Backcountry Cookfires: Overview and Techniques for Cooking Over an Open Flame
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Home › Forums › Campfire › Editor’s Roundtable › Backcountry Cookfires: Overview and Techniques for Cooking Over an Open Flame
- This topic has 92 replies, 42 voices, and was last updated 7 years ago by Ken Thompson.
Mar 25, 2008 at 3:04 am #1425478
"By the way, I honestly thought that Brazil was the only country with a truly dedicated ethanol infrastructure, yet you described distillation points very close to the cane fields in Australia. Are you sure those aren't just the boilers for reducing the cane to syrup? Or did Australia build these facilities recently? Or are they just very small-scale? Or am I just ignorant? (Which wouldn't be surprising, since I am an American…)"
You're correct, they are the boiler mills for sugar but there is some ethanol being produced here now (I'll have to check where – you can get 10% petrol/ethanol mixes at some petrol stations) and the same mills used to brew rum in the past, so presumably a small step to producing ethanol for fuel. Not quite the same eco issues as appear to be around the use of maize. The problem is that the greens here are using the same arguments for maize instead of looking at the situation for Australia using sugar cane.
And I'm sure no-one would think you were ignorant because you're American – but you should try being Australian in England ….Mar 25, 2008 at 3:12 am #1425479Ron DBPL Member
Is there any chance you can take this entire Carbon argument out of the forum and beat each other up privately.Mar 25, 2008 at 4:08 am #1425480
"Is there any chance you can take this entire Carbon argument out of the forum and beat each other up privately."
What do you say, Arapiles? Should we meet at high noon in the Maldives? (That seems to be midway between Oz and Europe.) Fire-axes at two paces?
<—- Before you accept, you should note my excellent form.
"you should try being Australian in England …."
Which is ridiculous, since Australians publish more scientific papers per capita than any other nation (including the UK).
Anyway, I'll shut up now.Mar 25, 2008 at 5:18 am #1425482
"What do you say, Arapiles? Should we meet at high noon in the Maldives? (That seems to be midway between Oz and Europe.) Fire-axes at two paces?"
OK, but I've given up air-travel due to the greenhouse gasses that are produced by flying so I'll have to paddle there. Problem is I can't work out the carbon effect of paddling to the Maldives from here – would the carbon produced in providing enough food for the trip be about the same as produced by an air-flight?
Ronald, do you have any views on this conundrum?
And I think a better weapon would be rolled up reports on carbon neutrality.Mar 25, 2008 at 5:18 am #1425483
Double post – bloody TelstraMar 25, 2008 at 6:54 am #1425496Joshua MitchellMember
Aye Dean, that's the gist of it. Burning twigs and leaves and pinecones (aka NOT cutting down trees to burn) is about as carbon neutral as you can get. They regrow in a season. Also, ethanol from plant stock cannot be considered carbon neutral UNLESS all the power used to produce the ethanol was also derived from carbon neutral sources.
Fact is even with the relatively poor yields you get in the US ethanol has about a 25% energy increase during production (aka if 100kW of power [gas, diesel, hydro, and whatever driving the vehicles and running the processing plant] is used to produce the ethanol you get a usuable energy content of ~125kW of ethanol). Using sugar cane like in Brazil gets like 100% increase. Realize, though, that initial production energy has to come from someplace. In the US it's from petroleum (aka non-carbon neutral) sources, so ethanol is far from a carbon neutral fuel for cooking. Now, when the US infrastructure switches so that all the vehicles and processing plants are running on biomass… then it will become carbon neutral or even carbon negative but NOT until then.
As a contrast, burning already fallen twigs, and pinecones, and leaves, and moosedroppings… the only energy used to create that fuel source is the sun and your legs in walking around and picking it up. Add anything that allows your cook fire to burn more efficiently (bush buddy, tri-ti, zip stove with a solar recharger) is just icing on the cake.Mar 25, 2008 at 7:17 am #1425502Griff DanheimMember
Nice article on the benefit of backcountry fires. I agree that fires can really have a positive effect on our mood and outdoor experience. It creates some concern in my mind of all the new black rocks and piles of ashes that will be found in our shrinking wilderness. When used in line with LNT principles (which I would assum BPL supports) impact would be minimal. Great information at LNT.org on this.Mar 25, 2008 at 11:16 am #1425538Monty MontanaBPL Member
@tarasbulbaLocale: Rocky Mountains
I've been following this discussion for a few days and just now had the time to put down my thoughts.
