Meet Me at the Fair
By Bill Moore
The drive up the Rock River in north central Illinois is lovely. Called the "Great Detour," Illinois Highway 2 meanders through several state parks between Dixon, the birthplace of former President Ronald Reagan and the tiny community of Oregon. Canoeists paddled down the tree-lined river as I glided quietly past in my Honda Insight.
I was just starting to think that this wouldn't be too bad a place to move it. With its deeply shadowed woods, rolling hills, verdant pastures just an hour or so from Chicago, this could be a lovely location to live, and probably is. But then I saw the twin cooling towers of the Byron nuclear power station, whiffs of stream gently rising from the nearly 500 foot-high structures and suddenly I had a sudden change of heart.
Call me one of those dang radical environmentalists who seem obsessed with a nuclear power paranoia, only made worse recently by the discovery of what America does with much of the waste byproduct of the nuclear fuel enrichment process - - its turned into depleted uranium or DU ammunition. Educate yourself sometime and see what this nasty stuff can do not just to tank armor but also in a gentle breeze.
It was with these two looming monuments of man's ingenuity and short-sightedness as a distant backdrop that the Illinois Renewable Energy Association hosted its first renewable energy fair on the Ogle County fair grounds. Here in the barns where FHA kids usually show their sheep and cattle, an earnest group of environmental activists offered courses on earth homes, wind power and solar energy.
I drove over from Omaha, spending the previous night in Iowa City where our daughter is a graduate student in immunology. It took just a couple hours to drive to Oregon in the Insight, which averaged 62.7 mpg with the air conditioner running.
The IREA invited me to talk about electric vehicles and I took the opportunity to review the current state of technology and why I think electric vehicles are important technically, environmentally and politically.
As usual, I was over prepared and went over my allotted time, but the audience of about 80-100 people were attentive and asked many questions before, during and after my one hour-plus presentation. I promised them that I would make my PowerPoint presentation available on EVWorld so they could download it, if they wished. [Download "Why EVs" PowerPoint]
Perhaps the most important observation that I wanted to make, and simply ran out of time, was that as good as EVs are in helping solve the twin problems of pollution and oil dependency, they cannot solve the interrelated problems of traffic congestion and suburban sprawl.
To solve these problems requires us to rethink how we design our communities and even the value of automobile ownership, something carmakers, dealers or state tax official won't be excited about.
But clearly, something has to change.
Every hour of the day, carmakers produce 6,900 new automobiles and trucks. That's sixty million new internal combustion engine vehicles manufactured every single year! Since 1969, the number of cars built has grown six times faster than the population in America!
In 2000, Americans spent 3.6 billion hours stuck in traffic and as a result wasted 5.7 billion gallons of gasoline. That cost the US economy a whopping $68 billion dollars in lost time and waste resources. On top of this, $108 billion of the $434 billion trade deficit in 2000 was for imported oil. America's daily imported oil tab costs the nation $233 million.
As I reiterated these facts and figures, sitting just outside the tent in plain view of everyone, were three available solutions: a 2003 Toyota Prius, my Honda Insight, and the home-made, solar-powered, electric yard utility vehicle built by Illinois State University professor David Kennell.
Yet, for some inexplicable reason [I am trying to be charitable here], automotive writers and editors still continue to belabor the point that buying a new Prius or Civic Hybrid doesn't really save you money since the car costs more than the assumed savings in gasoline. They completely miss the point of reduced pollution emissions and oil imports, both significant financial costs that aren't reflected in the price of a gallon of gasoline but are in our taxes and health care premiums.
If America's automotive fleet got just two miles per gallon better fuel economy, that would mean we wouldn't have to import any oil from Iraq, from whom we currently import between 800,000 and 1 million barrels of oil a day. In fact, it is rumored that US military fighter aircraft on patrol over Iraq's 'no-fly' zone burn jet fuel refined from Iraqi light crude.
You know, the world can be a very weird place.
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