Steve LeBano: A13

A Polite Disagreement

The environmental impact of automobiles has long been a concern in this country. For years, hybrid automobiles remained relatively obscure vehicles in the American market, but in the wake of environmental and economic concerns stemming from fuel cost spikes, eco-consciousness has grown to become more than just an afterthought in the minds of many American consumers, especially those looking to purchase an automobile.

Many consumers have chosen to move away from conventional full-size vehicles for a variety of reasons, but many still feel that just downsizing to a smaller or more fuel efficient vehicle isn’t enough. It is primarily for this reason that hybrids have grown to their current popularity; hybrid drivers are looking for more than just an economic solution in the car that they drive. Hybrid drivers are greatly concerned with the environment as well, and to some, hybrids are seen as easily superior to standard cars in that aspect.

In an article published by Online PR News, part of the heading states that “Hybrid cars are the most environmentally friendly cars.” It then goes on to state that “A Hybrid car is a perfect solution to problems like deteriorating environmental conditions.” It’s very easy to take one look at emissions tests and make the assumption that a hybrid has a much smaller impact on the environment than a conventional car. My main disagreement with this argument is that the author is not taking into consideration the overall lifespan impact of hybrid cars.

It all starts at the production stage, especially for hybrids. A large portion of the pollutants released over any car’s lifetime are released at the manufacturing stage, consisting of, on average, anywhere from 10-20% of lifetime pollution. Manufacturers, such as Toyota, have admitted to the fact that much more pollution is created in the manufacturing of hybrid cars compared to conventional cars. This can be attributed to the production of a much larger amount of electronic equipment, especially electric motors, specialized braking systems, and hefty battery cells. All of this additional equipment, combined with standard gasoline components, requires automakers to use substitute materials such as aluminum for weight savings. Aluminum use also increases a car’s environmental impact, as it requires more intensive processes to work with in comparison to steel.

The materials required for the production of hybrid batteries are another environmental factor that isn’t taken into consideration. Cobalt, a highly important component in hybrid production, is sourced from volatile regions such as the Katanga province of the DRC. Serious environmental damage has been caused in this region, and in many others, as a result of increased demand for the multitude of exotic materials required for hybrid powertrain production. An article from Car and Driver’s Aaron Robinson makes the following metaphor that strongly supports the concept that electric technology in vehicles has a much deeper impact than many realize: “……a wave of new EVs will arrive, touted as clean transportation for socially responsible types. You know these people; they’re the ones in Whole Foods carefully reading the package labels. Unlike food, cars don’t come with a detailed ingredient list. Does anyone living in our modern consumer paradise care if their vehicle purchase helps pay for murder and environmental ruin in Africa?” That being said, I would like to politely disagree with the notion that hybrid cars are a “perfect solution.”

Works Cited:

Out of Africa: Where Electric-Vehicle Batteries Come From, Part II” http://www.caranddriver.com/columns/aaron-robinson-out-of-africa-where-electric-vehicle-batteries-come-from-part-ii . Aaron Robinson. Car and Driver. 11/2010. 4/16/2013

“Hybrid Cars – Eco Friendly Cars”. http://www.onlineprnews.com/news/52075-1281347364-hybrid-cars-eco-friendly-cars.html. Online PR News. 8/9/2010. 4/16.2013

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One Response to Steve LeBano: A13

  1. davidbdale says:

    Hey, Steve!
    P1. These are beautiful sentences, Steve, and they promote your primary theme of the ecological value of hybrids (which you will later question) very nicely. I would ask you to consider swapping the clauses in your second sentence, though, for the sake of forward momentum. You cite ecological concerns in your first sentence, then drop back to explain that hybrids were obscure for years. Instead, you could cite the ecological concern and move forward to the fuel costs and the deepening environmental crisis as motivators for hybrids which (dropping back now after you’ve made your point), had been relatively obscure during the decades of low gas prices and ecological ignorance. It’s a small point, but the best essays take advantage of all those rhetorical opportunities. Does that make sense?

    P2. We start to wonder how many reasons a person needs to choose a hybrid, Steve. You cited two or three reasons in P1. Here you offer more unspecified “variety of reasons,” then name fuel efficiency, then conclude: It is primarily for this reason that people are buying hybrids. That reason is very hard to pin down, though. It’s that “other reasons weren’t enough”? Or they needed “more than an economic solution”? In fact, it’s only in the third sentence that you offer “environmental superiority” as the prime motivator “to some.” Why is this so hard?

    P3. You might be able to shortcut this more effectively by tripping the wire in the first sentence, Steve: A headline in the Online PR News makes the common error of identifying hybrids as “the most environmentally friendly cars.” Yes, they emit fewer greenhouse gases than conventional cars, and less noxious gas overall, but over their entire lives, and long after their deaths, hybrids are not benign. (In this way, you haven’t had to say: this guy says this, and he draws this conclusion, and other people make similar mistakes when they look at just one aspect of the situation, and I have a problem with that, and my problem is that they missed something important.) Instead you state clearly your contrary claim after identifying common knowledge as erroneous. Am I making too much of this?

    P4. Your “much more pollution” is pretty darned vague, Steve, but you have addressed a concern I had earlier, that merely saying hybrids emit most of their trouble up front was not a clear claim about their harm. But if, as you say, more electronics means more pollution, and the braking systems and fat batteries and all that aluminum are also more harmful than conventional components, then your case is much more persuasive.

    P5. Oh, yes, and the exotic materials cost! This is really starting to sound convincing now. (One caution: too much “serious damage” talk without any detail starts to sound suspicious. Little details like rivers that are three times as acidic since the mining started, or a tripling in the incidence of respiratory diseases in the villages near the mines go a long way to convincing readers.)

    P6. Break before the Robinson quote. You need to further develop P5 and it will get long. Then, before you lay on us your very effective quote, somebody has to be murdered in between P1 and P5. You can’t have Robinson accuse carbuyers of insensitivity to death unless you’ve offered evidence that hybrid production kills people. Once you do, you can turn over that card.

    Despite my voluminous notes, this is quite good, Steve. You have a good command of your material. You keep your cards close until their time. You don’t rant, which shows confidence, which in turn is very persuasive.

    Graded provisionally. Revise to improve your grade.

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