* The techniques described and pictured in the article are pretty much those advocated in my Boy Scouts of America handbook circa 1950s. Those were pretty much abandoned by minimal impact (LNT) decades ago.
* The worlds population has pretty much tripled since I was a kid growing up in Montana learning woodlore and woodscraft, the places that I frequented are sadly closed to the burgeoning public because of disreguard of best practices.
* I have worked with at-risk adolescents, and if they were emotionally disregulated for several days, then something was terribly lacking with staff's training. Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) would have turned things around more effectively than a fire.
* I haven't had a fire for years and I respect the no campfires restrictions for wilderness areas. This has allowed me to enjoy, appreciate, and explore previously unknown aspects of the wilderness experience such as being in the moment of twilight turning to night, having bats flit mere feet away as they catch mosquitoes, and becoming aware of other nocturnal creatures going about their business.
* When the ambiance (by the way, omviance is not a word) of a fire is desired, a candle lantern works just fine.
Happy Trails!Mar 27, 2008 at 12:17 pm #1425835
Wood, like propane, like alcohol, is captured carbon. If you burn it, you are releasing carbon. We have an excess of atmospheric carbon right now that's said to be heating up our planet, and we are all supposed to release as little "extra" as we can. Burning wood does not qualify as "not releasing carbon"! Propane is just longer-term storage; either way releasing it from storage is bad.
Ultimately you are debating 1% of 1% of 1% of your lifetime carbon footprint: the carbon impact of propane stoves vs. wood fires vs. alcohol is irrelevant. You have to release carbon to heat your dinner, on the trail or at home.
Further, you have to burn thousands of tonnes of fossil fuels to mine the earth and smelt the ore and build the vehicle that got you there. And you have to do the same to build the machines that made the nylon that's over your head. All of which would have been unnecessary had you not gone camping, and instead just lived near your work and taken your bicycle to the store. But you didn't, and you don't, so you aren't Carbon Neutral and your camping fuel will not change that fact!
Roman: I'm the only one who mentioned the Arctic 1000, so I assume your first post was directed at me. I definitely did not call it an "attempt." It was an amazing feat of human endurance and technology. My point was that despite being on one of the most difficult backpacking trips on the planet, Ryan still felt able to bring a BushBuddy. By extension, the *majority* of hikers should be able to add those extra few ounces to their packs and not have to have campfires.
Is my concern aesthetic? YES!! The wilderness is an environment that we experience visually more than with any other sense. If it becomes scarred and pocked and stripped by the thousands who have gone before you, it's not really wild anymore and the experience is substantially degraded. That's why standing in an alpine meadow feels different from standing in a farmer's field or on a golf course. It's also why walking off-trail feels so much cooler than walking on-trail.
We would all agree that it's wrong to use fallen trees to build shelters and camp furniture, right? Well I would argue that a thousand people cooking over campfires at a given site is wrong for the same reason. It's not a carbon issue, it's not a sustainability issue, and it's not an issue of zealots trying to control a group for the sake of control. It's an issue of keeping things "as wild and as virgin and as unspoiled as possible" so that we can feel as far from civilization and as close to the natural world as possible.
At least for me.
In the north it's a different experience and a different mentality, which I understand. But this publication is hardly targeted at Alaskan off-trail adventurers.Mar 28, 2008 at 3:52 am #1425928
"Burning wood does not qualify as "not releasing carbon"! Propane is just longer-term storage; either way releasing it from storage is bad."
Incorrect. We just discussed this. There is a difference between releasing carbon from fossil fuels and releasing carbon that is participating in the current active carbon cycle, at least on a small scale. Nonetheless it is still impractical to use wood for power on a large (i.e. civilization) scale, so perhaps you are sort-of-correct, if that's what you were talking about. Or, if you were talking about how any wood you burn is no longer available as leaf litter for a period, etc., then that's correct, too, though trivial.
"Ultimately you are debating 1% of 1% of 1% of your lifetime carbon footprint: the carbon impact of propane stoves vs. wood fires vs. alcohol is irrelevant."
I totally agree with you. That's what I said.
