• Mar 9, 2011
Sweden seems to be experiencing what experts call a backfire effect from the company's rash of green car sales. Swedish car buyers have been snapping up clean diesel and ethanol vehicles in droves thanks to sizable government incentives, but, according to reports, the nation has actually seen its emissions from the transportation sector increase by an impressive 100,000 tons. What happened?

According to statistics from the Swedish Transportation Agency, average emissions from new cars in the country decreased from 164 to 151 grams of CO2 per kilometer driven, Swedish drivers used their green cars to cover more territory than ever before. Thanks in part to better fuel economy and the idea that a green vehicle has a slimmer impact on the environment, the overall result is more fuel burned, more emissions spewed.

A similar scenario has played out here in the Land of the Free, where American drivers covered an additional 20.5 billion vehicle miles in 2010 compared to 2009. That number marks a .7 percent increase in vehicle miles traveled (VMT), which might be enough to offset any emission gains garnered by the controversial Cash for Clunkers program. Whether due to more efficient cars or an improving economy, we're driving more miles again, which means using more energy. Isn't there some sort of story that describes this situation?

[Sources: TreeHugger via Green Car Reports]


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  • 61 Comments
      • 3 Years Ago
      I think it is even more basic than Jevons:
      Last jan/feb I read about an experiment where people were divided into two groups to go grocery shopping. One group was sent to Whole Foods, the other to a generic big chain store.
      Afterwards in the lab, they were each given money, and told they have to split it with the person in the next room, but that the other person would not know how much the first was given, so they could give anything.
      The people who were sent to shop at Whole Foods were more likely to "cheat" the other person by giving them less than half of the money.

      This could mean we tend to do moral arithmetic in our heads: if we do something that we think is good (buying green/organic), we may decide it's ok to compensate by doing something bad.
      • 3 Years Ago
      The TVT VMT for the past few years is suspect. When the report was published in 2010, numbers were 3% higher than original estimates. Stimulus dollars may have introduced and upward bias in traffic volume monitoring and calculations.
      • 3 Years Ago
      The answer is obvious.
      People who drive a lot are more likely to buy a hybrid because they are the most concerned about their gas bill. So the average miles driven by a hybrid or diesel will be above average.
      I know someone who commutes the 92 miles from Sacramento to Pleasanton. He bought a hybrid and increased the average by a huge amount.
      Also if the country average goes up, it may have to do with the economy as a whole and fuel usage may have gone up more if the long distance commuters did not by hybrids.
      Is there a control group?
      • 3 Years Ago
      It's come down to this. Black Crude is a demon of oil that needs to be elimnated! The direction to be taken can not be compromised. Everyone must go full electric, or die out or use hay burners & wind power as our forefathers did! Otherwise, climate change will destroy you!
      • 3 Years Ago
      There is some merit in David Martins proposition. It's true that having experienced the savings, people tend to drive more. (Anyone whose ever had a company gas credit card will attest to that).

      But this effect quickly wears off. Drivers return to old habits and the sort of driver who can afford a new hybrid hasn't really bought it for the fuel savings.

      EV/hybrid technology is not yet sufficiently economic to be worth purchasing on the basis fuel savings alone. Most new really efficient diesel vehicles prove far more economic.

      But a rebound in the economy, must produce more driving miles and this factor seems absent from the equation

      However, once EV/hybrid vehicles hit the 'pre-owned' market, this is where the discounted capital cost really kicks in!
      • 3 Years Ago
      If you turn the question around -- maybe people who need to drive farther tend to buy higher MPG cars?

      Neil
      • 3 Years Ago
      This is the argument that beats up efficient ICE, hybrids, or even plug-in hybrids. If you use less petroleum then that means you can afford to drive further or perhaps you bring the cost of fuel down but then that just means others will use more.

      The final solution involves using a RENEWABLE energy source. Anything else is just pizzing in the wind, (but you might get to pee on yourself for a bit longer -- ahhhhhh).

      Or, ....... maybe there's another way to git-er-done?

