Best ROI for Green Cars

ConsumerReports.org answers the question: Is it better for your bank account to buy a small, less-expensive nonhybrid that still provides good, if not great, fuel economy?

Link: ConsumerReports.org – Best fuel economy for the buck.

If your goal in getting better fuel economy is to make every dollar count, the following list can guide you to some of today’s best buys. Of the more than 260 vehicles that we’ve recently tested, these are the 10 cars that provide the best combination of low purchase price and high fuel economy.

But gas mileage isn’t everything. So, to ensure we aren’t guiding you to cars that are mediocre in other areas, we selected only ones that meet our stringent criteria in performance, reliability, and safety for being recommended. And to make sure, the cars aren’t going to blindside you with high ownership costs after you’ve signed on the dotted line, we selected only models that earn an excellent owner-cost rating.

Top 10 in price per mpg

Model As tested Price Overall mpg Price per mpg
Honda Fit Sport (manual) $15,765 34 $464
Honda Fit (base) 15,245 32 476
Toyota Prius (base) 23,780 44 540
Mazda3 i (manual) 17,290 30 576
Toyota Prius Touring 24,803 42 591
Nissan Versa 1.8 SL 16,675 28 596
Honda Civic Hybrid 22,400 37 605
Honda Civic EX (manual) 18,810 31 607
Hyundai Elantra GLS 17,555 27 650
Scion tC (base) 17,115 26 658

All have an automatic transmission unless noted.

If you want a roomier car than the subcompact Fit, several compact cars made the list, including the Mazda3, Honda Civic, and Hyundai Elantra. And, despite their higher cost, three hybrids-two versions of the Toyota Prius and the Honda Civic Hybrid-made the list, based on stellar fuel economy results.

The lowest price per mpg in our analysis came from the Toyota Yaris and Hyundai Accent with manual transmissions ($370 and $425, respectively). But because they scored too low in our tests to be recommended, they didn’t make the cut. Which cars are highest? With the Dodge Viper SRT10 and Mercedes-Benz SL550, you’ll pay more than $6,000 for every mile-per-gallon. And you’ll have to feed these engines requiring Premium fuel, as well.

Defining Wealth

One day, the father of a very wealthy family took his son on a trip to the country with the express purpose of showing him how poor people live. They spent a couple of days and nights on the farm of what would be considered a very poor family. On their return from their trip, the father asked his son, ‘How was the trip?’

JC Thompson and Sandy, photo by David St Lawrence

‘It was great, Dad.’

‘Did you see how poor people live?’ the father asked.

‘Oh yeah,’ said the son.

‘So, tell me, what did you learn from the trip?’ asked the father .

The son answered:

‘I saw that we have one dog and they had four. We have a pool that reaches to the middle of our garden and they have a creek that has no end. We have imported lanterns in our garden and they have the stars at night. Our patio reaches to the front yard and they have the whole horizon. We have a small piece of land to live on and they have fields that go beyond our sight. We have servants who serve us, but they serve others. We buy our food, but they grow theirs. We have walls around our property to protect us, they have friends to protect them.’

The boy’s father was speechless.

Then his son added, ‘Thanks Dad for showing me how poor we are.’

via Scott Williams

Photo by David St.Lawrence

Peak Oil is a Predicament without a Political Solution

John Michael Greer describes why peak oil won’t be "solved" with popular solutions. It does create an opportunity for extreme political change that often ends badly. Excerpts below.

Link: The Archdruid Report: Post-Peak Politics.

…peak oil is not a problem that can be solved. It’s a predicament – a phenomenon hardwired into our species’ most fundamental relationships with physical and ecological reality – and like any other predicament, it cannot be solved; it can only be accepted. It differs in detail, but not in kind, from the collisions with ecological limits that punctuate the historical record as far back as you care to look.

