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green cars: a misnomer?

I’m sure you’ve heard the rumors: that a Prius has a greater environmental impact than a Hummer. That hybrid cars don’t get better gas mileage. The list goes on and on. But is there truth to these accusations, or are they just rumor and hearsay?

To better understand the debate, you need to go back to a 2006 CNW marketing research study called “Dust to Dust: The Energy Cost of New Vehicles from Concept to Disposal.” This study claimed that “when taking research, production, and fuel into account, a Prius will use more energy per mile than a Hummer.” This study spawned a media firestorm and many of the green car myths we’re still hearing today.

I won’t bore you with the details of that study and the many rebuttals it prompted. The important thing to know is that a follow-up study conducted by Dr. Peter H. Gleick of the Pacific Institute found that the original “Dust to Dust” study was full of scientific holes. It turns out that green cars really are good for the environment. Here’s why:

Emissions – A typical hybrid or electric car really does get better mileage. For example, the 2011 Honda Civic Hybrid gets an average of 41.5 mpg while the regular Civic gets only 30.5. And while gas mileage is great for cost savings, it also helps the environment. The less gas you use, the fewer emissions. And pure electric vehicles produce no emissions at all.

Drilling – Hand in hand with gas mileage is drilling. Oil spills, loss of habitat, groundwater pollution, and the chemicals used in fracking all have negative effects on the environment. According to fueleconomy.gov, new laws will require new cars and trucks to get 35 mpg by 2020. This could reduce our gasoline use by 25 billion gallons by 2030.

Recycling – Another common myth is that recycling electric car batteries is impossible—that they’ll contaminate and overtake landfills. While it’s true that some car batteries contain harmful chemicals, recycling methods are continuously improving and the most common car battery in green cars, lithium-ion, is the least harmful to the environment.

Thoughts? Questions? Feedback? Let me know in the comments. And don’t forget to check out parts 1 and 2 of our green car series.

Photo by DonkeyHotey

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