Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Energy Paradox with Future Cars

Before I begin to discuss various problems I have encountered with future automobiles, I would just like to state that I am in no way trying to be pessimistic about the future of energy efficiency. I do not believe that we, as a civilized society are incapable of producing alternative energy and resources, I am merely discussing problems that we may face while going green. Considering these issues before we grasp on to an alternative resource may save us from future problems.

One major issue with decreasing our use of oil and lowering our emissions into the atomsphere can be considered in a philosphical manner. It may be somewhat obvious, but it is something to consider with the phrase: we don't know what we had until it is gone. I believe that members of our modern society will not thouroughly understand the importance of energy efficiency until our major resource (oil) is depleting. Although going green is becoming a stylish concept for people, they still continue to drive their SUV's. Convincing an entire society to voluntarily lower the amount of oil they use is much easier said than done. Telling people to stop using the most popular, and most used resource in the world that is technically still available, is going to be extremely difficult.

Enough of my philosphical interpretations. One present problem that was touched upon in our class discussion, is the lack of seriousness for energy efficient cars by automobile companies. Every now and then you will see a commercial or an add for a shiny new energy efficient car that will revolutionize energy efficiency. They even have car shows where companies can display their shiny new creations for everyone to see. But does the public really know if these shiny new cars are truly more efficient? In my opinion, no. These shiny new cars merely give automobile companies the opportunity to appease to the "going green" fad. In the public's eyes these shiny new cars are energy efficient because they look different than our normal cars and they are smaller. Automobile companies that please the public by putting a weird-looking shiny new car on a revolving platform are viewed as "going green". But are these new weird-looking cars lined up at an auto dealership? Do automobile companies make a few new weird-looking cars and label them as energy efficient to please the "going greeners"?

The rush to produce the most energy efficient car seems to be a growing competition between various nations. Being the first to create the latest and greatest energy efficient car will in theory be great from an industrial standpoint. The demand for these new cars will increase as people rush to buy them, which will help the auto industry and create many new jobs in the process. But environmentally, many paradoxes and issues are presented.

For one, this rush to find alternative fuel is actually creating more greenhouse gas emissions, more pollution, more deforestation, and more food shortages. Although companies are attempting to find and create alternative resources, they are adding to the problem. In order to find or create alternative energy, a larger amount of energy is needed to produce it. The idea of biofuels is interesting, but it also creates further problems. In order to match the gasoline fuel consumption, more crops are required. Since the crops need land, deforestation seems to be the answer. Also, since biofuels are food, rather than feeding an entire family for a week, this food fills the soccer-mom's SUV tank.

The "going greeners" hope that we will soon see an entire fleet of energy efficient cars that will ultimately replace our gas-guzzlers. But the energy efficient cars might lead to more production and consumption. This leads to an efficiency paradox presented in 1865 by an economist named William Stanley Jevons who believed that the more efficient you make machines, the more energy they use. This is because the more efficient they are, the better they are, the cheaper they are, leading to a mass purchase of and mass use of them. Realizing that these new energy efficient cars are cheaper to buy and use, that public will use them more leading to an increase in fuel consumption.

Another issue that seems to slip from everyones mind is that although we will soon have much more energy efficient cars, we still need a place to drive them (roads, bridges, and other infrastructure). To build or even maintain these various components, an enormous amount of steel, concrete, asphalt and plastic is needed. Alec Dubro of the Washington Pox reports that concrete production alone generates as much as 10% of all greenhouse gas. Scientific America of August 2009 reports that in 2007, the U.S. produced about 95 million tons of cement by burning fossil fuels and, according to the EPA, is the 3rd largest source of greenhouse gas pollution in the U.S. The production of asphalt also requires the use of petroleum.

The issues and paradoxes I have presented have created even more questions. Should, or will human civilization be forced to abandon the automobile once and for all? Are energy efficient cars truly the answer, or are they merely contributing to the problem? If they are creating more of a problem, should society focus on ways to survive and prosper without the use of cars?

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