Plenty of ink and megapixels were dedicated last year to a study that purported to expose the true cost–in environmental terms–of a Prius and concluded that it was really no more “green” than a Hummer. Like all good urban legends, this one was catapulted into mainstream media by questionable science, shock value and gleeful SUV-devotees.
Yet, despite many, many refutations, this rumor persists. Perhaps, “Hybrid a better eco-choice than Hummer,” just doesn’t sell papers. Whatever the reason, it’s time to bury this one. For good.
The study, conducted by CNW Marketing Research Inc., actually reported that “Hybrids consume more energy in lifetime than Chevrolet’s Tahoe SUV.” Hummers mistakenly entered the equation when a widely syndicated columnist cited the study under a headline that read “Use a Hummer to Crush a Prius.” Tahoe/Hummer. To-may-to/To-mah-to. Let’s not split hairs.
The study boils down to a “dust to dust” analysis–the total energy used to build, maintain, operate, and recycle a car. The study assumed that a Hummer would last 379,000 miles and last 35 years, while a Prius would die at 12 years with only 109,000 on its odometer. An odious assumption that–on a per-mile basis–is clearly going to put the Hummer on top and created an apples-to-oranges comparison.
Prius also took a hit because it’s largely new technology. As more cars embrace this technology, new tech start-up costs will diminish. The energy costs associated with building a Prius decrease with every new Prius (or similar hybrid) made. Yet a Hummer/Tahoe/insert-other-big-SUV-here will always guzzle an enormous amount of gas. The study’s researchers also point to the nickel metal hydride battery in the Prius, noting that nickel mining is a dirty business. Yes, it is. Yet the Sierra Club’s “Mr. Green” explains that the hybrid batteries currently in existence require less than one percent of the world’s annual nickel production. Prius batteries are also 100 percent recyclable.
Finally–and perhaps most damning of all–the study was not peer-reviewed and CNW itself has admitted somewhat flawed figures. John Heywood, with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, notes that, “I can only guess at how they did the detailed arithmetic.” Why only guess? CNW refuses to release its data “for competitive reasons,” says study creator Art Spinella.
The upside of all the debate this rumor inspired is that it encourages conversation (if not conservation!) about fuel-efficiency and perhaps lets the halo over the Prius slip a wee bit. While it remains the poster car for the environmentally concerned, it still is a car–with embodied energy and a reliance on fuel. The Prius, while a worthy alternative and a promising new technology, still isn’t as eco-friendly as your two feet, two wheels–or even a bus pass.
For more information or to subscribe at the introductory price of $10 a year, go to positivelygreen.com. Positively Green magazine launched in 2008 as a quarterly women’s magazine that covers every aspect of green from eco-friendly vacations to green fashion to green health. With articles that don’t just explain the problems, they outline solutions for busy people who want to make the change but don’t have the time to research solutions.
By Leslie Garret, Positively Green magazine