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I used to enjoy John Stossel's segments on the TV news magazine 20/20, but increasingly I find his opinion columns in The Times to lack balance, accuracy and answers. It is unfortunate when a person who built a reputation on investigative journalism abandons the practice and coasts on celebrity.
The article "Going green isn't always quite that simple," that appeared Monday quotes one source, Robert Bryce, who has an obvious bias against green. By not investigating both sides of the issue, the article not only lacks balance but also looses credibility.
Stossel and Bryce accurately point out that we consume vast quantities of fossil fuels: renewable sources like solar, wind and biomass currently supply a small fraction of our energy needs; and electric vehicles have been in development since the early 1900s.
While these facts are not in dispute, his implication is that development of alternatives to fossil fuels, use of more efficient appliances and taking personal responsibility for using resources more wisely has so little impact that we shouldn't even bother.
According to the federal Energy Information Agency, renewable sources provided 353 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity in 2007. While that met only 8.5 percent of the U.S. electricity demand, its a big number.
Today's Energy Star refrigerators use 68 percent less electricity than a comparable model built 10 years ago. Compact fluorescent lamps use 78 percent less electricity than conventional incandescent lamps and last seven times longer. Using energy efficient technologies and making simple changes around the home can add up to big savings if we act.
As Bryce stated, gasoline is a very energy dense fuel. But that fact alone does not doom electric vehicles to obscurity. Nor are physics and engineering conspiring against their development. To the contrary, a modern gas-powered car wastes more than 80 percent of the energy content of a gallon of gasoline while propelling the car. Electric vehicles waste only about 10 percent of the energy in the battery.
I drive a Toyota Prius modified with a bigger battery and a way to plug it in. Driving around town using only electricity costs just 2 cents a mile. On the highway, it still uses gas but by adding $1 of electricity, it gets 100 miles per gallon for about 100 miles. If I drive further, the mileage drops to about 50 mpg.
By the end of the year, GM and Nissan will be selling plug-in cars in the US. More are on the way. Electric vehicles will not replace the conventional gas-powered vehicles anytime soon, if at all, but they offer an efficient alternative.
It is particularly poignant that Stossel's column ran on Memorial Day. As we pause to reflect on the contributions and sacrifice that the men and women of our military make to insure our freedom, we should also consider how maintaining our current dependence on foreign energy sources impacts national security.
There is no single answer or simple solution to our energy situation but going green by using renewable forms of energy and reducing waste through more energy efficient products and practices can play an important role. They should not be dismissed as insignificant or impractical without a closer review of the facts.