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From Kyoto to Copenhagen: Will it Make a Difference?

In 1998 when I was researching fuel-efficient cars for Technocopia.com I came across the Kyoto Protocol. Already in place it was an agreement between developed countries to try and lower emissions to 20% less of 1990 standards by 2005. This amount varied depending on the country.

Each industrialized country that was initially included in the discussions was to ratify the agreement. Ratification means that they confirm their committment to or give official sanction to something. In 1997  it was adopted, and ratified in various countries over the next eight years. During that time Bush came into power and based on the advice of his Exxon comrades (that the US State Department thanked for their input into  climate change policy) did not ratify the Protocol. Uh, right. Neither did the previous Clinton government, nor Obama to date.

Once ratified the member countries would be responsible to uphold their commitment for lowering emissions and I suppose, be fined if they didn’t meet them; but by which regulating body, I’m not sure. After all, the US has gone many years without paying its United Nations dues so if there are no teeth, how do countries live up to the Protocol’s agreement? You would think because it is the right thing to do, that it could save the planet and the future health of millions.

Canada took a long time to ratify the Protocol and it took effect in February 2005. Most countries have agreed to lower their emissions by a certain percentage to below what they were in 1990. For Canada, that would be 6%. However, in the US and Canada, emissions have risen between 21-28% in recent years. That’s a whole lot more of a concern on the health of people and the continuation of many species that we depend on for nutrition and are becoming toxic to us and themselves. And that means decreasing emissions by some 30-odd percent to pre-1990 standards.

If all these countries were already aware of emission issues, then how could they let emissions rise? Because there is money in it. It is shown today that most emissions are coming from factories and agriculture. Cars actually trail behind that but they are a huge contributing factor to the overall air quality. In the past ten years we saw the advent of bigger SUVs, Hummers and trucks, which were exempt from the same emission standards as cars, because those big vehicles are farm vehicles? Right, all these people in the cities probably haven’t even seen a farm but this was a loophole for vehicle manufactures and if you buy that monster, macho status symbol, you’ll get a break in climate taxes and the manufacturers make more money. Europe’s has had tiny cars (like the Smart Car) for a very long time but the big car and oil companies were happy to have us squander money and resources.

The US being one of the most significant countries to not sign and ratify the Kyoto Protocol said it was because developing countries were not being held to the same standards as the industrialized countries. So instead of making some in-roads and setting a good impression by example, they decided to play the “it’s not fair” game. They whined that China did not even have to control their emissions although China has now become the biggest greenhouse gas emitter. However, it’s not that simple. Per capita, the US still emits more per person than China. Yet China and India, which between them hold a third of the world’s population must also take some responsibility.

It’s not a matter of you go first in this though. If every country doesn’t pitch in, the world is going to go down hard and we’ll all be eating soy to the end of our days, if we’re lucky. The highest emission continent is that of North America, with Canada also showing shameful controls on emissions. The Harper government started out with a plan, when they needed the votes. That’s when they admitted the environment was in trouble. But since then a minister of the environment announced that Canada had no hope of meeting its Kyoto Protocol committment and Harper has cut the funding towards such work.

In the meantime, other governments within Canada continue to look at ways to tax the individuals when it’s the corporations (including vehicle manufacturers) who are most responsible. Individuals may need to pay a bit of tax but not the continual onslaught. The government needs to bring out other ways of helping and healing the environment and that’s lacking a great deal. Raising the climate taxes on gas guzzling vehicles more would help. Yes tax money could go towards programs but I’d like to hear more about the programs and innovations such as hybrid buses and Smart cars for government employees who use a car on the job.

And Copenhagen? Well I predict that Harper will stall and refuse to change; that the US, despite Obama’s promise of change, will continue to stall on getting involved, just as they did in WWII. But they’ll still want everyone to play by their game. Will it help? Only if the countries truly commit. This should have been started fifty years ago, let alone twenty. And here we are taking ten years to ratify an agreement and maybe get around to it in another fifteen years.

I’d like to believe we’ll see change and that we can all pull together but I have seen too much obfuscation and political maneuvering of the things that matter by various governments to believe that anyone will take it to where it needs to go. And as our children’s lifespans shorten and more people get allergies, asthma and other conditions, and as many species die or contain toxins so virulent they’ll kill us, we’ll start to live in the cautionary tale of our science fiction writers. I really hope it won’t be a reality but I’m still waiting to see real change.

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Driving Clean: Hybrid Cars Move Up Front

This is the last of the car-related articles that I wrote for Technocopia in 2000. Some things have changed since then and Canada has an electric car, the Zenn car. http://www.zenncars.com/ You can also check out Tesla Motors. http://www.teslamotors.com/

CAR MANUFACTURERS RACE TO BUILD AN ENVIRONMENTALLY FRIENDLY CAR, BUT WHO’S THE REAL WINNER?

