Threatening Your Life, “Green”-Style: The Rocky Mountain Institute

In Sunday’s edition of his very creepily-named “Environmental Lovins” blog, “green car” and “Rocky Mountain Institute” snake-oil peddler Amory Lovins had two of his henchpersons post this double-talking falsehood:

Many consumers believe that the goals of a “safer car” and a “more fuel-efficient car” are at loggerheads, and that any increase in gas mileage will lead directly to increased fatalities.

This misconception is based in large part on a common assumption: The heavier the car, the safer it must be. Collectively, Americans have bought into this idea. The mass of the average personal vehicle in the U.S. has gone up 29% since 1987.

While that idea that more steel equals more protection seems intuitive, it turns out to be false. In fact, the best scientific research shows that automotive safety has nothing to do with vehicle weight, but everything to do with vehicle size and design.

Heavier cars are not safer in a collision.

This is patently, murderously wrong. It is absolutely, positively NOT a myth that more weight means more safety. It’s true that SUV safety is exaggerated, and that they also carry their own particular danger — roll-overs. Hell, even Volvos are far from being as safe as the Volvo corporation would have you believe. This, for instance, was a Volvo:

But it is simply a stone cold fact that getting into a collision in a car that weighs less is more dangerous, other things being equal. And getting hit by an SUV while driving a “Smartcar,” or one of Lovins’ still-nonexistent hypercars, is simply very extremely dangerous. That’s just plain physics, and there’s a ton of medical and engineering proof.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, whose job it is to report the actual physical risks of particular vehicles to insurers, puts the basic point bluntly and correctly:

“Fatalities are much higher with small, lightweight vehicles.”

As scores of medical studies confirm, the same point applies to the risk of injuries: Vehicle mass is a major factor in determining the severity of car-crash injuries.

People naturally understand this reality, too, which is a big part of why SUV marketing has been so successful, and why “green cars” do indeed face a very stiff challenge, notwithstanding the energy-supply confusions on which they are founded.

What the Lovins double-talkers are really saying is that it is possible to use design to compensate for the dangers of smaller vehicle sizes and masses. Notice, however, that they don’t tell you: a) how expensive it would be to totally overcome the problem, and b) that this point about safety equipment cuts both ways, in that bigger cars with more safety machinery are even safer than smaller cars with the same equipment. But, once again, to say that vehicle size and mass are unrelated to crash dangers is simply and viciously false.

The bottom line is that, in the cars-first United States, automobiles are metal and/or plastic boxes that are independently steered as they routinely travel at very high speeds over open, bumpy, sloping, and inherently dangerous roads. As such, they will always be massively deadly machines.

Meanwhile, even if it really were possible, as these screwed-up McLovins would have you believe, to put enough safety equipment into a car to counteract all the physical risks, the cost of doing so would be literally astronomical, rendering the point truly academic, an irrelevant testing-ground experiment. And, of course, it may very well be impossible to render any car truly safe, even if no expense is spared. The danger, you see, is inherent in the form and function of the automobile itself.

Of course, back in the real world, it’s true that if everybody converted to small cars all at once, a great deal (but not all — remember that many drivers die or get injured when they drive into trees, rocks, lightposts, etc.) of the danger of small vehicles would disappear, as the possibilities for getting creamed by a much larger car would be gone. But how does one imagine such an immediate collective conversion happening? If we ever obtain the kind of political will such a huge, massively-subsidized switch-out would take, we’d be far better off using the will and the money to build ourselves modern railroads and to start reconstructing our towns to facilitate walking and bicycling.

And there’s where the murder comes in. In the real world, if they ever materialize as an affordable option, Lovins’ profit-seeking “green cars” will undoubtedly be adopted in small batches. And, contrary to his lies, they will be sharing the roads with millions of far heavier trucks and cars — at very substantial risk to their “green” drivers.

Of course, it’s not surprising that Amory Lovins would be attempting to define away reality on this topic. His whole enterprise is nothing more than a greed-driven sleight-of-hand that, whatever good intentions some of its dissembling promoters may have, encourages its targeted victims — and note well the telling use of the word “consumer” in these purportedly “green” people’s discourse — to remain ignorant of the great and pressing disjunction between any kind of cars-first transportation order and the Earth’s finite energy supplies. Contrary to Lovins’ sick scam, the truth is that cars have no long-term future as the central mode of moving people on this planet. He either knows this, or ought to know it.

And the same “knows or should know” standard applies even more strongly to Lovins’ obligations vis-a-vis the elementary mechanics and physics of car crashes. Mass and size matter. To deny that is to deny that automotive transport is subject to the laws of nature.

The fact that he is now trying to do exactly that shows what this “green” guy really is: a dangerous, lying crook who is attempting to kill people, now in both macro (energy supply/peak oil/oil war/economic waste) and micro (vehicle collision) ways, all to make himself a buck.

He and his evil minions are aspiring to be among our next generation of big business marketing overlords, all while wrapping themselves in the green flag. For their self-serving disinformation and disservice to genuine green consciousness and technologies, I hereby award them the BBM Asshole honor in advance. Let’s hope they fail in their ugly, wrongheaded efforts.