      Stockholm, Kista to Akalla by bicycle
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jnf_bvsNFZY
      harlanx6
      • 3 Years Ago
      David Martin I think you have it right. Do people buy efficient vehicles so they can drive less? I doubt it. What surprises me is that they were surprised by this study. People buy cars so they can do what they need to but also for recreation. Who doesn't want to see the world? (And it is getting a real pain in the ass to fly!)
      • 3 Years Ago
      I think more to the point than the myth of Sisyphus is Jevon's paradox:
      'In economics, the Jevons paradox, sometimes called the Jevons effect, is the proposition that technological progress that increases the efficiency with which a resource is used tends to increase (rather than decrease) the rate of consumption of that resource.[1] In 1865, the English economist William Stanley Jevons observed that technological improvements that increased the efficiency of coal-use led to the increased consumption of coal in a wide range of industries. He argued that, contrary to common intuition, technological improvements could not be relied upon to reduce fuel consumption.[2]'
      (wiki)

      However, to conclude from this that nothing is gained by the increase in efficiency is fallacious, as that assumes no marginal utility in the extra miles travelled - they wished to get to wherever they were going, and the extra efficiency enabled them to do so at affordable cost.
        • 3 Years Ago
        You gain greater utility but you don't increase rather than decrease consumption of the resource which is being used more efficiently.

        Jevon Paradox was first published in Jevon's 1865 `The Coal Question` which predicted the implosion of Industrial England owing the "inevitable" depletion of coal. (Sound familiar?) He was arguing, correctly history would show, that England couldn't hope to survive by burning coal more efficiently. He pointed out that Watt's steam engine burned coal ten times more effectively than Newcomb's but that it didn't cause a ten fold decrease in the consumption of coal. Indeed, it lead to IIRC, a 40 fold increase in consumption at the time Jevon wrote.

        History since then has proven Jevon correct time and time again with diverse technologies without exception. Any attempt we make to conserve "energy" or "resources" by increasing efficiency will backfire massively.

        Only by combining increased efficiency with authoritarian legal restrictions on the use of the technology. If you want to save resources with efficiency you will have to make it illegal for people to use the resource. Nothing else will work.

        Of course, we could just create more energy, you know, the same way we proved Jevon's overall hypothesis wrong. Honestly, the hoops we jump through just to avoid building nuclear power plants.
        • 3 Years Ago
        In the UK at least before the advent of common central heating in the 70's people would only heat one or two rooms usually, and just switch on heaters in bedrooms for a brief time before going to bed.
        Before double glazing became common even after they had central heating many would put up with colder temperatures in many of the rooms of the house to keep down bills, so that most of the gain from better insulation and central heating has gone to making the occupants more comfortable.
        I don't know the exact temperatures but in the UK after central heating many only kept the temperature high enough so that they were comfortable wearing a jumper (sweater) now they tend to keep it high enough so that they are comfortable in a t-shirt.

        Central heating has been standard for many more years in the US than in the UK.

        I keep the temperature at 19c, 66.2F usually. A 2C reduction in temperature leads to disproportionately lower costs, but most keep the temperature higher here now. I dislike the high temperatures common in most centrally heated houses, so am saving money and feeling more comfortable too.
        Air conditioning in the home is rare here as the climate is too mild to have great call for it.
        I happen to have it as a by-product of the air-source heat pump I use, but it is rarely needed.
        • 3 Years Ago
        They are referring to petrol used by everyone, not in hybrids specifically and are trying to make the case that some or all of the increase is due to more efficient cars being driven more.
        One area where Jevon's paradox does not apply comes in when price signals are given, ie the European's use around half the petrol of American's, but their petrol prices are around twice that in the US or more due to taxes so the extra economy of European vehicles both in more efficient cars and less miles driven is in accord with price signals.
        IOW if you want to discourage something, say petrol consumption, you need to put up the price as well as use more frugal technology or the savings will tend to leak.
        Here in the UK better insulation tends to result in warmer houses rather than lower fuel bills.
        Rising gas prices would soon change that.
        • 3 Years Ago
        Here's another concept: Displacement.
        A family owns an SUV and a Hybrid. Last year the family took the SUV to see a movie [ the SUV loved it ], this year the family Doubles-Down on SAVINGS and takes the Hybrid. Hybrid mileage goes up. Makes great headline in AutoBlogGreen!

