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Why a Green Car?

Safe and Secure Energy

By Warren Leon


Virtually all Americans think our country would be better off if we used less imported oil. We would be less dependent on countries in volatile parts of the world, especially the Mideast. We would not be as vulnerable to economic dislocations from sharp oil price hikes. Our balance of trade would not be nearly as unfavorable.
        
Luckily, the steps that our nation can take to reduce oil imports would also have important environmental and public health benefits. Oil, a fossil fuel, is responsible for a significant share of the greenhouse gases that are causing serious changes to the global climate. When gasoline is burned in cars, it also produces considerable air pollution, leading to respiratory illnesses, cancer, and other health problems.

To determine how to best reduce our over-reliance on imported oil, we can start with a few revealing numbers.

Let's Run the Numbers

The United States still gets 42% of its oil from domestic sources. But over time, the amount of oil we produce will inevitably decrease, because only 2-3% of the worlds oil reserves lie in US territory. The vast majority are in the Mideast. Even if we were to drill for oil in environmentally sensitive areas, such as the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, it would not change the basic fact that our country owns only a small share of the worlds remaining oil.

There is also no getting around the fact that we use a disproportionate share of that oil. Even though our country has less than 5% of the worlds population, we consume about 26% of the worlds oil. Not only does this create resentment in other countries, but it undermines our national security.
        
So, if we want to reduce our oil imports, we must use less oil. We cant expect to drill our way out of our dilemma. And to make meaningful progress on reducing our oil dependence, we must focus on transportation. Two-thirds of all the oil we use goes to transportation. Compared to other sectors of the economy, such as manufacturing and construction, transportation is unusually reliant on a single fuel. Ninety-seven percent  of the energy for our transportation system comes from oil. This tremendous lack of fuel diversity for transportation means that a disruption in oil supplies would quickly paralyze transportation and the economy.
        
Luckily, advances in technology are making it possible and more likely that we can do something about our dependence on oil for transportation. After a century of dominance by gasoline-powered motor vehicles, the number of options available to us is increasing. Hybrid vehicles, which combine a gasoline engine and an electric motor, are on the road in the tens of thousands, and they reduce gasoline use by 20-50%. In addition, vehicles are being produced that run on biodiesel, electricity, ethanol, natural gas, and propane. Fuel cell vehicles are on the horizon and they will be able to use hydrogen produced from a variety of energy sources.  

Making the Switch
        
Strong public demand for hybrids and alternatively fueled vehicles can send a powerful message to carmakers and the government that a significant share of the public wants vehicles that reduce oil dependence. This would prompt carmakers to produce more such vehicles. We therefore urge you to let auto dealers in your community know that you are interested in "green" cars. To get the word out more broadly, tell your friends and neighbors about the exciting cars you see at the Tour de Sol.
        
Government should help by creating incentives for consumers to buy advanced technology cars. It should also encourage manufacturers to produce better vehicles. For example, new car stickers could emphasize how much money the average person would pay for fuel over the first five years that he or she owned the vehicle. And purchasers of vehicles that use little gas could receive a significant rebate while those who choose gas-guzzling polluters could pay a fee.

Better Electricity
        
Although our electricity system uses little oil, there are ways in which it could be made much safer, healthier, and secure. Renewable energy sources, such as wind, solar, and biomass (plant matter), can provide us with clean, safe, domestically produced energy. They can create local jobs, reduce air pollution, and lower the risks of global warming. We should speed the development of renewable energy for electricity. Some renewable energy facilities, especially wind farms, are already cost competitive with most conventional fossil-fuel power plants. By developing a variety of renewable energy resources, we can avoid becoming too dependent on any one fuel. When it comes to energy, it makes sense to avoid putting all of our eggs in one basket.

Hydrogen Fuel Cells
        
The desirability of fuel diversity is a key motivating factor behind the current interest in hydrogen fuel cells. These devices, which convert chemical energy to electrical energy, can get the hydrogen they need from a wide range of sources including natural gas, gasoline, and electricity. The best systems would use clean electricity sources like solar or wind to provide the energy needed to produce the hydrogen. Even if a source like natural gas is used, it would still have significant environmental and health advantages because of the efficiency of fuel cell technology, even though there would still be some greenhouse gas emissions. If the hydrogen is produced by electricity from todays coal or nuclear plants, the benefits would be considerably less.
        
Many companies and the federal government have taken a keen interest in fuel cells. Considerable progress is being made. The next few years will determine the potential of this promising technology and how quickly it could come into widespread use.

Choosing Green Power

        
One of the bestand easiestways to reduce environmental damage and increase the diversity of our nations energy sources is to purchase "green" electricity when and where it is available.
        
Green electricity is electricity that comes from clean, sustainable energy sources such as wind, solar, and biomass (plant matter). By agreeing to purchase green electricity for your home or business, you will add a certain amount of clean energy to your electricity poolthe electrons that are distributed through the wires connected to your building. Fewer fossil fuels will be used to meet your pools energy needs. Fewer pollutants and global warming gases will enter the atmosphere. You will also help build the renewable energy industry.
        
Green electricity often costs a little more, but just a few dollars a month is a small price to pay for the benefits of a cleaner, more diverse electricity system. Few other such small investments have such a large positive environmental impact.

Look for the Label
        
When shopping for green electricity, make sure you look for the "Green-e" label. Green-e is a voluntary certification system that helps consumers identify energy providers that obtain energy from green sources. The Green-e program provides consumers with a third-party verification that the product being offered is indeed environmentally preferable.
        
In general, the Green-e label means that at least half of the electricity comes from preferred renewable resources, including solar, wind, geothermal, biomass, and low-impact hydroelectric facilities. This is much different than the electricity that most Americans receive, most of which is produced by burning fossil fuels, especially coal.
        
In New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and parts of New York, you can make a Green-e certified electricity provider your regular electricity provider. In other states, you need to purchase green electricity through Tradable Renewable Certificates. For information on the products available where you live, visit the Green-e website (www.green-e.org).

Even Greener than Green Power
        
Remember that the cleanest energy is the energy you do not use. Energy conservation and energy-efficiency measureseverything from buying a highly efficient appliance to using compact fluorescent lightbulbs to installing low-flow showerheadscan yield a large reduction in your overall environmental impact.



The Green Car Club is organized by
The Northeast Sustainable Energy Association
50 Miles Street, Greenfield, MA 01301
nesea@nesea.org
413-774-6051
Copyright 2002 by NESEA. All rights reserved.

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