But, I really don't want to get yelled at after I said I would shut up about this topic. Please email me and we can talk about the carbon cycle thing offline, if you are interested. Or, better yet, start another topic! I'll be there!Mar 28, 2008 at 5:37 am #1425932
"But, I really don't want to get yelled at after I said I would shut up about this topic. Please email me and we can talk about the carbon cycle thing offline, if you are interested. "
I don't think that there's any reason why you or I or anyone else should shut up about this topic or take it offline. If so, what's the point of these forums? I tried to respond with humour to the post you're referring to (the one telling us to shut up)but the reality is that if someone doesn't want to discuss this issue then they're free to go read a different thread. These are important issues and they are directly relevant to an article that advocated a leave-as-much-trace as possible approach.
I think there is a broader issue here – clearly a lot of the posters who responded to the article simply see the outdoors as a place to use for their own egotistical fun, and bugger the consequencees. Big campfire? Cool. Ring of fire-darkened rocks? Rad. Every bit of timber in range burnt for a bit of aesthetic pleasure? Right on. What is lacking is any sense of stewardship or responsibility. Generally I'm relaxed about twig burning in a bushbuddy but that's not what was being advocated in the article. Which raises another question – does that article reflect BLP's own ethics? Maximum impact so long as we can wax lyrical about it?Mar 28, 2008 at 5:44 am #1425933
"Is there any chance you can take this entire Carbon argument out of the forum and beat each other up privately."
Having had time to reflect on this, I don't think that your post was particularly reasonable. First, Dean and I were discussing an important issue, not beating each other up. I learnt a few things I hadn't previously so it had intrinsic value as far as I'm concerned. Second, this is a thread not a living-room – if you're not interested in the conversation feel free to not read it.
ArapilesMar 28, 2008 at 6:55 am #1425938Joshua MitchellMember
"I don't think that there's any reason why you or I or anyone else should shut up about this topic or take it offline. If so, what's the point of these forums? I tried to respond with humour to the post you're referring to (the one telling us to shut up)but the reality is that if someone doesn't want to discuss this issue then they're free to go read a different thread. These are important issues and they are directly relevant to an article that advocated a leave-as-much-trace as possible approach."
Er… who exactly, promoted the idea of building a bigger fire than one needs in the backcountry? or massively scarring the landscape? None of the fires in the article are burning anything much larger than twigs and are hardly bonfires. Matter of fact, most of the wood shown burning in the article barely qualifies as 'fuel' wood by boy-scout standards.
The issue most fire-proponents took was with the anti-fire knee-jerk reactions to the article and people self-righteously proclaiming that propane / alcohol was, per se, better for the environment. Yes, it's better for the US backcountry, but it's not necessarily better for the earth as a whole and likely bad for third world countries that supplies the petroleum / alcohol. With things other than wood, you're simply displacing your environmental impact not reducing it.Mar 28, 2008 at 7:06 am #1425940
"Er… who exactly, promoted the idea of building a bigger fire than one needs in the backcountry? or massively scarring the landscape? None of the fires in the article are burning anything much larger than twigs and are hardly bonfires. Matter of fact, most of the wood shown burning in the article barely qualifies as 'fuel' wood by boy-scout standards."
The photos I'm looking at include such things as a "robust cookfire" and a 2 m long stick holding a billy over leaping flames. And lots and lots of fire-rings, which pretty clearly are scarring the landscape. That may well be boy-scout standards, but that's the point.Mar 28, 2008 at 9:02 am #1425952
I don't care if the carbon came from an active cycle, a long term cycle, a storage cycle, a fossil-fuels cycle, or a unicycle.
A molecule is a molecule, and it's either contributing to climate change or it's not. The only relevant difference is:
~trapped in wood, propane, coal, the walls of my house, or the pages of library books = not changing the climate
~floating around in the atmosphere = changing the climate
If you make a campfire, you are sending a lot more carbon into the atmosphere than you have to. You cannot claim it is carbon neutral if it gives off carbon and doesn't absorb any! If burning wood was "carbon neutral", we could just have wood-fired power plants and woodgas cars (they exist) and we wouldn't have a climate change problem anymore.
If you want to feel that you are heating your dinner using the "natural" carbon cycle, you must cook exclusively on forest fires caused by lightning.
