On Earth Day, many people with best intentions start to talk about Hybrid cars or zero emission electric cars but in my view this is about the worst thing you can do for the planet. People who buy electric cars and hybrids end up feeling justified in driving more miles. You have to remember that its carbon footprint we are trying to minimize here. If you drive you Prius 45 miles to work each way then you are much more of a “planet-trasher” than someone with a Hummer who only drives 2 miles to work. And what about those electric cars? Zero Emissions so you can drive as much as you want, right? Wrong! That power doesn’t come from the electrical fairy, it comes from a dirty coal fired power plant somewhere. All the electric car does is move the burning of carbon fuel out of your backyard into someone elses. The Tesla model T might be an amazing piece of technology but its about as eco-friendly as a Hummer in my book. Not only are its energy needs high but the environmental damage done mining the raw materials necessary to make the expensive lithium batteries.
Here is the whole spectrum in my world. If you dont care what the next generation inherits, choose options at the top. If you do care what the world is like in a few centuries, choose an option from the bottom of the list
- commute long distances in jet airliners
- communte long distances in your hummer
- commute long distances in normal single occupancy auto
- commute long distances in a single occupancy hybrid or electric
- ride share in a normal auto
- ride share in a hybrid or electric
- commute on a motorcycle
- commute using public transportaion
- commute using a bicycle or walking
- work at home, dont commute at all
If you are at the top of the list, consider moving downward. Before spending $100,000 on that Tesla Model S because it is “good for the planet”, consider other options that are far cheaper and much better like riding your bike!!!
What it comes down to is how much energy it takes to move you a mile/kilometer – thats what matters. A old fashioned diesel powered bus gets bad gas mileage when divided by the number of passengers, it becomes spectacularly high. The electric motorcycle program in China has been spectacularly successful, how is that different than a Tesla? The electric motorbikes in China use about 1/60th the electricity per mile that a Tesla does. The current crop of modern electric cars in the USA are simply too heavy and require too much energy.
For those saying “but, but, but electric is the first step”. Look, I love electric more than most because I am an engineer. I was experimenting with lithium batteries and electric motors in model airplanes a decade before the public had heard of lithium batteries. Its why I know first hand the serious problems with Lithium batteries. Electric is NOT the first step, its just repeating the same mistake. We dont need a better car, we need an efficient public transportation infrastructure like Europe has instead of a 3rd world transit infrastructure.
The truth is that there is no such thing as environmentally friendly energy. Solar comes from a very messy semiconductor manufacturing process. Hydro power requires that you put up a dam and flood pristine wilderness and block migration of many species of fish. With Nuclear, after 50 years we still dont know what to do with the radioactive waste. Switching to cleaner energy sources is great but the long term solution requires that we decrease energy consumption, not increase it. Electric cars are not that much more efficient that gas cars, the reason that electric cars have cheaper energy costs is that coal is significantly cheaper than energy that comes from oil, that and electric rate subsidies. If you plug a electric car in to charge tonight in the USA, only 12% will come from solar/hydro/wind – the rest comes from petroleum based energy.
So I know you are thinking at this point, what on earth does this have to do with fitness. As always there is a connection. The point is that you always have to think. Our educational system here in the USA is really good at turning out people who can memorize lots of stuff and pass a standardized test. The USA educational system is not so good at fostering critical thinking skills. Everyone has them, its just that society squashes them. Students who ask “stupid questions” are ridiculed into silence and accepting what the teachers tell them without question. Here I have taken a critical look at the “electric cars are green” claim. Honing your critical thinking skills is *very* important in fitness because there is so much BS. When you read or hear some fitness claim, ask the tough questions like I have here – dont accept the claims. For example, “weight workouts should be no more than an hour” – why? How is it that our bodies are so precisely tuned to the rotation of the planet that the optimal workout time is 1/24 the time it takes the planet to spin? How do you know an hour is optimal? etc etc. Please, ask questions!
OK, I am a day late with this Earth Day post.