ZEVs: Methadone for Road Hogs
Richard Risemberg (September 1997)

The concept of a Zero-Emissions Vehicle will certainly appeal to the American mentality, representing as it does another technological manipulation that solves a problem by putting it out of sight--for now. What do the two major contenders really do for air pollution? The electric car moves its power generation out of the city and into the countryside, where most power plants, whether coal-fired, nuclear, or hydroelectric, exist, at a small gain in efficiency over newest generation internal combustion engines. Now, as well as lighting up Hollywood and Las Vegas, Four Corners will have to work even harder to power up seven million electric cars. Or perhaps EV technology will be cut off at the pass by hydrogen fuel cells, which make possible a ZEV that you can drive "just like a real car." But--where does the hydrogen come from? Well, there's two places: you can make it out of water, using a whole lot of energy; or you can refine it from--fossil fuels! Using a whole lot of energy. In physics, as in chemistry, you don't get something for nothing.

Then there's another question. Go stand over the Hollywood Freeway at rush hour and imagine that all the cars you see there are electrically or fuel-cell powered. Then go into the parking lot at the mall and imagine the same thing about the rows and rows of Hondas and Chevys there. They have all been suddenly changed into ZEVs. What's different about the scene? That's right: NOTHING!

Maybe the problem isn't what type of cars we drive. Maybe the problem is cars.

ZEVs are nothing more than methadone for road hogs.

Bike People Editorial