Wednesday, August 18, 2010

New York Times "Green" Blog Delusional On Energy Efficiency In Transportation


A real pet peeve of mine is how often mainstream "green" media spends it's time trying to sell new cars, often ignoring or disparaging more efficient modes like riding a bike or taking transit and misinterpreting data in the process. The following quote from the New York Times article "Delusions Abound on Energy Savings, Study Says" stood out to me from their report on a research paper titled "Public perceptions of energy consumption and savings".
The top five behaviors listed by respondents as having a direct impact on energy savings (turning off the lights, riding a bike or using public transportation, changing the thermostat, “changing my lifestyle/not having children” and unplugging appliances or using them less) yield savings that are far outweighed by actions cited far less often, like driving a more fuel-efficient car.
This jumbled mess of a paragraph lumps together a bunch of data from the recent research paper to reach conclusions that are not supported by the paper it self in anyway. The New York Times is delusional if it believes you can buy a giant hunk of metal and plastic that sucks down gas, though less than some other ones, and come out with more energy savings than riding a bike or taking transit.

The paper was focused on perceptions of energy use relative to reality of differences in curtailing use and increasing efficiency. Most of the paper is focused on home appliances and not transportation. The paper does make a few conclusions on transportation, but not what the New York Times "Green" blog makes it out to be. The paper found that people vastly underestimate how much more efficient trains are compared to trucks in hauling goods (10x more efficient), and that they pretty accurately guess that planes use a lot more energy than other modes.The researchers also found that those surveyed pretty closely understood the energy savings of a car tune up, reducing traveling speed from 70 to 60, and driving a car with 10mpg more in fuel efficiency.

No where does the paper seem to suggest or conclude anything about public transit use and bicycling relative to driving other than it was listed by survey participants as the 3rd most energy efficient change one can make in an open ended question. The main conclusions from the paper were that people tend to perceive activities like turning off lights more often as being more important than more energy efficient bulbs, which is not true. Similar conclusions were made about other home appliance uses.

Maybe the New York Times bloggers should actually read the research they are reporting on, instead of making up their own bull shit conclusions. If they wanted to report on transport efficiency, maybe they should have looked at a graph of transportation mode energy use instead of a paper focused on psychology and home appliances.

1 comment:

Browne said...

Greenwashing, I don't understand why people reuse to even entertain the idea that we have a more sustainable community if we don't build, create housing, and work around if we can all have access to a motorized vehicle.

And in NY, why. I get NY Times is more national in scope than most local papers, but a car that uses a little less gas, that's like saying you'd be ok if you only use a little bit of poison.

But car companies buy ads and everything seems to be based on the dollar, even though we're all getting less and less of those these days.