Arnold Kling  

Energy and Environmental Cost-Shifting

Of Markets and Ideas... Medicare and Health Costs...

Dan Lewis writes,

Even if we [in Europe] succeed in making big cuts in carbon emissions, these would not include the pollution created by imports. This is the accounting flaw at the heart of the Kyoto treaty. Globalization means energy-intensive manufacturing is moving out of Europe and into China. An imported MP3 player almost certainly requires more CO2 emissions for its Asian production run than it would have in Europe. Yet Europeans will be able to make the phony claim that they reduced emissions, when all they have done is export -- and increase -- them.

I also worry about "energy-saving" products, like hybrid cars. What is the up-front energy cost in building such a product? Is it higher than that of producing a normal car? If so, how does this difference compare with the present value of the car's lifetime energy savings?

The more that the government subsidizes and distorts markets for energy or pollution, the more opportunities there are for energy-shifting and pollution-shifting to take place. Policies intended to reduce pollution and energy consumption can have the opposite effect, unless they are very carefully crafted and tuned.

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COMMENTS (7 to date)
Dave Milovich writes:

Regarding cars, "the dust-to-dust energy cost of the bunny-sized Honda Civic hybrid is $3.238 per mile. This is quite a bit more than the $1.949 per mile that the elephantine Hummer costs." (read more here)

SheetWise writes:

Dave -

They've clearly got a decimal error in their reporting. At a reported $3.238 per mile based on a 100M mile life expectancy, do you really need to look any further? I'm not even going to bother reading the details of how design and startup costs were included in the calculations -- while it makes sense to burden a new product with R&D costs that will be amortized over decades, it's totally unrealistic to include them in a comparison of current energy consumption.

I'm somewhat neutral on the environmental cost-benefit of this current wave of hybrids -- but reporting like this makes me wonder who's responsible for all of the static. And why?

Ivan Kirigin writes:

"Policies intended to reduce pollution and energy consumption can have the opposite effect, unless they are very carefully crafted and tuned."

I don't like where that leaves us. Those with faith in planning take it as a challenge -- another reason to continue and expand their work.

Those who look at planning's track record know that it means policy doomed to fail.

J.W. Koebel writes:

I would purchase a hybrid if and only if it had a plug in the front, that could plug into my wall at night and recharge the batteries that way. A power plant simply has to be better at producing electricity than your car's internal combustion engine, which also has to move the vehicle, or the regenerative brakes, which also have to stop the vehicle.

Only trouble is, hybrid producers seem so set on "you don't plug it in!" as their marketing tag-line that they remove the option for people who might want to.

One demonstration of a proof-of-concept, warranty-voiding modification to a Prius put its owner at around 300 miles per gallon, because his overnight charges provided enough energy to get to and from work in light traffic without ever running the gasoline engine, except in the case he got caught in very bad traffic. That, would be a step in the right direction, and probably give a net energy saving versus producing a normal car that just happens to have a battery, but doesn't use it for much.

My $0.02.

Tom Schofield writes:

Why not just drive a diesel pick-up truck? The diesel is inherently 30%-40% more efficient than an equivalent gas engine and it will run on biodiesel without modification; if and when biodiesel ever becomes widely available. These vehicles may be a little too Country & Western for the mass market, but they have been in production for years, are heavy and safe, run longer than the Energizer Bunny, and are exceedingly handy.

Ben Fulton writes:

Ten minutes or so of browsing that study reveals that they expect a Prius to be driven 109K miles in its lifetime, while the Hummer H1 is listed at close to 400K. So I'd make an offhand guess that the hybrid numbers they show are two to three times too low.

Lord writes:

I also worry about "energy-saving" products, like hybrid cars.

You are right to worry. Any conversion of energy from one form to another is inherently inefficient and simply cannot be made efficient. The more conversions, the more inefficient. However, even if something takes more energy, shifting demand from sources of constrained supply to ones of greater availability can have other benefits.

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