So VC Vinod Khosla is not happy with with my recent attack on his (willful) ignorance, “VC Khosla blows his credibility dissing plug-ins.” Grist has given the billionaire a platform to defend himself, but he just spouts even more nonsense in the bizarrely titled post, “Pragmatists v. environmentalists, part I”:
I have been accused of dissing hybrids. I was mostly discussing Prius-type parallel hybrids and all the support they get, when one can get the same carbon reduction by buying a cheaper, similar-sized and -featured car and buying $10 worth of carbon credits. I was objecting to greenwashing (powered by a large marketing machine) that suggests hybrids can solve our problems….
Corn ethanol, which has been heavily maligned in the mainstream media, reduces carbon emissions (on a per-mile-driven basis) by almost the same amount as today’s typical hybrid….
The Prius is the corn ethanol of hybrid cars….
Seriously! This is like one of those newspaper puzzles: Can you spot all the errors?
1. Anyone who thinks buying offsets and a Prius-sized non-hybrid is equal from a carbon perspective to buying a Prius has no clue about climate, offsets or carbon. Offsets are so transparently dubious, I made them a separate category on Climate Progress. Burning petroleum and releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere where much of it will last for centuries cannot be undone by, say, planting some trees or buying some cheap RECs, which are probably the most popular U.S. offsets.
2. The Prius is in fact a parallel-series hybrid, with lots of other intelligent design features absent from most other hybrids (see this Scientific American article), which makes it easily the most fuel-efficient no-compromise affordable hybrid ever built. Easily. And it will pay for itself in fuel savings at current gas prices (with the carbon savings for free), something you won’t be able to say about cellulosic ethanol for a long time.
3. Nobody “suggests hybrids can solve our problem” — Vinod, please provide even two links to support this absurd straw man. But they are a key part of the solution — as I will discuss in a subsequent post. Indeed, nobody I have ever met (other than maybe Vinod) suggests cellulosic ethanol can solve our problems without either hybrids or more likely plug ins (and I was a major advocate and funder of cellulosic ethanol long before Vinod jumped on the bandwagon, pushed the driver off, and tried to take over the reins — Vinod has the fanaticism typical of the newly converted).
4. “Corn ethanol, which has been heavily maligned in the mainstream media” — actually corn ethanol has been heavily maligned in the scientific and policy literature. Why? Its benefits are small if not nonexistent, whereas its drawbacks are large, as I explain at length in this article. Indeed, it now appears that corn ethanol is actually driving up tropical deforestation (!) and it may even increase total greenhouse gas emissions, as one recent scientific analysis argues. I think the most defensible statement one can make today is that, most corn ethanol probably provides no net climate benefit compared to gasoline. And if corn ethanol once had a role accelerating the transition to cellulosic ethanol, thanks to recent energy legislation it has simply become Frankenstein’s monster.
5. “Corn ethanol … reduces carbon emissions (on a per-mile-driven basis) by almost the same amount as today’s typical hybrid.” No. As I’ve said, most corn ethanol probably has no net carbon emissions reductions, if all of its impacts were fully accounted for. And don’t let Khosla’s clever wording — “today’s typical hybrid” — confuse the issue:. The Prius is not a typical hybrid. It is the best hybrid by far, and it cuts carbon emissions 50% compared to a comparably-sized non-hybrid (which corn ethanol does not come close to even under incomplete life-cycle analyses). Yes “today’s typical hybrid” probably only cuts emissions 25%, but that’s because a) it isn’t as well-designed as the Prius and b) a number of manufacturers used some or all of the efficiency gains to increase acceleration (you know who you are, Honda). That is hardly justification for dissing the Prius, as Khosla does (“it is no different than Gucci bags”). Quite the reverse. The Prius should be praised and the Accord V6 “muscle hybrid” condemned. But of course there’s no need to do that since the marketplace has spoken: The Prius is the best- and fastest-selling hybrid (by far) whereas Honda discontinued the Accord V6 because of poor sales. Hmm, I never realized that Gucci made the best- and fastest-selling bags in the world….
5. Corn ethanol is the Hummer of alternative fuels. ‘Nuff said.
6. “Pragmatists v. environmentalists.” As if. Khosla is no pragmatist. And I am not now nor have I ever been an environmentalist. Energy pragmatists like me are happy Khosla is dropping big bucks on cellulosic ethanol, but are far more sober about its potential. I don’t believe even 10% of the energy technology community shares Khosla’s view, whereas at least that many think cellulosic ethanol is a going to be a small part of the solution. The vast majority hope it can be a big part of the solution, but know the jury is out. An interesting story will illustrate my point: