Clearwater has an eco-theme, and the Toyota Priuses and VW buses are out in force. (Jim Motavalli photo)
I spent part of the weekend at the Clearwater Festival alongside the Hudson River in upstate New York. The river is considerably cleaner since folk singer Pete Seeger, who lives on the Hudson in Beacon, decided to get involved in 1966 and built the sloop Clearwater (the festival's namesake) to focus attention.
The Clearwater Festival (also known as the Great Hudson River Revival) is in its 40s, and Pete Seeger (who appeared on stage this year as every year) is now in his 90s. That means a lot of graying ponytails and fraying tie dye at the annual celebration. I mention all this because as I was driving up to the festival I got behind two nearly identical Priuses festooned with bumper stickers (they both had the one saying "Coexist") so I knew I could tailgate them all the way to the entrance. And so it proved.
The Toyota Prius is everybody's favorite hybrid car, and it's the pick hit of folk singers (and their fans). There were dozens of them at Clearwater, but they were followed closely by versions of the Volkswagen Microbus (number one transport for tofu vendors). So let it be said here that although both those vehicles have the eco stamp of approval, only one is really a green car.
It turns out that the VW Beetle and its Microbus variant (same engine) are like Rush Limbaugh to the Prius' Al Gore. One auto analyst did a back-of-the-envelope calculation for me and concluded that the mid-60s Beetle produces more than 141% more hydrocarbons and 80% more nitrogen oxides (the main smog ingredients) than does the typical SUV the greens hate. Even a Hummer is far cleaner for the environment (and the Hudson, for that matter), than old VWs.
Yes, the Beetle was the fuel economy champ of its time, presenting a clear alternative to Detroit's befinned excesses. They were the greenest choice then, but we've made huge advances in auto emissions since then. Catalytic converters, which made a huge difference, weren't even introduced until the 1975 model year.
Another point worth making is that the old diesel vehicles that are often seen running on diesel at events like this (typically an old VW or Mercedes) are pretty dirty to start with, producing quite a lot of particulate matter among other pollutants. But yes, if you're going to run one of them, it's nice to know that the Department of Energy says using biodiesel reduces carbon dioxide emissions by 78.5 percent.
You can't judge cars by what they look like. I went to the debut of the Honda CR-Z hybrid last week, and it looks like a flashy two-seat sports car. It probably wouldn't look right with a "Buck Fush" bumper sticker, or a parking permit for the food coop. But, depending on which transmission you order, it either gets 31 mpg city and 37 highway (six-speed manual) or 35/39 (a CVT automatic). And equally important, it's an AT-PZEV. That's a California designation that means "Advanced Technology Partial Zero Emission Vehicle." There is no cleaner exhaust outside of plug-in battery cars like the Nissan Leaf (which don't have exhaust pipes at all).
Just because a car has peace stickers and carried its occupants to Woodstock does not make it green!
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