Saturday, February 7, 2009

Fighting green car FUD

Its amazing to me that the FUD spread by big oil and big autos around climate change and green car technologies actually continues to get recycled.  I'm talking about the bogus claim that electric cars are not green because they only use power from dirty coal fired power stations.

We've been through this stuff before when the tobacco industry tried to convince everyone that their product was not a toxic killer.

Filter cigarettes are lighter, and therefore OK to keep smoking, they said via pseudo-scientific sounding mouthpieces.  Anything to convince their public not to give up the fatal but profitable tobacco product.

Now no-one that still smokes cigarettes are in any doubt what the product is doing to their health, with all packets covered with grisly depictions of the medical hazards, and the net of legislation tightening to restrict its use even further.

Does anyone doubt that we have a crisis with climate change now?  I think there are no doubts here in Australia.

David Jones, the acting head of the National Climate Centre of the Australian Bureau of Meteorology, says the recent heatwave conditions in south-eastern Australia, were related to climate change.

In this heatwave temperatures went up beyond 40 degrees celsius (104 fahrenheit) across 3 states. In Melbourne, Victoria the local morgue filled with victims of the heat.

"People will need to get used to these sort of heatwaves. As the climate heats up though this century, they are going to become much more common." says Jones.  The Bureau of Meteorology has a good summary of the reality of Global Warming and our role in it.

But incredibly we've still not learned to critically examine the claims of well-funded private sector "studies" when they support the exact line pedalled by big corporations.

The first of the FUD was the "Prius is less green than the Hummer" story.  This was back when folks were still laughing up their sleeves about climate change, and loved to seize on any chance to get one over the "greener than thou" Prius.

The story rested entirely on a "study" done by market research company CNW which never had any supporting science.  Most of their "research" was phone enquiries.

David Friedman, research director of the Clean Vehicles Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists, says “This study has been completely contradicted by studies from MIT, Argonne National Labs and Carnegie Mellon’s Lifecycle Assessment Group. The reality is hybrids can significantly cut global warming pollution, reduce energy use, and save drivers thousands at the pump” (quoted in a recent article).

The latest FUD is this line that electric cars don't reduce pollution because they just use electric power generated by coal fired power stations. Incredibly this hogwash is getting traction amongst car fanciers here in Australia.

Here is the reality: if electric cars were introduced tomorrow across the USA, without any change to the way electricity is currently produced, a 27% reduction in pollutants would result.  This is from a Department of Energy Study - not from a market research firm.

Why is this so?

There are two main reasons - pretty obvious really:
  • not all electric power is from coal fired power stations, already some power comes from clean sources such as hydro-electricity; and 
  • electric cars are more efficient per trip than petrol cars
So there are immediate upfront gains.

But the real story comes from long term benefits.  There is no feasible plan to clean up the pollution coming from a billion exhaust pipes.  But there are plenty of ways to clean up the pollution coming from power stations.  

Carbon sequestration is science fiction right now.  As far as I know it is not currently possible to run a clean coal fired power station, despite the hopes for it.  Same as hydrogen fuel cells, and clean diesels.

But we have a range of other clean power generation options, and every saving made there is a saving in clean transportation when vehicles are electric.  This is real and available now.

There is no magic filter, to make our smoking exhaust habit healthy and clean.

But we can switch to non-polluting electric cars.  Lets stop believing the FUD.

We have lots more to worry about with climate change than the beach getting closer.  We are killing our world.

Lets start doing something about it.

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