Like every other species, humanity now and then overshoots the limits of its ecological support system. It’s our misfortune to live at a time when this has happened on a much larger scale than usual, due to our species’ recent discovery and reckless exploitation of the Earth’s once-abundant fossil fuel reserves. Expecting a change of leaders, or even of systems, to make that reality go away is a little like trying to pass a bill in Congress to repeal the law of supply and demand.

Still, leaders and governmental systems make great scapegoats, and just now scapegoats are very much in fashion.

Missing from nearly all these lists, however, is the simple geological reality that there’s only so much oil in the Earth’s rocks, we’ve pumped out most of the really large and easily accessible deposits, and it’s becoming increasingly difficult to maintain current production levels – much less increase them – by drawing down the smaller and less accessible deposits that remain. It’s not hard to show that this is a major factor in the current energy crisis; when a commodity’s price doubles in a year, but the production of the same commodity fails to budge outside of a narrow range, it’s a reliable bet that physical limits on the supply of the commodity are to blame.

The difficulties with this otherwise sensible observation, of course, are twofold. It offers no easy answers; if we’ve reached the physical limits of petroleum production, that’s a fact we have to learn to live with, no matter how inconvenient or uncomfortable it may be. At the same time, it offends against a common assumption of modern thought, the belief that human beings – and only human beings – play an active role in history. Older civilizations understood that nonhuman forces shared in the making of history, and there’s a fine irony in the way that our civilization, having rejected the nonhuman world as a historical agent, now finds its own history being shaped by a nonhuman reality with which it steadfastly refuses to come to terms.

Bring historical irony into the political sphere, though, and as often as not it turns explosive. The example of Germany in the aftermath of the First World War is instructive. Faced with the collision between an imperial ideology of world domination and the hard fact of military defeat, a great many Germans after 1918 searched feverishly for an explanation for that defeat that did not require them to recognize the geopolitical limits to German power in the dawning age of oil.

As the economic troubles of the postwar period mounted, so did the quest for scapegoats, until finally a fringe politician named Adolf Hitler came up with an answer that most Germans found acceptable.

We are in a similar situation in America today. If anything, contemporary political thought is far more impoverished than it was in 1908, when the radical fringes of society swarmed with alternative theories of political economy. Since the collapse of classical conservatism in the 1960s, and the implosion of the New Left in the 1970s, political debate in the American mainstream has focused on finding the best means to achieve a set of ends that few voices question at all, while a great deal of debate outside the mainstream has abandoned political theory for a secular demonology in which everything wrong with the world – including the effects of the Earth’s ecological limits, of course – is the fault of some malevolent elite or other.

The current presidential race in America is a case in point. Neither candidate has addressed what, to my mind at least, are the crucial issues of our time: for example, whether America’s interests are best served by maintaining a sprawling military-economic empire with military bases in more than a hundred nations around the world; what is to be done about the collapse of America’s economic infrastructure and the hollowing out of its once-prosperous heartland; and, of course, how America’s economy and society can best deal with the end of the age of cheap abundant energy and the transition to an age of scarcity for which we are woefully unprepared.

Instead, the candidates argue about whether American troops should be fighting in Iraq or in Afghanistan, and whether or not we ought to produce more energy by drilling for oil in the nation’s wildlife refuges. Meanwhile, the partisans of each of these career politicians strive to portray the other as Satan’s own body double, while a growing number of those who are disillusioned with the entire political process hold that both men are pawns of whatever reptilian conspiracy happens to be fashionable on the fringes these days.

Maybe it’s just me, but this sort of evasion of the obvious seems utterly counterproductive. If Weimar America is to have a less disastrous future than its 20th century counterpart, we need to move toward serious debate over the shape that future is going to have, and our economically ruinous empire, our disintegrating national economy, and our extravagant lifestyles need to be among the things up for discussion. The radical right have already begun to scent a major opportunity; Nick Griffin, head of the neofascist British National Party, has already commented that his party is precisely one major crisis away from power, and he may well be right.

