Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Informal Hybrid Tally
Some people count state license plates on long road trips; I count hybrid cars. On our current family trip to the Midwest, I can report that since leaving the New York Metropolitan Area, and including our travels around Minnesota’s Twin Cities, I’ve seen exactly three hybrids, two Toyota Priuses and one Honda Insight. Though hardly statistically significant, I think this still indicates the magnitude of the challenge facing us, if we want to reduce petroleum consumption.

Geo-greens such as Tom Friedman see hybrids and their variations (including plug-in hybrids) as a key technology for improving gas mileage and reducing our dependence on the Middle East. While I believe the Geo-greens are confronting the right issues, they must also recognize just how steep the hill is that they are climbing, and how long it will take. Our past energy choices are deeply embedded in our culture and physical infrastructure. There are no quick, easy fixes.

Nor can we confine our focus to vehicle fuel economy or think that shifting from petroleum to electricity will solve all our problems. As I suggested recently, our driving habits matter as much as our choice of cars--perhaps more, because it takes a generation to change the characteristics of the total car fleet enough to make a difference. We desperately need a national debate on all of this, but also we need to understand the parameters and define the boundaries correctly.

Sooner or later, we will face another real energy crisis, whether as a result of geopolitics or geology. The last eighteen months have included several features of such a crisis, without being a full-blown crisis. This should have served as a kick in the pants, but it hasn’t. There is still time, but not much, because it will take so long to effect change, unless it is imposed on us.

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