Why a Hummer is Better for the Environment Than a Toyota Prius


Recently, we met friends for lunch along the Thames. The luncheon discussion was gay and carefree…but thoughtful too. One of our friends ran a commodity brokerage company in Geneva. Now, he has become an activist…a provocateur…for the free market.

“You know,” he said, “so much of this discussion of global climate change is completely irrational. It is more like a religious discussion than a scientific one. People – especially young people – think that some things are right and some things are wrong. There are a lot of people who think it is morally wrong to drive a Hummer, for example. It is not a question of cost/benefit ratios…or of trying to figure out whether it really makes sense. It is simply wrong.

“But I read recently an interesting study. The author tried to figure out how much environmental damage is done by Hummers…compared to socially-responsible cars, like that hybrid, the Prius.

“What he found was that it was not nearly as simple as you think. The Hummer is made of old technology – heavy steel. It is fairly easy to make…with existing plant and equipment…and the manufacturing process does fairly little environmental damage. And then, when it is worn out, it is easy to recycle; it is just a big lump of metal, after all.

“The Prius relies on newer technology. It’s made of a lot of composite materials, which apparently are very hard to deal with environmentally…and almost impossible to recycle. Plus, the process of building these things takes a lot of capital…and a lot of resources…all of which have environmental effects.

“The advantage of the Prius is that it takes less fuel to run per mile. Over time, the Prius is more environmentally friendly. But, at least according to this study, you have to run the Prius for 10 years before you are even. That is, it takes 10 years before the amount of environmental damage caused by the gas-guzzling Hummer catches up with the damage done by the Prius.”

Bill Bonner
The Daily Reckoning Australia

Bill Bonner

Bill Bonner

Best-selling investment author Bill Bonner is the founder and president of Agora Publishing, one of the world's most successful consumer newsletter companies. Owner of both Fleet Street Publications and MoneyWeek magazine in the UK, he is also author of the free daily e-mail The Daily Reckoning.
Bill Bonner

Latest posts by Bill Bonner (see all)



  1. The other is issue is the battery from the hybrid is more complex and is much larger. They suppose to only last about 10 years after which you have to replace them. So you have a large numbers of these batteries needing to be disposed. What are do these batteries with the chemicals in them do to the environment. Could someone tell me if I am right? I rather spend money on solar panels.

    Patrick Pong
    October 2, 2007
  2. The CNW Marketing Research that your posting refers to was “news” last Spring and has since been widely and thoroughly discredited. See–{http://www.pacinst.org/topics/integrity_of_science/case_studies/hummer_vs_prius.pdf}. It is poor journalism and rather irresponsible to run an article like this. You’re just trying to cause controversy where none exists.

    Greg Gupton
    October 2, 2007
  3. Bill, your friend is guilty of the same thing as many global warming advocates are. He believed a bad source and he didn’t bother to look into it. I agree with him that many people who are vocal about global climate change know nothing of the science behind the changes that are coming. The hummer vs prius study your friend refers to was torn apart by neutral sources as a completely worthless study. It was not submitted for peer review, and it was written by a PR firm!

  4. As for believing that global warming is a hoax, I used to agree. Then I saw the hard-and-fast data. The globe is warming, and humans are causing most of it. That debate is over, because no one has offered any scientific evidence to the contrary. I had a hard time reconciling that with my libertarian views, but in the end it comes down to something very simple. Clean air is a finite resource, and it must be managed somehow. I don’t think the government should have to be involved, but let’s be honest here. We don’t live in a perfect world YET, and the global business model is not set up to be completely regulated by consumers right now. The situation has gotten better as watchdog groups have publicized misdeeds (so instead of a government fining an offending company, that offending company self-corrects before consumers shy away). It has been a gradual change, and the day of 100% self-governance may never come. All we can do is enocourage companies to self-regulate. As with all laws, we wouldn’t need environmental regulation if everyone simply did the right thing.

  5. I own a Prius

    I have never seen ANY composite material in it.
    It is constructed very conventionally.

    The traction battery is FULLY recycleable as is the rest of the car.

    If its construction is so damaging to the evironment, why is the factory so clean to see?

    To say that it is anything like as damaging to the environment as a Hummer is hogwash.

    Allan deLaubenfels
    October 3, 2007
  6. thats funny – i thought dirty air caused climate cooling – how do you explain similar rates of climate change on other planets – come on steve look beyond the madness of crowds and political agendas

  7. yes geoff thats right
    keep driving that HUMMER of yours – on any or all of those other planets, they are warming up anyway.
    BUT here in this world that MY children inherit – HUMMER is obese, obscene, ugly, pompous, disgusting…
    Should I continue ?
    Or should I not bother ?

    The man-made climate change discussion is IRRELEVANT to gluttony and waste as represented by HUMMER.
    Warming or not the world is finite and wasting precious little of clean air left on these discussions or hummers is shameful.

  8. That CNW study was not discredited. It was attacked by every environmental group on the earth, but the general facts remain solid.

    The Prius has a very damaging battery. It uses nickel which is mined in Sudsbury, Ontario at one of the largest nickel plants in the world, the superstack. The area around the plant resembles a desert, after years of acid rain has killed off any vegetation.

    Hybrid parts are expensive and unique and require their own production lines. The amount of software and technology development for the battery and engine control system that goes into a Prius requires months of development and labor. The life of the car is fairly low compared to other cars too.

