Monday, May 27, 2013

Big trucks aren't the problem. Big trucks that run on fossil fuels are the problem.

Let's be honest. Whether it is a Hummer or a Prius, a truck/car is a terribly inefficient way to transport a human body. To use a 3000 pound (Prius) or 6600 (Hummer) pound vehicle to transport a single or a few human bodies that weigh at most a few hundred pounds is just a bad use of energy - unless, of course, that energy is entirely renewable. Bicycles, on the other hand, are by far the most efficient tools for transporting a human body through space and time. See more info here, and this chart demonstrating a bicycle's dominance in translating energy into transportation:

I like cycling. I bike to work for a number of reasons. It helps me (attempt to) stay in shape, I don't have to pay for parking at work, and it only takes me five minutes longer than it would to drive/sit in traffic, which in and of itself can be maddening. But I am from Alabama, and currently live in Louisiana - there are a lot of trucks in both places. Chevy Silvarados and Ford F-150's abound. While it is easy to be critical of gas guzzling Gulf Coasters - and indeed many owners of such trucks have them only for style or similarly uncompelling reasons - often there is a genuine need for a vehicle of the type. Whether it be for use on a farm, or in my case, a forest with hills that are virtually untraversable without the use of a 4 wheel drive vehicle, trucks provide utility beyond considerations of energy efficiency.  

The problem, to state the obvious, is the fuels we use in all of our vehicles. A Californian who commutes 250 miles a week in a Prius that gets 50 mpg emits more vehicle-based carbon than the Louisianan who drives 90 miles a week in a Ford F-150 with a V-6 ecoboost engine that gets 22 mpg, but who bikes to work. Then there is the person who drives a Prius 90 miles per week and bikes to work, and the person who lives near public transportation and does not own a car. Ultimately, the choices we make regarding our transportation of choice facilitate our ability to be more or less carbon intensive, but only within a small range. In other words, in a fossil fuel driven world, any transportation that relies on a vehicle that weighs more than a ton to transport bodies weighing only a fraction of the total weight has significant carbon impacts, though the person driving the "gas guzzler" may be vilified and the person driving the Prius viewed as environmentally responsible.

Enter the future, and solar powered homes, and plug-in 4x4 trucks. In the future, perhaps our drawing fine distinctions between two terribly inefficient transportation options will be a thing of the past. Everyone will be using electric powered vehicles powered by a resource that will (or should) be with us for at least the next 5 billion years - the sun.

Take this guy, who helps identify where the real source of green angst should be directed (apologies for the advertisement before the video commences. A link to the video is here if the embed feature does not work): 


So it is not the monster truck that should be vilified, but the monster truck that runs on fossil fuels that should be frowned upon. The fuel source should be the real source of environmentalist angst, not the machine that carries the person. The Prius owner should not look down upon the F-150 4x4 driver, but they all should be working toward moving away from that terrible fuel source that creates such ultimately silly artificial divisions on the highway. Of course, batteries in electric vehicles give rise to a host of environmental problems. But I hope that one day recyclable batteries made out of renewable cellulosic biofuel material, housed in Priuses and 4x4's all around the country, and charging from the energy of the sun, will allow the Prius owner and the 4x4 owner to drive separately, one person per car, to the Monster Truck rally (or NASCAR race), where they can sit beside each other, watch "Silent Foot" crush the gas guzzlers of the past, and listen to the cars crunch much more clearly than their ancestors ever could.

- Blake Hudson

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