Ross Richie from Boom! Studios, in order to cheer me up as I ride the percoset smoothie, sent me a link to this CNN story. Car hackzors are tweaking the Prius, adding a plug-in technology to get in the vicinity of 250 miles per gallon. Toyota itself just kicked out some promo on its new concept car, the Fine-N -- a fuel cell/battery hybrid. (via Treehugger) Sure, for now just a concept -- but the Prius was just a conecept car less than a decade ago.
I drove the last model Prius for two years, and have driven the 2005 model since March. The first Prius was the best car I've ever owned ... until the second. The hatchback Prius won a slew of awards from car magazines, and I can honestly say that while the old Prius felt a little half-steppy (and was undeniably a compact), this new one is just a straight-out fine automobile. The fact I spent barely over $200 bucks on gas -- living in LA no less -- for the all of 2004 was a sweet kicker.
I'm constantly hearing how there's no economic advantage to owning a hybrid over the course of the car's lifespan. Well, bullhockey. I don't doubt that number's technically correct, but I believe it's the wrong metric.
First, what you really want to look at is the effect on your actual monthly living expenses. The Prius is no more expensive than cars in its class, so its monthly payments will be equivalent. When you factor in how much less you're paying per month on gas, that seriously changes the amount of actual cash-out-of-hand we're talking about.
Second, we're not really comparing the Prius to other cars in its class. The relevant meta-comparison is to the SUV's which flood our roads now. THOSE are the vehicles that need replacing, both for safety's sake and our dependence on foreign oil. When you do that comparison, it's not even close. My car only (?!) gets twice the mileage as a friend with a comparable compact -- it gets FOUR TIMES the milage of the SUV's the majority of my friends drive.
Third, most people are unaware that the Prius is super-low emissions rated. This creates an overlooked cascade effect. The longer a hybrid spends in its battery-driven mode, at low speed, the longer it has zero emissions. Cars spend longer times at low speed in heavy urban areas and highway gridlock scenarios. Essentially, the worse the traffic, the greater the comparitive benefit of the hybrid's pollution profile. The cities that need the help the most would automatically get the greatest benefit.
Kevin Drum recently quoted (and no, I'm way too stoned to track it down) a study which re-iterated that there's no "real" advantage to buying a hybrid. It's only just as convenient -- so if you're driving a hybrid, you're doing it for some other reason than financial incentive.
That made me think: what a perfect example of just how fucking useless as a society we've become. We can't even bring ourselves to do the right thing when it's only JUST as convenient as doing the wrong thing. And that's not even considered odd. Even sadder.
To tell the truth, I think Toyota's done a shit job of marketing the Prius/hybrid idea. The fact I still need to explain, several times a week, that I don't need to plug in my car is just ridiculous. I understand that's about to change, and I look forward to the new PR push.
However, all this is related to larger issues we as a people have with technology. It's all about the grand gesture -- Bush promises to dump billions into the hydrogen economy, which is still decades away. The Space Shuttle should have been retired or evolved away ten years ago minimum, but we needs our bipeds in space. Our biggest threat now is loose nukes, but we spend pennies on that while pissing money up a rope to build our magical missile defense space shield. Don't even get me started on "Mars, bitches!"
Note that I'm not saying we should stop spending money on those other projects (well, missile defense at the very least needs a vicious, thorough project review, but that's another rant) -- what I'm saying is that a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. A coherent, grown-up use of science in public policy will include the things we can do today, not just the things we want to accomplish in ten years. But there's no fun in that. Just realism.
This may even be related (or, might be the drugs talking) to a deeper disconnect in our society between everyday life and science as it's perceived. Science -- particularly as it's taught in high school -- is presented as a rarified world/skill set to which one a certain few need apply. This mindset supports the whole "duelling experts" theory, which flourishes simply because most people don't apply their own common sense to the science they read about. They simply shrug and move on.
But all science is no more than streamlined common sense. It's a toolbox, a way of thinking. That's the beauty of the scientific method -- anyone can make a hypothesis, test it, compare the results. It's both elegant and ruthless. The scientific method is the original open-source code. A great number of the current scientific "controversies" would disappear when explained simply, and the available proof shown. Of course, in science as in so many other things, some people's careers depend on making an issue appear more complex than it actually is.
We need to change the way we think of "Science" -- capitol-S the mysterious realm of geniuses and experts -- and start as a society valuing "science" -- small-s the method of using reason to examine and understand the world around us.