Better to write for yourself and have no public, than to write for the public and have no self. - Cyril Connolly
Wednesday, April 11, 2007
Hybrid Smackdown
Background: My Dad is an architect and a pioneer in energy efficient design. He is one of the original fathers of solar engineering. My brother specializes in energy efficiency as it relates to heating and cooling technology for a living, proudly and ideologically drives a Prius, and is an avid cyclist.

So, when the following "editorial" appeared in our hometown rag, my brother wasted no time responding to it publicly.

Long Post - worth it. If you want to avoid the obvious smackdown details and skip directly to the the last paragraph at the end - it's a great stake in the heart.

Hidden cost of driving a Prius 4/4/07

Totaling all the energy expended, from design to junkyard, a Hummer may be a better bargain.
By James L. Martin

When it comes to protecting the environment, senior citizens should concentrate more on the total energy consumed in building and operating a car than its fuel efficiency - no matter how impressive the statistics appear on the window sticker at the showroom. A prime example is Toyota's Prius, a compact hybrid that's beloved by ardent environmentalists and that fetches premium prices because it gets nearly 50 miles-per gallon in combined highway/city driving.

Yet, new data have emerged that show the Prius may not be quite as eco-friendly as first assumed - if you pencil in the environmental negatives of producing it in the first place. Like most hybrids, the Prius relies on two engines - one, conventional 76-horsepower gasoline power plant, and a second, battery-powered, that kicks in 67 more horses. Most of the gas is consumed as the car goes from 0 to 30, according to alarmed Canadian environmentalists, who say Toyota's touting of the car's green appeal leaves out a few pertinent and disturbing facts.

The nickel for the battery, for instance, is mined in Sudbury, Ontario, and smelted at nearby Nickel Centre, just north of the province's massive Georgian Bay.

Toyota buys about 1,000 tons of nickel from the facility each year, ships the nickel to Wales for refining, then to China, where it's manufactured into nickel foam, and then onto Toyota's battery plant in Japan.

That alone creates a globe-trotting trail of carbon emissions that ought to seriously concern everyone involved in the fight against global warming. All told, the start-to finish journey travels more than 10,000 miles - mostly by container ship, but also by diesel locomotive.

But it's not just the clouds of greenhouse gases generated by all that smelting, refining, manufacturing and transporting that worries green activists. The 1,250-foot-tall smokestack that spews huge puffs of sulphur dioxide at the Sudbury mine and smelter operation has left a large swath of the surrounding area looking like a surrealistic scene from the depths of hell.

On the perimeter of the area, skeletons of trees and bushes stand like ghostly sentinels guarding a sprawling wasteland. Astronauts in training for NASA actually have practiced driving moon buggies on the suburban Sudbury tract because it's considered a duplicate of the Moon's landscape.

"The acid rain around Sudbury was so bad it destroyed all the plants, and the soil slid down off the hillside," David Martin, Greenpeace's energy coordinator in Canada, told the London Daily Mail.

"The solution they came up with was the Superstack. The idea was to dilute pollution, but all it did was spread the fallout across northern Ontario," Martin told the British newspaper, adding that Sudbury remains "a major environmental and health problem. The environmental cost of producing that car battery is pretty high."

A "Dust to Dust" study by CNW Marketing Research of Bandon, Ore., shows the overall eco-costs of automotive hybrids may be even higher.

Released last December, the study tabulated all data on the energy necessary to plan, build, sell, drive and dispose of a vehicle from drawing board to junkyard, including such items as plant-to-dealer fuel costs, distances driven, electricity usage per pound of material in each vehicle, and hundreds of other variables.

To put the data into understandable terms for consumers, CNW translated it into a "dollars per lifetime mile" figure, or the energy cost per mile driven. When looked at from that perspective, the Prius and other hybrids quickly morphed from fuel-sippers into energy-guzzlers.

The Prius registered an energy-cost average of $3.25 per mile driven over its expected life span of 100,000 miles. Ironically, a Hummer, the brooding giant that has become the bête noir of the green movement, did much better, with an energy-cost average of $1.95 over its expected life span of 300,000 miles. And its crash protection makes it far safer than the tiny Prius.

Such information should be of major concern to senior citizens - especially those on a fixed budget. If seniors need a small gas-sipping car for city travel, however, the undisputed champion is Toyota's own gasoline-powered subcompact, the Scion xB, whose energy cost averaged a negligible 48 cents for each mile traveled over its lifetime.

