What if Everything Ran on Gasoline?

“What if Everything Ran on Gas” is a smart, thought-provoking ad for the Nissan Leaf.

I’ve often thought that one of the problems environmentalists face is that most automobile emissions are not visible and smelly enough. Maybe just a law that exhaust has to be dyed sooty would be enough to get us off petroleum. The commercial does this work well.

Quite apart from contributing to global climate change, which threatens our food supplies, automobile exhaust is not good for children and other living things. Scientists increasingly suspect it is implicated in our epidemic of autism.

Of course, driving an electric car only reduces carbon emissions to the extent that the electric plant that recharges its battery is powered by non-fossil fuels, such as hydroelectric, geothermal, wind, wave or solar. But in Portugal, where 45 percent of electricity is from renewable sources, driving a Leaf would be very environmentally friendly. Or in Iowa, where 17 percent of electricity is now from wind. And my friends in California with solar panels on their homes, who actually provide electricity to the grid, would be able to charge their Leafs with virtually no air pollution.

And, the batteries and range for electric vehicles will likely improve quickly.

For more on environmental issues see Michael Klare and Bill McKibben at Tomdispatch.

6 Responses

  1. Well, unfortunately, driving a Leaf in Portugal would not be environmentally friendly, because the extra load on the grid imposed by the Leaf would be met by burning more fossil fuels….

    Electric cars will be one piece of the sustainable energy jigsaw puzzle, but we won’t have all the pieces to the puzzle in hand for a while yet.

    • What Ken and others don’t know is that wind turbines work best at night with consistent breezes. Because electricity usage is low at night, wind turbines are often turned off at night simply because the grid can’t use the electricity and there is no way to store it. Electric cars are charged mostly at night. So Portugal, California, Texas, and others who have invested in wind power, can support millions of electric vehicles on the road with existing infrastructure. What we need is an intelligent grid which would enable electric car owners to sell excess electricity from their charged batteries back to the grid during peak usage times during the day at a higher price than they paid to charge the batteries at night. For example, on a heatwave day, bike to work and make money storing electricity with the car.

  2. Buying a Leaf, or any other electric or hybrid vehicle, does nothing to reduce the pollution of building it. Mining or processing the steel, copper, aluminum, rubber, ect., and assembling the car pollute more than driving it. We have plenty of cars already and they can last indefinitely if we want then too (see Cuba). Do we need more cars?

    • In fact, we don’t know what the repair record of an electric car will be like once we get past the teething stage, but there’s reason to believe that it has a lot fewer things that can go wrong – besides the fact that gas-engined cars pollute more as they get older. You’re getting rid of transmissions (often), catalytic converters, radiators, and much of the lubrication system. And due to the use of regenerative braking, the regular brakes will last longer.

      So what about a car that lasts 30 years? Doesn’t that reduce manufacturing pollution? What if the car used zinc-air batteries, which have little environmental impact? What if the need to squeeze maximum range out of the batteries kept the cars smaller?

      Did you know that Nissan is already working on ways to re-purpose the Leaf’s battery pack after it has to be replaced after 100,000 miles – when it will still have 80% of its original capacity? Consider the need for less capacious batteries for home solar and wind installations.

  3. The problem is not that this or that form of pollution isn’t nasty enough. The fact is in poll after poll it has been proven that American voters are hugely in favor of various regulations to control pollution. The problem is a failure of democracy in which the vast majority don’t get their way.

  4. We’re never going to have a “Leaf culture” as long as we have a “leaf blower culture.”

    Yeah, the ubiquitous, noisy, 300-mph gasoline-powered backpack blasters and underarm shooters wielded by aggressive property owners or their “yard guys.” Where the idea is to whip up a little roll cloud of the “mulch” and leaf litter and dog crap and random plastic detritus of other “users” of our disposable petroleum-plastic culture, and either blast it into the “neighbor’s” bushes and monoculture lawn, to be blasted back and/or onward in a wonderful parody of distributive justice, or off in a diffusing wave into the public streets and sewers — our “commons,” as it were.

    Heaven forbid that “we,” or our usually Latino “yard boys,” should do like our grandparents and use those gym-toned or working-stiff muscles to rake and sweep the dang stuff up, rather than spewing it onto “others,” and then maybe compost the biologicals and recycle the rest.

    Until there is a spiritual change on a huge scale, the sum of all selfish and fearful little individual decisions, responding so gratefully to the blandishments of our great marketing overlords, in the way we go about “externalizing” one’s waste as an “exercise of democratic consumer choice freedom,” will be 2 or 3 or (if the marketeers really succeed) 666 million “leaf blowers” and “weed whackers” and “edge and hedge trimmers” and of course every yeoman suburban farmer’s riding- or “Tool Time”-hyperpowered microprocessor-controlled lawnmower, will be nothing but fat “consumers” blasting “citizenship,” in the form of doggie poop and dead greenery, onto the next guy’s yard and into our communal gutters.

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