It all comes down to analysis, something that the Religion of Environmentalism won't let you do. (Like any good religion.) For instance, most of the Environmental Religion people can't tell you that forestry is in fact a substantial *reducer* of atmospheric carbon, because trees are carbon storage devices. If you cut them down and put them in buildings or books, you are removing carbon from the cycle and the atmosphere. And young trees absorb substantially more carbon than old ones, so the advantage is exponential from a climate change perspective.
But of course Al Gore can't encourage the logging of old-growth forests and the return to wood frame buildings. Even though it would be better for the climate, it goes against their Religion's agenda.
Hybrid cars have appalling environmental footprints which are far worse than any gasoline vehicle currently made. Yes your Prius is far worse for the environment than a Hummer H2. But you'll never hear an Environmental Religion faithful analyze the facts: facts are like Kryptonite to most Religions, including the Religion of the Environment.
You have to look at it analytically, not dogmatically. As soon as someone is using labels and terms (eg. active carbon cycle, eco-friendly, carbon-neutral, mortal sin) you can bet your crucifix that you're now part of someone else's agenda.
PS in scouts in 1991, we were taught that with modern materials and clothing there was never a need for a fire unless we had seriously screwed up and gotten ourselves into deep doodoo through stupidity. Our equipment was early-80's vintage, and our clothing was a hodgepodge of Standfields cotton longjohns, cotton sweatshirts, ski jackets, Swedish Army surplus pants, and Sorels. We camped down to -40 without ever relying on fires for heat or cooking.
The fire in then photo above was definitely not a scouting fire from my perspective. My Scoutmaster (Scouter Jon) would have actually kicked me in the ass if I'd built that.Mar 28, 2008 at 10:33 am #1425963William StadwiserMember
First, to everyone who has posted, thank you for the interest in the article and for taking time to express your views. The issue of fires in the backcountry is certainly a delicate and emotional topic for many of us for a variety of reasons. I'm excited to see BPL as a place where these important discussions can take place and where each individual can get the information necessary to arrive at her or his own conclusions regarding areas of disagreement. Still, I think it is important to acknowledge some of the concerns people have expressed and to offer some clarification from my end.
With regards to the issue of whether or not an open fire belongs in the backcountry at all, clearly I believe it does have its time and place – and with the same reservations that I mentioned previously. While this is certainly not the place for me to offer a personal dissertation on the merits of LNT vs. minimal impact camping vs. more negligent practices, suffice it to say that I do believe that small, controlled fires do occasionally have their place in some of my wilderness trips, provided that I watch them closely, harvest the wood ethically, and clean up after myself in a way that makes it all but impossible to tell that the fire had been there at all. Depending on your location, beliefs, abilities, convictions, lighting a fire may very well be a horrible idea (For the record, I do not advocate the lighting of huge towering blazes in pristine national parks as some posters have suggested).
Regarding the photos, previous posters make an excellent point that using a smaller fire than pictured above is indeed possible and may even prove more practical and ethical depending on location. Still, the kettle used was only 5 inches in diameter and the fire itself rather small by comparison. My goal was to show an enlarged detail of each method, while still creating some sense of scenery and overall composition. I believe I accomplished that and leave it to the responsible individual to make their own decisions regarding the relative size of their small fire given their location and resources.
For those with concerns about the established ring used in the photos, I suppose that it is worth mentioning that I did not create the fire ring, although it was somewhat overgrown and required some modification at the onset. I also disassembled it when I was through (as well as other one I found 20 ft. next to it), sifted the ashes and filled in the depression with soil from a nearby dirt road so that vegetation could eventually reclaim the area. With few exceptions, I follow these principals: Where established rings are available, use them. Where they are not, don't create them and find a suitable alternative. When multiple rings are available, and you have the time and desire, clean up all but one for future visitors. Always make sure your fires are completely extinguished before turning your attention to something else. I thoroughly advocate leaving a site the same as one found it, if not better. For someone willing to take the time and energy, experience tells me that these beliefs and practices are not incompatible with managing your own fire.
