The Myth of Fuel Efficiency

Why Henry Ford’s Model T gas hog was greener than today’s gas efficient compact cars.
If today’s vehicles are more efficient than ever, how come greenhouse gas emissions are skyrocketing?  Shouldn’t they be decreasing the global CO2 and SOx levels? Why aren’t they solving the problem?

The answer is simple; because it is the very fuel efficiency what it is boosting global fuel consumption. What counts is not how much gas a vehicle burns in one mile, but how much gas is burned by all the vehicles driving all these miles throughout the year around the world. Is that possible?

More people than ever before are concerned about the environment. Many want to feel they are contributing to the cause by buying fuel efficient vehicles. Car manufacturers are labeling their energy savers as eco-friendly. People are buying it. But, is it really so? Is striving for more fuel efficient vehicles really an eco-smart choice? I am afraid not.

We know we can’t solve the problems with the same recipes that helped to create them, yet still, many among the environment-minded, insist on the eco-efficiency concept. “Doing more with less” is their new mantra. But the belief that global greenhouse gas emissions will be reduced by increasing fuel efficiency is nonsense.

In the world of politics this concept has been adopted as “Sustainable Development”. The goal is to create more goods while using fewer resources and creating less waste. There is not a single self-respecting politician in the world that hasn’t pronounced these magic words and adopted them as part of their everyday lingo. The fact is that they’re full of it, yet they don’t even know what they are saying.

Car manufacturers are also jumping onto the band wagon with bogus marketing terms like “Eco-boosters, more mileage per gallon!!” Even the oil industry is embracing this eco-branding. “We aim to reduce our impact by making more energy efficient products”, states one the biggest oil companies on its webpage. Something fishy must be underneath this eco-rubbish if these greedy big wads from the big corporations are selling it.

The truth is that “Doing more with less” is what is causing all the pollution problems. “Doing more with less” is what humankind has been struggling for since the invention of the wheel. “Doing more with less” is what engineers have been told to do since Henry Ford brought the first Model T off the assembly line. “Doing more with less” is what cunning car manufacturing CEO’s want because – what the heck! , it boosts their bonuses at the end of the year. “Doing more with less” has always been the thing, even before green-minded thinking started to seep into our society.

So, coming back to the original question, if our vehicles are more efficient nowadays, then how come that there are more greenhouse gas emissions than before? The answer is simple, because, by making engines more fuel efficient, we are making vehicles cheaper to drive and cheaper to buy. These two effects combine to put more vehicles on the road and more miles on the odometers, and as a result, more burned gas into the atmosphere than ever before. To put it simple, fuel efficiency stimulates more fuel consumption!!!

Let’s start with the first effect. Fuel efficiency is making vehicles cheaper to drive, and therefore, it is making us drive further and more often. As a kid, I remember travelling for our summer vacation to my grandparents’ house once a year. It was more than 400 miles away from our family home, and it took us more than eight hours driving through winding roads to reach to our destination. In addition to that, in those days we drove with no air-conditioning in the heat of the summer of Southern Spain. “Oh, that’s too expensive” my Dad would say when anyone wished for air conditioning. “It consumes lots of gas”. Therefore, we did this trip only once a year. One way there at the beginning of the summer and then all the way back before school started. At the end of the year, the grand total of all the kilometers on my parent’s only car wouldn’t add up to more than 10,000 miles per year. That was it. My parent’s budget couldn’t afford more than that.
Now 30 years later, my family and I may drive the very same route several times a year. We have two vehicles in the family and we probably run each about 20,000 miles per year. That makes almost four times my parents’ total.
The second effect of fuel efficiency is that vehicles are cheaper to build, and as a result, more people around the world are accessing them. Fuel efficiency makes vehicles cheaper to build because fuel efficient technological advances are making all engines more efficient: cars, trucks, boats, airplanes, tractors, industrial machines, etc. Therefore the parts needed to build the vehicles are more cheaply shipped. The workers needed to build the vehicles are more cheaply transported. The industrial machines needed to build the vehicles are more cheaply operated, and so on. Vehicles are much cheaper today than 30 years ago, and therefore, more people throughout the world are capable of acquiring this technology for their mode of transportation. Traffic jams used to be an uplifting symbol of progress in the industrialized world. Traffic jams are today a pandemic plague cursing any urban agglomeration throughout the planet.
But that’s not all - as more fuel efficient engines are being engineered, people can afford new modes of transportation that were once beyond their reach: Power boats, jet skis, off-road bikes, dunes buggies, quads, seaplanes, private jets, and now there are talks of private spaceships for the tourist industry!
Henry Ford’s Model T could travel up to 20 miles per gallon. Today any compact car can easily do 40 miles per gallon. Nowadays’ cars are twice as efficient as the Model T was; the difference is that there are many more millions of people driving many more miles than in 1915.
So, are more fuel efficient engines the solution to the greenhouse gas emissions problem? Is doing more with less the answer to our environmental challenge? No, the answer is paradoxically, and sadly, no. The world would be a much greener place if only a few of us were still driving Henry Ford’s Model T gas hog.

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