Friday, March 11, 2011

Environmentalism – Sanctimony Is Thy Name

Before I get into this I should say that I do care about the environment. A lot. As a fisherman, hunter, canoeist, surfer and cyclist I am “in” the environment quite a bit. I want it to be clean. I want lots of healthy fish and animals available to me to humanely dispatch and put on my plate. I want the rivers and lakes to be clean and enjoyable. However, there is something that bugs me about many “environmentalists”. A disconnect between that which they say and do and the actual impact of those words and actions.

A few years ago during a period of exceptionally high oil prices the cry arose across the land; “Drill Here, Drill Now!” The acclamation was met with the specious argument that if we were to begin drilling now the impact on our domestic oil supply would not be felt for years…so we didn’t. We didn’t open up new permits for millions of square miles of near-shore & deepwater drilling opportunities on the East, Gulf and West Coast, we didn’t tap into ANWR, we didn’t go after the Colorado oil sands and we didn’t tap into the Bakken formation in the Dakotas. Well, it’s been quite a few years and here we are again. Oil is at or around $100 a barrel and batshit crazy lunatics in the Middle East threaten to drive the price even higher. What position might we be in had we decided to “open the taps” as it were on the massive domestic oil resources contained within our borders?

Allowing US oil companies to actively and vigorously pursue domestic sources of oil could have provided a tremendous impact not only on our domestic energy costs, but our economy as well at a time when a boost is sorely needed. The oil companies production costs and transportation liabilities would have been significantly reduced which would bring down the costs at the pump and power bill. With significant domestic production investment we’d have seen a large increase in job growth, not only directly in the production, but in the peripheral industries that support oil production, transportation, refining and oil field services and equipment. All of this commerce would be circulating in OUR economy and the domestic oil companies would not be forced to purchase oil from Nations who would, shall we say…wish us ill. This would have provided far more economic benefit to our nation and far more jobs than any pie-in-the-sky “green jobs investment” and certainly more than the “Pork-Tastic Stimulus Bill” did.

There is no logical reason why we now purchase over 60% of our oil from people who really don’t like us, particularly when we have gobs of it right here. The remaining 40% or so comes from Canada, Mexico and the US but the opportunities in the US are grossly underutilized. Further there is no logical reason why we haven’t built a major oil refinery or Nuclear Power plant on our shores in the last 30 or so years. So absent of logic why pray tell do we not utilize the resources we have and at great benefit to our economy, produce and refine more of our energy at home?

The easy answer that you’ll get from most enviro-types is something akin to, “Well look what happened with the BP Deepwater Horizon platform, THAT’S why.”…completely ignoring the 3858 other rigs in the Gulf of Mexico happily pumping oil (leak free…including post hurricane Katrina) …at least until our President put the kaibosh on the deepwater permits. So the issue is potential, yet very unlikely, risk to the environment and aesthetic issues. Nobody living on Cape Cod (particularly a Kennedy) wants an oil rig in the view from their multi-million dollar home. Nobody in Santa Barbara wants one either. Can’t drill in ANWR because of the animals, can’t drill in Colorado because of the pristine wilderness, can’t drill in the Dakota’s because of…..have you ever been to North Dakota?

Yet I’ve never, and I seriously doubt you’ve ever heard anyone express concern for the ecosystem surrounding the oil fields owned by The National Iranian Oil Company or Saudi Aramco.

Clearly there is a disconnect at play here and I’ll explain my personal assertion on its causes as follows: 

By any definition the original Hummer is pretty freakin cool. As a military vehicle its capabilities are legendary. In civilian trim they are supremely capable off road (although the size can be a hindrance in some situations, but the same can be said of smaller off-roaders Jeep’s, certain rock-buggies etc) and capable of towing massive loads. But the Chevrolet variant the Hummer H2 is another story….

Nothing more than a Chevy Tahoe with a really ugly body, the Hummer H2 offers absolutely nothing other than improved approach/departure angles. It’s smaller on the inside, louder, less comfortable, gets worse mileage and offers zero in terms of power or towing capacity versus the Tahoe and it costs more. It’s a completely aesthetic alternative to the Tahoe with no benefit whatsoever which comes at a significant premium relative to the Tahoe on which it is based. So why would a person buy such a thing?


People buy one of these things because they want to influence your impression of them. By virtue of their chosen vehicle they hope you see them as rugged, tough, affluent enough to flip the bird to convention and ambivalent to the premium in price. They buy one to make you think they are cool.

So what does this have to do with environmentalism? Well the guy who buys a Hummer is scarcely different from the guy who buys an “eco” vehicle like a Prius or Nissan Leaf.

Most of the nickel used in the batteries on these cars is mined in Ontario, Canada. Mining is not a clean process, lots of energy consumed and lots of diesel burned just to get the stuff out of the ground and processed. The processing releases gobs of sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere which leads to Acid Rain. Nice huh? In fact, the mine has done so much damage to the surrounding area that NASA has used the “dead zone” surrounding the mine to test prototype Mars rovers.

