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.

Obfuscation Through Clarity

another Step right up, suckers, er, “consumers”! The overclass continues to lavish more of its booty on material and symbolic propaganda to disguise from the public the extreme dangers of the impending near-term death of its core product, the personal automobile.

The latest advance in this expanding shell game is yet another instance of that latest and greatest of unrecognized oxymorons, a “green car” — the Honda Clarity.

Orwell’s Big Brother would have creamed his Levis over this “Clarity” name, as the entire reason the “new” vehicle exists is to further trick you into hoping against hope that science will soon find a way to suspend the laws of thermodynamics that confine Earthlings to living with finite supplies of usable energy, thus magically/entrepreneurially rendering our autos-über-alles transportation order sustainable.

The Clarity, you see, is (breathe a baited breath!) an actual hydrogen-fuel-cell car! Oh, the rapture!

If you bother to investigate this phony breakthrough, however, you will see reality: Clarity and its “green car” cousins exist not to provide any viable answers to our energy-supply gathering troubles and the capitalist technological dictatorship that insist on ignoring them, but rather to convincing you (and perhaps also the more gullible among Honda’s investors) that hydrogen is somehow a new “alternative” source of energy. Of course, it is not, as admitted by none other than Jerry Hinkle, the president of the National Hydrogen Association:

“Hydrogen can be produced from a wide range of sources including natural gas, coal, water, wind, nuclear power and biological methods,” Hinkle says.

There’s exactly where the body is buried: Hydrogen, you see, is not lying around, ready to burn, in the ground or sky or anywhere else. On the contrary. For reasons of elementary chemistry and physics, hydrogen must always be stripped away from the other elements to which it inherently binds, at very high energy cost. To “liberate” hydrogen for burning in cars, it takes the same old quantities of the same old stuff — “natural gas, coal, water, wind, nuclear power and biological methods.” Those old energy sources, of course, are now both peaking and being very rapidly squandered. Hence, hydrogen cars are dead letters.

Nevertheless, if you’d like to ignore this simple inconvenient truth and help Honda and other corporate capitalists parade their murderous “green car” distractions, you can apply to be one of the lucky few to obtain a heavily subsidized lease for a Clarity. All it will cost you, after the subsidy, is — $600 a month, or a mere ten times the wage of a corporate factory worker in Nicaragua!

Green Smoke Indeed!

James Howard Kunstler today posts this useful news nugget:

Blowing Green Smoke Up America’s Ass # 23:General Motors – referred to nowadays as “the sub-prime loan company that also makes cars” – has opened a public relations campaign on National Public Radio to convince the public that its heart is in the right place. The centerpiece of the campaign is the Chevy Volt, GM’s venture into hybrid cars. The voice in the radio spot announces that the Volt is an environmentally-friendly electric vehicle assisted by what they call “an on-board range-extending power source.” Wonder what that means? Think gasoline-powered internal combustion engine.

And, of course, the smoke being blown here is much worse than just this.

First of all, the Chevy Volt is a concept car, not a production one. If you could buy one -and you can’t– it would carry a price-tag of $100,000!

Second, even the great General Motors, with its long track record of delivering high-quality, cutting-edge cars (that thud you just heard was people everywhere falling off their chairs in paroxysms of laughter) admits it isn’t planning to sell a Volt until at least 2010 — despite the fact that they are advertising them now! (This tells us something crucial about the role of supposedly “green” vehicles in the car corporations’ plans. Even as they sponsor NPR propaganda campaigns, you can hear the rustle of accumulated capital fleeing somewhere, anywhere, other than into future investments in car-making…UAW take note.)

And, of course, all of this jive talk presumes and promotes public ignorance about the most basic fact of the science of energy — the reality that all supplies of energy for fueling cars are not just finite, but up against the wall of history. Plugging your car into the wall is hardly a viable answer to the arrival of Peak Oil, as explained by Kunstler and others. Nevertheless, talking as if it were underlies everything GM and the other auto-capitalists are now saying.

The extent to which more well-meaning folks, who might otherwise see through the outdated, increasingly murderous capitalist scam behind automobiles-ueber-alles, fail to resist this “green smoke” is the exact extent to which we are all doomed.