Wednesday, July 16, 2008


Alternative-Fuel Cars Will Fly!

At least that is what’s implied. Gasoline is expensive, so people are now pinning their hopes on cars that run on something else. Ethanol, electricity, natural gas, hydrogen, what have you. Or PHEVs will save the day.

But there is a nasty pitfall here. Proponents are thinking only about the energy needed to propel vehicles. They forget that fossil fuels are also needed to manufacture the vehicles themselves, and to build and maintain roads and bridges. As the fuel for trucks and road maintenance machinery gets more expensive, and as road-building materials like asphalt skyrocket in price, not all the needed road maintenance work is being done. Which means that the condition of roads and bridges is steadily deteriorating. As such, alternative-fuel vehicles must be able to fly over potholes and rivers, because that will be necessary in the future.

This requirement also holds true for people who claim to have vehicles that run on water... unless water can also manufacture the vehicles and substitute for asphalt and concrete.

Still another problem is that the funds for road construction and maintenance are being depleted. Even a relatively small drop in fuel demand translates into a large drop in the amount of money flowing into road construction funds from fuel taxes. This is what I have called the catch-22 relationship between fuel taxes and road maintenance. It’s a recipe for disaster, and we are like a bunch of cooks around the stove, madly stirring this volatile mix of ingredients.

The root of this problem, of course, is that we are trying to prop up an unsustainable system. In the future, “personal mobility” for most people will be the same as it was in the 19th century. It will be impossible to maintain a society in which each household has at least one vehicle. So these desperate attempts to find oil substitutes to keep the car culture going are not only doomed, but just making the situation worse.

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