Fully armed with all the facts, seniors may want to zip down to their nearest Toyota dealer and trade in their Priuses for Scion xBs. That would be the equivalent of reducing their energy footprint from a size 24D to about a size 5A. In the case of global warming, one small step for man may turn out to be a giant leap for mankind.

James L. Martin ( is president of the 60 Plus Association, a national nonpartisan senior citizen organization based in Arlington, Va.

Prius' carbon 'print' small 4/11/07

After reading James Martin's column on the environmental impacts of the Toyota Prius in the April 4 edition of the "hometown rag", I didn't know whether to laugh or cry.

In his column, Martin makes an absurd conclusion that a Hummer does less damage to the environment than a Prius in terms of life-cycle consumption of energy and materials.

How could the Hometown Rag print such blatantly misleading information?

The majority of Martin's argument focuses on the pollution created by a large nickel mining and smelting facility in Sudbury, Ontario. He then loosely ties the responsibility for the pollution to Toyota, and specifically the Ni-MH battery in the Prius.

He fails to mention that Toyota purchases fewer than 1 percent of the total annual nickel yield of the mine. He also fails to mention that the environmental damage near the mine occurred decades ago and has since been rehabilitated.

This should be evident to readers when he mentions the testing of NASA moon buggies on a denuded landscape.

We all use nickel in the form of coins, stainless steel, camera batteries, etc., so let's not start casting stones.

Production of a Prius does, in fact, produce more pollution than a conventional car of similar size, but when fuel economy is factored in, the difference is counteracted in the first 12,000 miles, and in a 62,000-mile comparison, the Prius reduces life-cycle carbon dioxide emissions by 35 percent.

This is public information that can be found on Toyota's Web site.

Martin then refers to a widely disputed report titled the "Dust to Dust" report, by CNW Marketing Research, which concludes that the life-cycle cost of driving a Prius is higher than that of a Hummer. It is assumed in the report that a Hummer will last three times as long as a Prius, despite the fact that Consumer Reports' reliability ratings rank the Prius as one of the most reliable cars and the H2 as one of the worst.

The CNW report also implies that the environmental impact of a 100-pound Ni-MH battery outweighs the environmental impact of producing the extra 5,700 lbs of materials that go into an H2.

Give me a break!

I have read the report. It is filled with "results" on almost every model of car made, but it does not discuss the analysis methods used to obtain the results. For what it lacks in technical content, it tries to compensate with letters, editorial articles, cartoons, poems, etc.

The report makes no reference to the National Life Cycle Inventory (LCI) Database Project, which was initiated six years ago by Ford, DaimlerChrysler and General Motors as a peer-reviewed resource for this kind of data. The report has not been acknowledged by any of the major automakers or the International Society of Automotive Engineers.

I know the Hometown Rag doesn't have the resources to check the sources and credentials of every columnist, but a little common sense and skepticism wouldn't hurt.

Printing a column that suggests senior citizens should avoid buying the most fuel-efficient car made is just downright irresponsible journalism.

Apparently the editorial in the April 4th edition of the Hometown Rag concerning hybrid cars was not only inaccurate, it was also plagiarized. The original article was written by Chris Demorro on 3/7/07 for the Central Connecticut State University student newspaper, The Recorder Online. Mr Demorro is a muscle car enthusiast that stated on numerous occasions that his opinion piece was whipped together in half an hour with no background research. You can find Demorro's editorial at
posted by Broadsheet @ 9:28 PM  
3 Editorial Opinions:
  • At April 11, 2007, Blogger Malnurtured Snay said…

    Props to your brother for the smack down - well done!

  • At April 12, 2007, Blogger jwer said…

    Yeah, and also, to quote Nelson Muntz, HA ha...

    I've always hated people that say shit like this: "And [the Hummer's] crash protection makes it far safer than the tiny Prius." Yeah, and my house is safer than a Prius, too. It also brakes better.

  • At May 21, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Unfortunately, your brother fell for one of the most utterly discredited pieces of pseudo-research to be propagated in years. Spend ten minutes looking this up on the web adn you'll find two types of posts: 1) folks who uncritically report this bogus research, and 2) folks who think about it for ten minutes and realize it's nonsense.

    Anyway, he can comfort himself that he's not alone -- George Will fell for this too. But don't take any investment tips from him!

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