With the Detroit car show focusing on electrics and the Sierra Club having an electric car columnist, yet again America heads down the path that technology will save us. It’s the definition of insanity – trying the same thing again and again hoping for a different result.

Only 17,345 Chevy Volts and Nissan Leafs sold in 2011 while the percentage of hybrid vehicles dropped from 2.4 to 2.2 percent of U.S. auto sales. These are echoes of natural gas vehicle sales and should be reminding us that the ethanol solution is a debacle and the history of the Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards is the epitome of counter-productivity.

The Australians call these “technological traps” and I just call them key components of our national state of denial. There is no way we’re going to get out of our oil vulnerability and greenhouse emission quandaries without addressing our individual consumption of energy, especially gasoline and diesel. No new product – even one with a $7,500 federal subsidy like electric cars – will do the trick; there must be individual behavioral change.

As the author of Fostering Sustainable Behavior Dr. Doug McKenzie-Mohr notes we keep producing technological solutions, like electric cars or florescent light bulbs, instead of dealing with our per capita issues. Changing every light in the house (and wasting good incandescent bulbs) will affect only five percent of the typical household’s energy consumption yet that’s our only national household program? And in spite of the fact that 40 years of CAFÉ history illustrates convincingly that the “rebound effect” wipes out energy gains from increased fuel efficiency, we demand higher fuel standards while, at the same time, building more highways and penalizing mass transit by refusing to support operating budgets with federal dollars. Since the first oil embargo in 1973 – which spawned CAFÉ — we’ve increased American driving four times population growth and obliterated CAFÉ’s meager effect. CAFÉ was even the prime factor in Detroit’s building fuel-hungry SUVs. Car makers put a car interior on a truck chassis to get to lower efficiency standards and bypass CAFE.

Meanwhile, pouring alcohol into gasoline is today decreasing mileage while producing the need to truck alcohol from Iowa to oil refineries on the coast for the mixing. It takes four gallons of fuel to produce five gallons of ethanol while producing food riots around the world and turning the Great Plains into a mono-culture which is about the worst thing you can do for any environment.
If electric cars were today the solution, buyers wouldn’t need to be cajoled with a $7,500 federal bribe (from a nation admittedly $15 trillion in debt), and the cars would be jumping out of showrooms.

Electric cars have two huge negatives which neither the Sierra Club nor Detroit will admit. One is “range anxiety,” as potential buyers worry about running out of juice in the heavy traffic that, for example, a snowstorm produces, and , two, electrics are just too expensive for second family cars as they are marketed. On long interstate highway trips, with gasoline still at the cost it was in the 1920s against income, few choose to have an under-powered vehicle which can’t be refueled in any reasonable time frame. Even though my 2001 Toyota Prius has more power than either the Leaf or the Volt and can be fueled at any station, every time we leave town my wife argues for taking her Volvo though it gets half the gas mileage because it gets up and goes on the highway.

If an electric second vehicle is needed for commuting and short trips (as again it is marketed), an electric bicycle is much more reasonable. But no one is subsidizing eBikes although 40 percent of American trips are less than four miles and over 80 percent of American car trips are in single occupancy vehicles.

An eBike can be had for five percent the price of an eCar and be almost as functional. Furthermore, when Tata brings it’s Nano to America – as it plans for next year – at $4 a gallon it would take 340,000 miles (beyond the lifetime of most cars) to make a Nissan Leaf a rational economic purchase.

All the boosting by the Sierra Club and Detroit does not change simple math. Gasoline engines won out in the original, unsubsidized, battle for powering automobiles for good reasons and they will continue to win out for the same reasons boosted by one huge new concept. Infrastructure for powering gasoline and diesel engines exists along every significant roadway in the nation.

At some point in time, America will have to join the rest of the world and bring our brains to our energy discussions. When anyone does the research, he or she concludes that it’ll take individual behavioral change but no American politician will dare challenging drivers who are also voters. Consequently, America boosts driving instead of discouraging it as most Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development countries are presently doing with higher gasoline taxes. Those nations, therefore, have the funds to build stronger mass transit and bicycle-pedestrian infrastructure while we’re spending 8 in 10 transportation dollars building more roadways.

And, hoping, somehow that technology will save us.