Hybrid, I don't think so.

Posted: May 18, 2011 in Automotive, General, Jeep, Lotus, Subaru

In a followup to my complaint about MPG and how Hybrids don’t make financial sense, there’s an aspect to the argument that I didn’t cover which is environmental impact.

Of course our current “lineup” of vehicles is not great for the environment. Driving my Subaru 15k miles each year puts 9.3 tons of CO2 into the atmosphere. The Jeep is worse at 12.4 tons, and the Lotus is even worse at 13.3 tons (I drive the Jeep only about 500 miles a year, so my actual impact is closer to 0.4 tons, and the Lotus doesn’t drive right now, but would have a similar impact). Cara’s Corolla puts a meager 6.5 tons into the air (find your own car at http://www.fueleconomy.gov/). I care about the environment, and I know that my 9.3 tons is nothing compared to most SUVs and larger vehicles, but I’ll admit that 9.3 is pretty high (even though a newer WRX shaves about half a ton off of that).

The examples I used earlier were the Camry. The 4 cylinder Camry puts out 7.2 tons, the 6 cylinder 8.1 tons. Not surprisingly the Hybrid puts out only 5.7 tons (only 80% of the 4 cylinder). That actually looks pretty good. Over six years the Hybrid is only putting out five years worth of CO2 into the environment (compared to the four cylinder).

I think that only measuring the tailpipe emissions is only part of the story. It’s harder to quantify the impact of the cost of manufacturing two drivetrains (electric + gasoline), and the cost to the environment of making and shipping the batteries, and more importantly what the impact of disposal of the batteries have on the environment. I don’t have data (so I’m going on gut here), but I truly believe that the net benefit of “good to the environment” of a hybrid is marginal, and certainly not anything close to “the solution”.

Throwing electric cars into the mix is interesting, and something I have more faith in. There’s still a CO2 and environmental impact, but it remains to be seen what kind of realistic impact that is.

As a final word, I wonder if it might be more responsible to pay for carbon offsets instead of spend money on a Hybrid. If I wanted to be as environmentally friendly as possible I could spend $110 a year through http://www.terrapass.com/ to offset 18.6k lbs (9.3 tons) of CO2. That’s $553 over 5 years and my net global impact is almost 0 (of course that doesn’t include the environmental cost to refine and transport the extra gas I’m burning).

UPDATE: I just bought 42k lbs of CO2 offsets from http://www.terrapass.com/ which should offset the impact of our family’s impact driving and heating our house.

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