I was poking around on the net the other day and stumbled across a hybrid-vs.-diesel debate. It was beautiful. Guys were trying to convince other guys that their choice of car was better. They were doing what most guys do, compete with each other. What I loved about it was that they were competing over gas mileage and emissions instead of horsepower and load capacity. Here’s an example:

Here is the comparative data between the VW Jetta TDI- Automatic at 15,000 miles of use versus the Honda Civic Hybrid 2006;

Gallons of Fuel; 396 vs 301. Winner- HCH
MPG Rating; 38 vs 50 Winner- HCH
CO2 gas 7532 vs 5714 Winner HCH
CO gas 69 vs 168 Winner; Jetta
NO gas 52 lbs vs 7 lbs Winner; HCH
Particulate Matter 2152 vs 255 Big Winner; HCH (soot)
Hydrocarbons(smog) 26 vs 5 Winner; HCH

This is why the HCH and similar cars (hybrids) win over the diesel engine in a well engineered car and why the Hybrid is a long overdue choice of responsibility.

The diesel guys came back with some serious (and some not-so-serious) counter-arguments. Like the fact that gasoline releases a lot more hydrocarbons away from the tail pipe, and that a Jetta with four people in it still has power to spare, and that it is a much simpler car, among others. One complaint I empathized with was the tax credit handed out to hybrid cars (the government trying to pick economic and environmental winners for us).

I am not weighing in on the debate because it is all good in the end, and a diesel plug-in hybrid running on home grown algae-based biodiesel (not soy) would be an engineer’s wet dream. I also don’t want to see this post kick off a similar pissing match here because small hybrids and small turbo charged diesels both get great gas mileage and that is primarily what matters.

My neighbor drives the Jetta pictured above and he runs biodiesel in it (he has been waiting for this post — say hello to little Ossian). My wife drives the red Prius (although I got to drive it to the grocery store once). The back end of the Jetta is plastered with biodiesel stickers to make sure everyone knows it is more environmentally friendly than a regular old Jetta. Status has to be displayed or it has no value. A Prius is unique enough looking that it does not need extra bumper stickers (same goes for a Hummer in that status circle).

This is what we have to see more of. The dog-eared and unworkable tenet that we must convince people to become devout environmentalists to save the planet needs to go into the recycle bin. The equally worn out argument that the problem boils down to Western culture and corporations also needs to get dumped. The differences lie primarily with income levels. Give people the means to seek status (compete) and they will. Our wealth simply allows the competition to escalate to environmentally destructive extremes, like the Hummer and country estate McMansions.

Give people more environmentally benign ways to compete. Stop telling them to stop competing. That strategy will have no more effect than telling them to stop walking upright. We all compete, just not in the same ways, and self-deception is the only thing that hides that fact from us. Find and promote environmentally benign status symbols.