Finally, in no way is this article meant to alter or even challenge your own personal views on LNT. For those readers who are not opposed to making a fire, are responsible enough to manage its risks, and are able to clean up after it, the methods described above will likely be of some assistance in helping them bring water to boil over an open fire. For those with concerns about fires in general, your voices are incredibly important and need to be heard by the public and by those that would otherwise absentmindedly destroy the beauty of the wilderness that we all love and appreciate. Indeed such concerns serve as excellent reminders for us fire advocates to do so sparingly, cautiously and with great respect for fellow travelers and the environment.Mar 29, 2008 at 3:05 am #1426052
I'd have to say that I agree with William Stadwiser, and I think I said many of the same things he did, though not so eloquently. In particular, concening the U.S. at least, I see a great difference in how BLM or national forest land is used contrasted with national park land. (At least concerning small recreational campfires.)
Actually, I understand why some people don't want this discussion to take place in this particular forum thread. I think it would be more appropriate to start another thread. But this is a minor detail.
I respect Arapiles because, even if he disagrees with me on some things, he was willing to discuss the issue and CITE REFERENCES. I learned things, too. That is the point of a discussion. (He is also polite.)
The opinion of Brian James, on this subject, at this point I do not respect.
Brian James wrote:
"trapped in wood, propane, coal, the walls of my house, or the pages of library books = not changing the climate"
This is an easy simplification to make, but displays a fundamental lack of understanding of what a carbon cycle is and how it relates to the SUSTAINABILITY of a carbon fuel source. Either that, or we are having some sort of communication breakdown, and we're not discussing the same subject.
The way you talk about forestry and the carbon cycle makes it sound like you have read a reference. Cite it, so that your critics can read it and decide if it is hogwash. It may not be. For all I know you are a climatologist. That's why I am here– to learn something.
You say an awful lot about "analysis", then don't back up your statements and instead go on a rant about some mythical Vast Environmental Conspiracy (VEC).
Brian James wrote:
"If burning wood was "carbon neutral", we could just have wood-fired power plants and woodgas cars (they exist) and we wouldn't have a climate change problem anymore."
With this statement you have proved that you comment on our posts without reading them fully. We covered this. Both Arapiles and I acknowledge that human civilization cannot be wood-powered. Got back and re-read them.
Brian James wrote:
"As soon as someone is using labels and terms (eg. active carbon cycle, eco-friendly, carbon-neutral, mortal sin) you can bet your crucifix that you're now part of someone else's agenda."
This is the big reason I have no respect for your opinion right now. You have made a tautological argument. In other words, it is an "A = A" argument or a form of a "No True Scotsman" argument. By saying this you have defined ANYONE who uses a certain phrase as a fanatic and basically wrong. Thus BY DEFINITION anyone who disagrees with you is wrong, and you feels no need to support your position in any other way.
This is an argument universally recognized as illogical and void in any high-school debating club, let alone honest reasonable discourse. I simply do not respect it. You are actually doing EXACTLY what you accuse those "Environmental Religion" people of doing. You should strive to be better than them.
If you are unwilling (or unable) to support your position then, frankly, my time is too valuable to waste it by reading your unsubstantiated rantings. Especially when the best you can do is call me a religious zealot and pawn of "the agenda." Here's a reference for you…
The only agenda I have, sir, is spending time with my family and enjoying the outdoors.
Incidentally, while we are doubting everyone's motivations, I notice that you are from B.C., so OF COURSE you support logging and forestry. It's important for your economy! Perhaps you work for Weyerhauser its Canadian equivalent? You also ignore the fact that people who oppose clear-cutting are not doing so out of concern for the carbon balance, but rather because they see utility in a pristine wilderness beyond the market value of the wood.
Sorry. I usually try VERY hard not to sink that low, but I was trying to make the point that it is easy to jump to conclusions about YOU, as well. I do not actually suspect you of being a tinfoil-hat loonie, and I am aware that there has always been great debate about the logging industry in B.C.
For what it's worth, I do agree with you on the hybrid car thing. Just about every token effort the environmental loyalists are making nowadays might actually be worse in the short term. But in the long term I would propose that they are important tokens of a changing attitude. What Rosa Parks did was a token gesture, too, but attitudes changed.
Egad. This thread has turned into everything bad about internet forums. Let's start another thread for the carbon-cycle-flame-wars and let everyone else get back to camping, eh? I'll start it myself…
It is under "Chaff" and titled "The Carbon Flame War." I think this link will work:
By the way, how do you post a link in this forum so that it is live? I've been playing around with these links for hours…Mar 29, 2008 at 1:15 pm #1426115
"Either that, or we are having some sort of communication breakdown, and we're not discussing the same subject." – Dean Fellabaum (acrosome)
We're using two different definitions of "Carbon Neutral"
Yours is the official definition, whereas I'm using a functional one that I invented. That's why I don't have any sources and I'm not debating via an established formula.