More generally, the first political movement to come up with a plausible response to peak oil will likely define the political discourse around energy and society for decades to come. Griffin and his peers are eager to take on that role; their response may not look plausible to most people now, but then neither did Hitler’s, before the Great Depression lowered the bar on plausibility to the point that he could goose-step over it. Unless some other movement comes up with a meaningful politics for the post-peak world, Griffin’s ideas may yet win out by default.

That would be a tragedy, and for more than the obvious reasons. One advantage of crisis is that it becomes possible to make constructive changes that are much harder in less troubled times. While I am no fan of utopian fantasies, and the possibility always exists that well-intentioned changes could make things worse, it’s hard to argue against the idea that the dysfunctional mess that is modern American politics could stand some improvement. That might involve learning a few things from other democracies; it might also involve returning to something a little more like the constitutional system on which this country was founded, which after all worked well in a pre-fossil fuel age. One way or another, though, it’s time to take a hard look at some of our most basic assumptions, and replace scapegoat logic with a reasoned discussion about where we are headed and what other options our society might want to consider.

Lee Iacocca: Where Have All the Leaders Gone?

Excerpts from Lee Iacocca’s book published in 2007. Apparently he was right on the mark and we’re seeing the results in 2008

Link: Iacocca: Where Have All the Leaders Gone?.

Am I the only guy in this country who’s fed up with what’s happening? Where the hell is our outrage? We should be screaming bloody murder. We’ve got a gang of clueless bozos steering our ship of state right over a cliff, we’ve got corporate gangsters stealing us blind, and we can’t even clean up after a hurricane much less build a hybrid car. But instead of getting mad, everyone sits around and nods their heads when the politicians say, "Stay the course." Stay the course? You’ve got to be kidding. This is America, not the damned Titanic. I’ll give you a sound bite: Throw the bums out! You might think I’m getting senile, that I’ve gone off my rocker, and maybe I have. But someone has to speak up. I hardly recognize this country anymore.

I’m going to speak up because it’s my patriotic duty. I think people will listen to me. They say I have a reputation as a straight shooter. So I’ll tell you how I see it, and it’s not pretty, but at least it’s real. I’m hoping to strike a nerve in those young folks who say they don’t vote because they don’t trust politicians to represent their interests. Hey, America, wake up. These guys work for us. Who Are These Guys, Anyway? Why are we in this mess? How did we end up with this crowd in Washington? Well, we voted for them, or at least some of us did. But I’ll tell you what we didn’t do. We didn’t agree to suspend the Constitution. We didn’t agree to stop asking questions or demanding answers. Some of us are sick and tired of people who call free speech treason. Where I come from that’s a dictatorship, not a democracy. And don’t tell me it’s all the fault of right-wing Republicans or liberal Democrats. That’s an intellectually lazy argument, and it’s part of the reason we’re in this stew. We’re not just a nation of factions. We’re a people. We share common principles and ideals. And we rise and fall together.

Where are the voices of leaders who can inspire us to action and make us stand taller? What happened to the strong and resolute party of Lincoln? What happened to the courageous, populist party of FDR and Truman? There was a time in this country when the voices of great leaders lifted us up and made us want to do better. Where have all the leaders gone?

Creative Thinking: Water Windmill

An invention that will very useful if it works, reported by Paul O’Callaghan at the Cleantech blog.

Link: Cleantech Blog: There’s water in dem dar clouds!.

Max Whisson, an energetic septuagenarian inventor, believes he can solve the current water crisis with his Water Windmill invention, a unique technology to extract moisture from the atmosphere. The concept is to use windmills to cool air and extract water directly from the air and was partly inspired from an African beetle, Stenocara, who manages to be completely water sufficient by standing on his head in the desert and using cooling plates on his body to extract water vapor from the air (video below).

The "Whisson Windmill" will make it possible to get adequate water anywhere at any time, drought or no drought" says Dr. Whisson.