        • 3 Years Ago
        Dave, what do you mean about European homes.
        Do they put their heat up to 80 in the winter?
        I'd guess they keep it to 68 degrees, like Americans.
        • 3 Years Ago
        Agreed. Please put a filter on some of these articles before they come out... it might be a slow news day, but that's no reason for weighty headlines with ambiguous [and poorly cited] statistics to back them up.
        • 3 Years Ago
        @shannonlove
        Precisely. Running our society but using nuclear for almost everything including electric cars, space and water heating using air heat pumps, railroads for most heavy goods transport and gas or coal only for high level industrial process heat, the remaining heavy goods road transport and air travel gives you a required energy flow from nuclear of only about 1.5kw per capita in Europe, perhaps a bit more in the US.
        For the UK that is around 60 1.6GW Areva reactors, the same number but bigger than they have in France already.
        The whole thing would only take about 10-15 years from the start of mass build, cost based on those of the Finnish reactor about $450bn and reduce carbon emissions per capita to perhaps 1 ton per person, around a tenth of current.
        Reprocessing, using breeder reactors and MSR etc means that nuclear fuel could be used up to 100 times more efficiently by energy than in the present once-through American nuclear cycle, so solving the 'waste''problem' and keep cost of the uranium well below the present $0.003kwh which is all we pay at the moment.
        Uranium from the sea would only cost around 3 times the current cost of $100kg, so obviously with a 100-fold improvement in energy efficiency possible even the tiny cost of the raw material could be much reduced.
        Erosion of the continents into the sea means that uranium is available from it for 10 billion people enough for an energy flow of 100kw per person, until the Earth warms to much for habitation in a few hundred million years.
        That may not be renewable, but then neither is solar energy as the sun eventually runs out of fuel, and on similar time-scales.

        There is no 'energy crisis' but an intelligence one.

      • 3 Years Ago
      0.7% sounds like it could be accounted for by population/car owndership increase.

      how about a miles per vehicle traveled average?
        • 3 Years Ago
        Not to mention 2009 VMT was drastically down due to the recession.
        No body was doing much in 2009.
        2010... different story, not huge but, yes there was more driving but not specifically because they have more efficient vehicles.
        Every year population increases and with it more cars.
        Why basic logic fails some people is a mystery.
        Difference in the US between 2009 and 2010 are...
        1. Economy 2. Population increase.
      • 3 Years Ago
      Goodness me! Heavens't'besty! Everyone panic!

      Did you think that little rant all by yourself?

      Hayburners? Oh, yeah horses! So we should revitalise the single largest cause of infant mortality?

      Hmmm.. lets see, what would power your instant electrification?

      Where's my enviro-pest swat....
        • 3 Years Ago
        @ EV superhero, No relation to Polo!

        My comment to the trite remark by 'ericnueman37', reflects not whether what he says is true , but my irritation at sanctimonious enviro-pests, chanting clichéd dogma, everyone knows, as if it were breath taking news!

        It's annoyingly simplistic statements like 'ericnueman37', to complex problems, that assist climate sceptic's.

        @David Martin ,

        In theory an EV should be cheaper to operate than a petrol car, certainly if you exclude the initial cost. Less so an efficient diesel. However, given the 30-40% price difference and low range of the current technology, over a 5 year cost analysis, the EV would lose with the technology in existence.

        If you want, although it very lengthy, I can cite a study conducted by an leading international fleet management group. My own experience, as a business owner operating a variety of EV's, is that the cost savings have not yet materialised.

        I agree that EV's will grow more efficient and as the technology advances the vehicles themselves will decrease in cost.

        Eventually, the vast majority of road transport will be electric. This would be especially true if the US stopped subsidising the price of gasoline.

        As far as servicing and reliability, well that will be interesting. Again in theory, EV should be far superior. But, when you look at the service disaster of Vectrix, I'm sure EV's will have their share of 'lemons'! This is the problem with theorising, it seldom works the way you want it, in practise.

