Saturday, February 10, 2007

Hybrid Heaven

Even though hybrid cars have detractors who feel that they do too little in terms of decreasing carbon emissions, we have wanted one for years. As conscientious people who are quite aware of our ecological footprint, we're always looking for ways to decrease our impact within the current parameters of our lifestyle. We are rabid recyclers, try to buy nothing that we don't really need, and are as likely to find furnishings for our home via yard sales, the side of the road, as well as dumpster-diving at area colleges when the students are moving out for the summer. Oh, the places we go!

Over the last few years I have researched hybrid cars and grease cars. For those of you who are unaware of this technology, any diesel vehicle can be altered to run on vegetable oil. The owner of such a car can simply stop at their local McDonald's and take away containers of used friolator oil which the restaurant must actually pay to dispose of. Yes, the oil must be filtered to remove pieces of french fries, but is then ready to power the vehicle. Alternatively, the car will also run on "Biodiesel" fuel, available at few venues currently, but slowly growing in availability as demand increases. However, the Union of Concerned Scientists is still recommending the purchase of a hybrid over a diesel in need of conversion due to biodiesel's proclivity to still produce nitrogen oxide compounds, a problem (in terms of smog pollution) which has yet to be fully resolved. (However, for anyone who already own a diesel vehicle---or municipalities with diesel buses or trucks---retrofitting for biodiesel is highly encouraged.)

Anyway, we have finally taken our first plunge and purchased a used 2003 Honda Civic Hybrid. Although we essentially "traded down" by giving up a 2005 Toyota for an older Honda with more mileage, it felt like it was time for us to put our money where our mouths are and make the shift. While the Civic hybrid does not have a distinctive shape or other features to distinguish it from other cars (only a small "Hybrid" emblem on the back of the car), the proof is in the pudding. While it's certain that Prius owners achieve instant "social recognition" that they are indeed driving an alternative vehicle based upon its distinctive design, we're happy with our more understated choice and have pledged to one another that we will never again purchase another standard fossil fuel car.

For those who might disparage hybrid cars as a fad that has little overall environmental impact, the Union of Concerned Scientists states the following on their website devoted to hybrid vehicles: "hybrids have better total ownership cost over five years or 70,000 miles than their direct competitors. [They] accredit the long-term savings to the fact that hybrids retain their value better than conventional vehicles, have moderate maintenance and repair costs, and have lower fuel costs. listed the Toyota Prius, Honda Civic Hybrid, Toyota Highlander Hybrid, and Ford Escape Hybrid as vehicles with the biggest five-year savings."

Small changes in lifestyle go a long way, and we recognize that we are priviledged enough to simply have the opportunity to make such a choice. While we both try our best to not preach about the things of which we hold deep convictions, we will begin to gently encourage our friends, loved ones and colleagues to consider the alternatives when needing a new vehicle. If we all vow to make even the smallest of changes within our means, the larger exponential effect will be both measurable and sustainable, and that is a truth which is conveniently easy to swallow.
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