With greenhouse gases and tailpipe emissions harming the environment, atmosphere and human health, countries as well as car manufacturers and industry are looking at ways to clean up their act.

Alternate fuels and car prototypes are being tested. Although there are several electric cars available for lease in selected cities, they have not yet caught on. Manufacturers are reluctant to mass produce the expensive electrics which have limited driving range (between fifty and one hundred miles), need at least a three-hour battery recharge, and don’t have the support infrastructure of recharging stations. California has installed many recharging stations but then it is the test bed for electric cars.

In 1997 the Kyoto Protocol was signed stating that by 2008 all signing countries would lower their emissions. As pollution becomes a problem some countries aren’t waiting. However, a loophole allows countries with lower than standard emissions to sell off their extra emissions to countries that produce more than the allowable amount.

Fuel Economy and Low Emissions
Drivers don’t want to worry about running out of a charge before arriving home. An alternative was needed that increased range but lowered tailpipe emissions. There are government restrictions that already regulate emissions per vehicle. In the search for efficiency and economy, the hybrid gas/electric car was born.

At the forefront of hybrid cars are the Toyota Prius and the Honda Insight. Toyota’s five-passenger sedan has already sold 28,000 in Japan and will be released in the U.S. this year. The Insight was available as of December 1999. The Chrysler Intrepid ESX2 is a hybrid using electric and diesel. The driving range of these vehicles is farther, the gas tank and engine are smaller, and the emissions, therefore air pollution, are reduced.

The hybrid uses an electric and a gas motor. The electric battery cuts down on fuel consumption and the gas engine keeps the battery recharged, eliminating the need to set up separate recharging stations.

In the Prius “an electric motor and a generator are attached to the transmission. The generator, driven by the car’s 58-horsepower gasoline motor, recharges the 135-pound battery pack, and can provide power for the 40-horsepower electric motor as well.” The Boston Globe(10/07/99) An all-electric vehicle’s battery weighs 1200 pounds so the hybrid’s weight is greatly reduced. Accelerating from a stationary position needs a lot of engine turning power. More efficient for providing torque, the Prius’s electric engine kicks in to supply power to the transaxle and turns the wheels. Once the car is cruising along, the electric engine turns off and the gas engine, more efficient for providing the ongoing energy, turns on. If the electric engine needs to be recharged the generator is used. An onboard computer system constantly monitors and regulates which engine will be most efficient in any circumstance. The transition is smooth and unnoticed by the driver.
The Honda Insight’s system is slightly different. A sophisticated computer also regulates which engine is best for each task. However, the Insight has a gas engine and an electric motor powered by a battery, but no generator. When the Insight hits cruising mode the electric battery is recharged.

Prius and Insight both use regenerative braking. This technique captures energy that is lost in traditional braking systems. When the brake is tapped the electric motor runs in reverse. Not only does this slow the forward momentum of the car, it generates the energy needed to recharge the battery.

The Honda Insight is comparable in size to the Honda Civic but gets eighty-five percent better mileage due to a lighter, aerodynamic body design including a plastic bottom, and a smaller, refined engine no larger than a large motorcycle’s. The dashboard display indicates which system is running and not to shift down—to save on fuel—if the electric is engaged. The two-seater should get about 60-70 mpg and will cost under $20,000 USD.

The Prius will get around 55-60mpg and sell in the low $20,000 USD range. Toyota is reported to be losing money on the Prius because it costs more to produce. However, once it goes into larger mass production the reproduction costs will most likely lower. By the time the Prius goes on sale this year, it is expected to meet California’s super-ultra-low emission standards set to go into effect in 2004.

GM, Ford and DaimlerChrysler have joined in research with the US government to develop other hybrid technologies. DaimlerChrysler’s Citdael is still in the test stages and is a cross between a sedan and a SUV. Tom Kizer for DaimlerChrysler said, “If you’re going to improve fuel economy, do it on the vehicles that burn the most fuel. A 20% improvement from hybridization on an SUV saves a lot more fuel than a 20% improvement on a Neon.” Fortune Magazine, Time(10/25/99) SUVs are one of the most popular vehicles in North America today and put out higher emissions than cars. IAnd as I mentioned before some government regulations let them emit more because they were classified as “farm vehicles.”

Government incentives are in place to offset the higher cost for hybrid vehicles. Until the hybrids are mass produced on a much larger scale they will continue to be pricier. What price is greater to pay, a car that continues to destroy the environment and our health or one that costs a little more out of pocket yet gives cleaner air and more miles to the gallon? Gas prices will climb as we run out of fossil fuel and it is fuel economy that will save us more in the long run.

For more information:

Honda Insight www.honda2000.com/insight/homepage.html
Toyota Prius www.toyota.com
Chevrotlet Volt http://www.chevrolet.com/electriccar/
Zipcars (Vancouver) http://www.zipcar.com/ 

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