t dealt much with numbers since high school trig and that was sixty years ago. They’re taking the word of somebody else who may or may not know what they’re talking about.

  • TastyBits Link

    @Dave Schuler

    A while back you posted about @michael reynolds’ wife winning an award for her work. I passed along my congratulations, but I have no ability to make a value judgement about her work. I know nothing about the YA genre or market. The best I could do is to quote others, but I would have no ability to know if the people I am quoting are knowledgeable. It would be ludacris for me to get into an argument with somebody who did understand the subject matter.

    My first physics professor instilled in my a dislike for actual numbers. He used variables exclusively, and after the shock wore off, I dislike numbers. My stepson never understood why I changed numbers into letters, but now that he is in college, he may begin to get it.

    I have found that in math and science as you go higher the certainty decreases. As @Icepick noted, we are stuck in Godel’s Box.

  • sam Link

    “Having a feel for numbers does not mean that one is always right. It does increase the odds a bit.”

    Also, leaps of faith are not always wrong. I have absolutely no knowledge of the tensor calculus, but I believe the general and special theories of relativity is true. Nor do I have any knowledge of genetics, beyond what I was taught in my college class in biology, but I believe that that Darwin was right.

    We don’t want to say, do we, that unless one is trained in a technical discipline, one can have no well-founded beliefs about the subject/conclusions of that discipline? My beliefs about a whole host of subjects in which I’m not trained are based on the testimony of those who are trained in the disciplines. Surely this legitimate.

  • sam Link

    Just to be clear, I’m not here arguing for the correctness of my beliefs, only that I’m justified in holding them.

  • steve Link

    “My impression is that both steve and Drew have a feel for numbers.”

    Some. My son is a computational physics major and talking over his courses with him I realize how much I have forgotten or never knew. What I am better at is reading literature. I read a fair number of journals and subscribe to a service that collates many other articles for me. You learn to listen for study dates, inclusion criteria, exclusion criteria and the size of the study, among other things. After doing it for over 30 years I think you develop a sense for which studies just sound sketchy.


  • leaps of faith are not always wrong

    Sure. It’s possible to win big by always betting on red. But the odds are against it.

  • PD Shaw Link

    @sam, until we become a STEM-ocracy, where math majors become kings, cities will never have rest from their evils.

  • steve Link

    PD- Coming from a family heavy on engineers, let me say that a government run completely by engineers just might be worse than one with all lawyers. Doctors might be even worse.


  • I think steve’s right on that. Being ruled by mathematicians or engineers would be a problem. Thinking that they have contributions to make and skills that are worth applying doesn’t mean that I think that they should be thought of as philosopher-kings.

    I generally agree with Madison. The members of Congress should be land owners, merchants, and members of the learned professions, pretty much in that order. Right now we’re pretty lawyer-heavy.

  • Although that does remind me of one of my favorite jokes.

  • PD Shaw Link

    I was hoping sam might appreciate the Plato allusion. I think he brings up an important issue about how we demarcate the role of policy and the role of science and technology in our country.

    One place we do that is in the D.C. Circuit court, where non-scientifically trained judges review regulations s to determine whether administrative agencies are behaving in a “scientific fashion.” Like sam, I think that there is a lot a non-scientist can do in this area through the skills of close-reading, logic and rhetoric to evaluate “a science,” but it only goes so far. Unlike sam, I guess I don’t find the actions and temperament of those engaged in the actual research and those actually engaged in skepticism of client science to be presenting themselves in a manner that gives me confidence. So, I remain agnostic.

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