I'm not even trying to debate in the formal sense, I'm trying to write how I feel about the issue and about what others have posted.
I could go back through my post and pepper it with "I think" and "I feel" 80's pop psychology therapist words, but I feel that you get what I mean.Mar 29, 2008 at 6:59 pm #1426142
But the interesting thing is I think all three of us agree that the article recommended practices that are wildly outdated and inappropriate.Mar 29, 2008 at 8:04 pm #1426149Matthew RobinsonSpectator
@mcjhrobinsonLocale: Waaay West
i think everyone here (BPL) knows what he/she is doing with respect to the environment and burning different fuels. i've been driving (yes on gas burn me at the stake) from california to the everglades. the one thing i see more than scarred land is trash. i think next time we all go hiking we pick up every piece of trash we can. a bit off topic sorry. aloha!Mar 30, 2008 at 4:35 am #1426172
I'm getting fired up again (not least because I feel like I'm being attacked personally) but I'm going to be the big man and move this to another thread where our mudslinging won't offend the innocent.
Please follow me to Chaff > The Carbon Flame War.
Here is my ultimate point, for those who don't want to follow:
If you are saying "my objection is almost totally aesthetic", well then that ends that, doesn't it? I can't say that I want to find fire rings in the Yosemite back country, either. I'd have to say that I agree with you in principle, though we may differ on exactly how rigid we are about it.
"But the interesting thing is I think all three of us agree that the article recommended practices that are wildly outdated and inappropriate."
In national parks, wildernesses, and wildlife refuges, yes I agree. However I have no great heartburn over small recreational campfires and firepits on BLM or national forest land. I certainly don't want them EVERYWHERE, and I don't want Joe Sixpack going out and building huge bonfires, but the intended use of those lands is different than the parks.Mar 30, 2008 at 2:41 pm #1426223AnonymousInactive
Brian, Arapiles, Acrosome, Chromosome, whoever,
Could one or more of you please explain to this benighted old coot how a hybrid vehicle is far worse for the environment than a Hummer H2? It's counterintuitive on the face of it, but I'm open to rational explanations. While we're at it, how does one arrive at the conclusion that everything environmentalists do just make things worse? I can think of a few counters to that right off the bat, e.g. eating locally grown produce in season; organic farming/home gardening; composting; riding a bike or walking on errands; solar power/wind power. That should be enough to get a sub-thread going. I'll take replies(if any) either here and in Chaff, dealer's choice.Mar 30, 2008 at 3:29 pm #1426229
Gasoline consumption is actually only a small part of a vehicle's environmental footprint. Manufacturing, longevity, and disposal play a huge part in a vehicle's environmental impact.
Manufacturing and disposing of a Prius makes a *huge* impact on the environment. Priuses have two complete powertrains and only last about half as long as a modern gasoline V8.
There's a hotly debated report that attempts to analyze this using unsuportable projections for the lifespan of each vehicle. The report has been refuted, and the refutations refuted, and you can check out a lot of the controversy on this page: (and of course by googling it)
This is the actual "report":
I'm not interested in debating the report. The authors may well be FOS, but they still put a taboo subject in the face of the Enviro Elite: the real and total impact of your actions and purchases is what counts, not some arbitrary metric like fuel economy or wattage or carbon footprint.
I've been to the mining and smelting towns of Sudbury, Ontario and Flin Flon, Manitoba, which produce Nickel and Copper respectively. They each look like Hell on earth; so toxic that things don't live and the surrounding earth is bare rock.
Cars don't grow on trees, and building Priuses is a particularly awful process. Whether or not it's worth it is left to the judgment of the purchaser I guess, but in my view it's tantamount to building a 10 000 square foot solar-powered house as a way to save the environment.Mar 30, 2008 at 3:32 pm #1426230
Dean, I'm not interested in a debate. I humbly and sincerely concede defeat in all categories.Mar 30, 2008 at 3:37 pm #1426231
PS here's an article summarizing one side of the Hybrid controversy:
March 7, 2007
Prius Outdoes Hummer in Environmental Damage
By Chris Demorro
– PRINTER FRIENDLY VERSION
– MORE OF THIS WEEK'S OPINIONS
The Toyota Prius has become the flagship car for those in our society so environmentally conscious that they are willing to spend a premium to show the world how much they care. Unfortunately for them, their ultimate ‘green car’ is the source of some of the worst pollution in North America; it takes more combined energy per Prius to produce than a Hummer.
