green-colored car
Which car is greenest in your state? Find out.
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If you live in California, the most climate-friendly car you can drive is a Toyota Prius Plug-In Hybrid. If you live in Ohio, you could go easier on the climate by driving a regular ol’ non-plug-in Prius. And in Vermont, the best pick would be an all-electric Honda Fit.

That’s according to a new report from Climate Central: “A Roadmap to Climate-Friendly Cars.” Here’s how the researchers explain the state-by-state differences:

An electric car is only as good for the climate as the electricity used to power it. And in states that rely heavily on fossil fuels like coal and natural gas for their electricity there are many conventional and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles that are better for the climate than all-electric cars.

The report includes a handy interactive map that shows you the top 10 choices for your state.

The researchers arrived at their conclusions after considering states’ electricity sources plus the amount of energy used in manufacturing cars — which, in the case of electric cars and their batteries, is a lot.

In 39 states, a high-efficiency, conventional gas-powered hybrid, like the Toyota Prius, is better for the climate (produces fewer total “lifecycle” carbon emissions) than the least-polluting, all-electric vehicle, the Honda Fit, over the first 50,000 miles the car is driven.

But in the four states with the cleanest grid electricity, “the mpg equivalents of the best electric vehicle are dazzling,” says the report, “ranging from more than 2,600 mpg in Vermont, to 380 mpg in Washington, 280 mpg in Idaho, and 200 mpg in Oregon.”

Cleanest, in this case, means lowest in greenhouse gas emissions. In the Pacific Northwest, emissions are low because so much electricity comes from hydropower. In Vermont, it’s because so much electricity comes from nuclear. Of course, goings-on at Fukushima remind us that nuclear is definitely not “clean” in all senses.

The bottom line, says Kevin Drum at Mother Jones: “figuring out the best car to drive is harder than you think.” Which gives me a perfect opportunity to plug Greg Hanscom’s new post on how to make cities more bike-friendly.

For another perspective, see: Electric cars are clean today and will only get cleaner tomorrow