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Is the Prius a Polluter?

Just saw a cousin’s Facebook post about her new (actually slightly used) Toyota Prius. She had talked to me earlier about my Prius, how I liked it and so forth, so I was intrigued that she and her fiancee purchased one. She looks pretty happy in the photo, doesn’t she?

Then a friend of hers commented, “Yay the “green” that is the most damaging to the environment to build.” Someone then asked what he meant and he went on with, “Prius pollutes more is based on the production and transport of nickel for the on-board rechargeable battery pack. The nickel is actually mined and smelted in Sudbury, Ontario (Canada) by Inco. The nickel is then shipped to a refinery in Europe. From there, the nickel goes to China to produce nickel foam. Then, it goes to Japan. In Japan Panasonic manufactures the battery itself, then it’s off to the Toyota plant for final vehicle assembly. Lastly the cars are shipped to the United States, completing the world tour required for a Prius battery.

That was certainly a bit of cold water thrown on her excitement! I’ve had exactly the same reaction from many who pooh-pooh driving a hybrid or electric car, think those of us who do are “greenies” or goofballs,  all while they climb in to their car or truck that, on a good day, gets 18mpg and costs them $100 a week to drive.

So I took a moment to refute and minimize what this kid had said and also thought this entire discussion would make a great post: 

You’re right about the battery adventure and you sound like an analytical thinker…so consider this:

  • Most U.S. energy comes from coal-powered plants and, to get enough coal, mountaintop removal is being done in the south wreaking havoc on local ecosystems;
  • North Dakota Bakken Shield oil extraction from shale requires *enormous* quantities of water and sand — and that water is inundated with chemicals and the sand for fracking is being harvested all over Wisconsin, again wreaking havoc on local areas;
  • Massive amounts of U.S. payments are going offshore to buy oil and America isn’t exactly in the black;
  • Whether you believe in “peak oil” or not, the evidence that the world is post-peak on oil production is very, very clear. Oil will only get more expensive as extracting it will only get harder (e.g., from multiple miles down drilling in the sea);
  • Unless you’re a biblical fundamentalist who thinks the world is 6,000 years old and science is the work of the devil, the evidence for atmospheric carbon causing climate change is irrefutable. Greenland just lost a chunk of a glacier twice the size of Manhattan and every climate scientist on the planet knows that if Greenland loses much more of its ice pack, sea levels will rise 1-3 meters and indundate the coasts.

Bottom line? Yes the battery isn’t completely green. But I drive a Prius and get double the gas mileage of the average car. Next up is a plugin hybrid since the new PHEV Prius is EPA estimated at 95mpg equivalent highway, 50mpge city.

Most critical thinking people, including all the car companies *in the world* who are beginning serious migrations toward high mileage vehicles, believe that extremely good mileage is an imperative and reduction in our dependence on fossil fuels critical…

…which makes your battery argument a non-starter.

All of that said, I am aware that oil imports have dropped steadily since 2006 and that many have a deep optimism about the future of oil (from The American Interest, a conservative website).

This time series, based on satellite data, shows the annual Arctic sea ice minimum since 1979. The September 2010 extent was the third lowest in the satellite record. (From Wikipedia’s Climate Change article)

I am also well aware of the scientific basis for climate change and that ‘harvesting’ every possible drop of oil — and focusing our resources on its extraction from the earth — is NOT a strategy in the long-term interest of humans and this planet.

Maybe driving a Prius makes but a tiny dent in the universe and those of us who feel compelled to act responsibly are worthy of ridicule. I don’t think so and will continue to try to optimize my energy use and make as little negative impact on the world as possible.

Plus it’s fun to get nearly 50mpg and fill up for $25 when others are spending $50-$100!

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About Steve Borsch

Strategist. Learner. Idea Guy. Salesman. Connector of Dots. Friend. Husband & Dad. CEO. Janitor. More here.

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