        Fast charging technology is improving dramatically. If you look at the very fast, and low cost fast chargers from Tokyo Electric and others you start to see the future.
        • 3 Years Ago
        I pour on the coal in my EV. Once you pay for them, the batteries are free. What you talkin about David Martin?
        My batteries are going to go 200,000 miles, as the Garmin lady says, "recalculate" David Martin. Now batteries cost 12k to go 200,000 miles. Over 5 bucks to go 30 miles? My gasssers must cost 15 dollars to go 30 miles by the same calculations.
        Good one Niel Blachard, turn that frown upside down. ; ( ; )

        Marcopolo, are you any relationship to Polo? Climate change will destroy you if you live by the sea. He has got a point there, he did not say whether it was man made or not.

        Signed, Viral pest.
        • 3 Years Ago
        Marcopolo and David Martin, I was being a jerk this morning and making a poor attempt at humor, I fully expected one of you to tell me to piss off.

        David Martin of course the batteries are not free after I have paid for them but it feels like it, until I have to pay for another pack that is. I think my car is actually getting faster but have no data to back this up. I understand the gist of what you are conveying. I will read your detailed post on the Deveron or some such thing. Keep up with the very informative posts, your educating all of us.

        I enjoy reading both of your posts Mr Martin and Marcopolo, as Rodney King said, "can't we all just get along". Then LA was set on fire. I should really stop these warped, weak attempts at humor.

        Marco I hear what you are saying about EV tech paying off, however one day EV will be produce closer to the mass quantity of the ICE or at least the batteries will me mass produced like ICE, when this even begins to happen the pay off for EV will work. I love my EV, love not buying gas, love having a choice and I always choose EV instead of ICE. There is something very fun about going down the road on four wheels the same as every other car but different. I am not as busy as most people so it is easier for me to plan my trips but I truly rarely have to as my range is 110 to 145 miles winter/summer. Harried, busy people are different, they need a tried and true ICE and do not have the time to experiment with different forms of transportation. I know it is enviro pest but I thought viral pest sounded better.
        • 18 Hours Ago
        @EV superhero

        Not at all! Humours great!

        My remarks were sincere. Practising environmental choice is a very excellent thing to do as personal morality. That's not being an enviro-pest!

        An enviro-pest is someone who for confused and usually inaccurate reasons evangelises silly or trite doctrines in a stentorian manner. These individuals are motivated not by any true love of the environment, and certainly love of fellow man, but from some deep sense of frustration and insecurity of not being invited to the party!

        This why they always adopt a 'greener than thou' lips pursed air of sanctimony.

        I have revised my opinion of David Martin, and I think I understand his writing style which tends to confuse (unwittingly) what he believes will occur in the future with contemporary events. Maybe it's my fault for not reading him correctly!

        At least he cites references to justify his theories, most of which are quite valid and interesting.
        • 3 Years Ago
        Hi Ev.
        I was putting the worst case for EVs, and it works out that after you have paid off the car you are running it at a fraction of the cost, maybe 25% or so excluding some running costs like tires and so on of the cost of a petrol car until you eventually have to change the car, which won't be for a long time as the wear and tear is less than on a petrol car.
        Private individuals do not normally look on it the same way as a cost department does, but trust me, the figures I have seen show a much lower cost per mile than a petrol car, before you take account of potential technological improvements.
        Cars are more expensive to run than most people think, but electric cars should be a lot cheaper than petrol cars.

      • 3 Years Ago
      the ignorance of economic principals shown here is simply stunning ...

      people will of course do more of something that is cheaper than it was before ... if movie tickets went down to $5 would you go to more movies more often ? of course you would ...
      If good steak dinners went from $25 to $15 would to eat more of them ? of course you would ...

      so why would you assume that when the cost per mile goes from $.175 to $.0875 people will NOT drive more miles ? ... (20 mpg vs 40 mpg at $3.50/gallon)

      take off you green glasses and try to see the real world once in a while ...

        • 18 Hours Ago
        "people will of course do more of something that is cheaper than it was before "

        Of course they won't if they consider it (burning gasoline) a bad thing or at best a necessary evil. We're not all gasoline or cocaine addicts.
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