Then the nickel is sent via massive ore ships to a refinery in Northern Europe. Then the nickel is transported by rail to China to be converted into Nickel Foam. From there, the Nickel Foam is transported by rail and ship to Japan to be built into the battery pack. All told it takes nearly 50% more energy to bring a Prius to market than it does to bring a Hummer to market. That’s a pretty tremendous carbon footprint that has been dropped and the car has yet to be assembled. We won't even get into the impact of disposal of the batteries when their lifespan has been exceeded....yeesh.

But, you might say, there is a lower cost of ownership. Not exactly. The Prius costs ~$3.25 per mile over the course of it’s expected 100,000 mile lifespan. The Hummer on the other hand, just ~$1.95….and if you REALLY want a lower cost of ownership you really ought to be looking at a Scion xB which will cost a mere ~$0.48 per mile. Further, if you compare the premium in price of the Prius over said Scion it will take you 5 years to realize a return on investment of the premium price of the Prius by virtue of gas savings.

I’ve not even mentioned pure electric vehicles like a Leaf. They aren’t in fact zero emissions at all. The emissions just get moved to another location…a power plant and in the case of most of the US that power comes from coal. 

A coal plant produces on average 2.13lbs of CO2 per kwh vs 19.4lbs for burning a gallon of gasoline. The Nissan Leaf uses 34kwh to go 100 miles, so 72.46lbs of CO2 is produced to travel that distance. In a car that averaged 27mpg over those 100 miles 71.78lbs of CO2 would be produced. Green indeed.

So if these cars aren’t REALLY green why would someone buy them? After all, they don’t offer a benefit in cost of ownership, environmental impact, comfort and the ROI is pretty tough to realize. They buy them for the same reason a guy buys a Hummer.


People buy one of these things because they want to influence your impression of them. By virtue of their chosen vehicle they hope you see them as enlightened, compassionate, concerned and overall one who cares about the environment. They buy one to make you think they are cool.

But the cars aren’t good for the environment. They don’t save anything. In the case of pure electrics they simply take the pollution from the tailpipe and move it to the power plant with a significant loss in efficiencies due to line loss, conversion losses etc.

Combine this, with the aforementioned resistance to domestic energy production and it becomes rather clear. Environmentalists don’t so much care about the realities of their actions as the impression their actions have on you and on the world around them.

They don’t care about   THE  environment. They care about   THEIR  environment and that bugs the hell out of me.


  1. Alternative power is great, but the .gov is raising the cost of proven energy generation methods and artificially supporting non-viable alternatives while enriching themselves in the process. Modernize our nuclear plants, they were almost ALL designed in the 60's and the NRC keeps renewing the operating licenses on the cold-war era antiques!

    Good on ya True

  2. Solar and Wind are not renewable. The energy from solar and from wind is of course renewable but the devices used to capture the energy of the sun and wind is not renewable. Nor are they green or sustainable.

    An oak tree is renewable. A horse is renewable. They reproduce themselves. The human-made equipment used to capture solar energy or wind energy is not renewable. There is considerable fossil fuel energy embedded in this equipment. The many components used in devices to capture solar energy, wind energy, tidal energy and biomass energy – aluminum, glass, copper, rare metals, petroleum in many forms to name a few – are fossil fuel dependent.
    From: Energy in the Real World

  3. I see your point, and as it exists in the present day it is a valid point. And I also agree that, for some, the image benefits far outweight the actual benefits to the environment.

    But not for everyone. For some of us, purchasing a hybrid signals a desire to shift our transportation paradigm towards better fuel efficiency. Remember before oil hit $110 / barrel, car manufacturers were in a fuel-economy-be-damned horsepower race. When gas became too expensive, a shift in priority took place and a new market for fuel efficient cars was created. Now you see cars that have decent performance yet still get around 30-40 mpg.

    I've observed that people who are critical of environmentalists state that hybrids are actually more harmful to the environment than they are good. If you look at it on a per-car basis you are right. But the new image that is created by cars such as the Prius at the market level is extremely positive towards the environment at a macro view. The "image" of being eco-conscious has driven change in even combustion engines that don't use nickel batteries or local coal plants. And yes, although hybrids are not as efficient now, with economies of scale and a large enough market R&D will make them better. But that won't happen unless the market exists.

    The cars won't be perfect at first. We'll really depend on people buying a Prius today in order to reap the benefits of more efficient electric motors and larger capacity batteries tomorrow.

    Maybe people who buy a Prius are image-conscious blowhards. Or maybe they are just a group of buyers who are voting for the future of fuel efficient cars with the only thing that matters in this country: their pocketbooks. Or maybe they just want an HOV sticker. At the end of the day, the end benefit is a world with more fuel efficient cars.

  4. Maccerz, you can't see the forest for the trees.

  5. Maccerz posted:
    Maybe people who buy a Prius are image-conscious blowhards. Or maybe they are just a group of buyers who are voting for the future of fuel efficient cars with the only thing that matters in this country: their pocketbooks. Or maybe they just want an HOV sticker. At the end of the day, the end benefit is a world with more fuel efficient cars.

    The real answer is:

    Some people haven't done anything noteworthy in their own life so they cling to the hope that through a group demonstration they changed the world.

  6. Great post and certainly important points you have brought up that need to be discussed and digested. There has to be an alternative, and only through analysis and practical application will we find it.

    Best Regards,
    Albert A Rasch™
    Avoid Gettin' Snake Bit! and What to do if You do Get Bit!