Before we delve into the seedy underworld of hybrids, you must first understand how a hybrid works. For this, we will use the most popular hybrid on the market, the Toyota Prius.
The Prius is powered by not one, but two engines: a standard 76 horsepower, 1.5-liter gas engine found in most cars today and a battery- powered engine that deals out 67 horsepower and a whooping 295ft/lbs of torque, below 2000 revolutions per minute. Essentially, the Toyota Synergy Drive system, as it is so called, propels the car from a dead stop to up to 30mph. This is where the largest percent of gas is consumed. As any physics major can tell you, it takes more energy to get an object moving than to keep it moving. The battery is recharged through the braking system, as well as when the gasoline engine takes over anywhere north of 30mph. It seems like a great energy efficient and environmentally sound car, right?
You would be right if you went by the old government EPA estimates, which netted the Prius an incredible 60 miles per gallon in the city and 51 miles per gallon on the highway. Unfortunately for Toyota, the government realized how unrealistic their EPA tests were, which consisted of highway speeds limited to 55mph and acceleration of only 3.3 mph per second. The new tests which affect all 2008 models give a much more realistic rating with highway speeds of 80mph and acceleration of 8mph per second. This has dropped the Prius’s EPA down by 25 percent to an average of 45mpg. This now puts the Toyota within spitting distance of cars like the Chevy Aveo, which costs less then half what the Prius costs.
However, if that was the only issue with the Prius, I wouldn’t be writing this article. It gets much worse.
Building a Toyota Prius causes more environmental damage than a Hummer that is on the road for three times longer than a Prius. As already noted, the Prius is partly driven by a battery which contains nickel. The nickel is mined and smelted at a plant in Sudbury, Ontario. This plant has caused so much environmental damage to the surrounding environment that NASA has used the ‘dead zone’ around the plant to test moon rovers. The area around the plant is devoid of any life for miles.
The plant is the source of all the nickel found in a Prius’ battery and Toyota purchases 1,000 tons annually. Dubbed the Superstack, the plague-factory has spread sulfur dioxide across northern Ontario, becoming every environmentalist’s nightmare.
“The acid rain around Sudbury was so bad it destroyed all the plants and the soil slid down off the hillside,” said Canadian Greenpeace energy-coordinator David Martin during an interview with Mail, a British-based newspaper.
All of this would be bad enough in and of itself; however, the journey to make a hybrid doesn’t end there. The nickel produced by this disastrous plant is shipped via massive container ship to the largest nickel refinery in Europe. From there, the nickel hops over to China to produce ‘nickel foam.’ From there, it goes to Japan. Finally, the completed batteries are shipped to the United States, finalizing the around-the-world trip required to produce a single Prius battery. Are these not sounding less and less like environmentally sound cars and more like a farce?
Wait, I haven’t even got to the best part yet.
When you pool together all the combined energy it takes to drive and build a Toyota Prius, the flagship car of energy fanatics, it takes almost 50 percent more energy than a Hummer – the Prius’s arch nemesis.
Through a study by CNW Marketing called “Dust to Dust,” the total combined energy is taken from all the electrical, fuel, transportation, materials (metal, plastic, etc) and hundreds of other factors over the expected lifetime of a vehicle. The Prius costs an average of $3.25 per mile driven over a lifetime of 100,000 miles – the expected lifespan of the Hybrid.
The Hummer, on the other hand, costs a more fiscal $1.95 per mile to put on the road over an expected lifetime of 300,000 miles. That means the Hummer will last three times longer than a Prius and use less combined energy doing it.
So, if you are really an environmentalist – ditch the Prius. Instead, buy one of the most economical cars available – a Toyota Scion xB. The Scion only costs a paltry $0.48 per mile to put on the road. If you are still obsessed over gas mileage – buy a Chevy Aveo and fix that lead foot.
One last fun fact for you: it takes five years to offset the premium price of a Prius. Meaning, you have to wait 60 months to save any money over a non-hybrid car because of lower gas expenses.
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