  9. This article is incorrect. You have to drive the prius for 12,000 miles before you are even environmentally.

    NOT 10 years (unless you drive 1,200 mi/year)

  10. It should be possible to double, triple or quadrupple the design life of hybrids without much difficulty. Aircraft made of with composites or metal can, by comparison easily last 30 years or more. The problem is that such a design strategy would lead to less cars being produced. This area of market failure can only be redressed by Government policies which make holding on to a fuel efficient (though older) car, bus or truck more attacive.

    The nickel batteries have an expected life of only 6 years and will require a complex recycling process (a clear area for investment growth).

    I don’t have the all the information on the lithium battery atlernetives being developed by Ener1 http://www.ener1.com/ and possibly others but you can do your own reading.

    Currently and in the near future, small turbo diesels like the Fiat Punto offer similar economy to a hybrid but with less complexity and expense. The problem with this option in Australia that diesel is taxed much more heavily than other fuel alternatives.

    Coffee Addict
    October 3, 2007
  11. Jono, where is your evidence that the life of the Prius is low compared to othe cars? They have been made for ten years and few have been retired because they have worn out yet!

    The Prius consumes a very small percent of the nickel from the factory which you describe which had been in production for decades before the Prius was invented. Anything with stainless steel and a host of other products contains nickel.

    Allan deLaubenfels
    October 3, 2007
  12. cant argue with that bob – but please note i drive a solar electric three wheeler with retractable verticle axis wind turbine – probably the only motorised vehicle on new-zealand roads with virtualy nil environmental consequeces – commercialy available next year if you want one.

  13. The entire goal of the Prius project when it began in 1995 was to build a car that would have minimum environmental impact over its entire life-cycle. The hybrid drive was not part of the original design mandate – it only evolved as a way of cutting energy consumption.

    (To get the full story, read “The Prius that Shook the World.” It’s available in pdf format from several websites.)

    As Jeff correctly notes, Toyota estimates that it takes 12,000 miles to amortize the additional energy required to create and dispose of the Prius – and that’s relative to a conventional 2 liter car, not a Hummer.

    Fortunately, the market will provide clarity. If hybrids are indeed much more energy-intensive to build, then rising energy costs will cause hybrid prices to rise faster than conventional car prices. If they do not, then we know the study was mistaken.

    Incidentally, the Prius battery is warranted for 10 years/150,000 miles in some states (including California). No sane manufacturer warrants a part they expect to have to replace. In fact, Toyota expects the battery to last the lifetime of the car, and in 10 years of production, that seems to be the case.

  14. Boy Bill, you hit a raw nerve there. My two cents, for what its worth….

    I recently watched a DVD about the GM EV1 electric car with the title “Who killed the electric car.” I, and I suspect many others, had or still have, the misconception that the Prius was the first practical car to use electric power. It is well worth a look, if you can’t get the DVD try this http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ev1

    Imagine recharging your electric car partly from your home solar panels!

    Regarding Nickel, Stainless steel contains somewhere between 5-10% Nickel, not to mention a fair whack of Chromium, and there are tons of it being produced all the time. So I have trouble believeing that the Nickel life cycle for batteries is a problem that can’t be managed. If it is, it won’t go away by avoidance of Nickel using batteries.

    I’m all for conservation of energy and the environment, but despite what television, radio and papers tell me, I am still not convinced that climate change is in fact a problem. It just seems there is way too much propaganda and a kind of ‘hysteria’ surrounding the whole topic. Could governments and oil producers have too much to gain by repeatedly telling the world that there is a waste problem? Even better if the audience eventually repeats the mantra. Could the end game be to have all believe that hydrocarbon prices NEED to be increased (even if artificially through profit and taxes) to slow down all of us unrepenting consumers, especially those Hummer drivers. Feel free to blast my opinion, but please also provide links to web pages with some facts to back it up.

  15. Martin,

    Thank you for pointing out the facts about nickel. You’re clearly intelligent, so I have to throw this out to you after reading the rest of your post.

    Does science exist? Or is it, like art, a matter of opinion?

    If it exists, is it valuable? Does anyone want to argue that science is not valuable?

    If science exists, and it is valuable, what determines what “true” science is? Is it what most scientists most knowledgeable about a particular topic agree to? Or does the opinion of one scientist, or two, or three, override the hundreds of other scientists who all agree with each other. Are some scientists better qualified to speak on a topic than others?

    Answer these questions for yourself, and then research accordingly. This is an important topic; you shouldn’t just shrug your shoulders, or spout a hunch.

    If you think as I do (and I know you may not), you will agree that science is not a matter of mere opinion; it is important; and that if the vast majority of the best scientists agree on a matter of science, that is what you should use as your working hypothesis. Is it possible the majority is wrong? Sure. Do you want to bet the future of your children and grandchildren on the majority of the world’s best scientists being wrong about a matter of science? Not me. Boy, that opens a can of worms, if our best scientists are unqualified to discuss science.

    Every single recognized association of scientists that has offered an opinion on global warming agrees that it is happening, and it is caused by human activity. (This was not the case when “Global Cooling” was picked up by the media lo these many years ago — not a single recognized entity endorsed it, they just mentioned it as a theory under consideration.) Not a single officially recognized association of scientists has issued an opinion denying human caused global warming, although some individual scientists have, and get a lot of press for it. No scientist I know of has flipped from believing the consensus to not believing it. Many former skeptics have now become convinced of human caused global warming.

    In truth, many scientists after this last year are very frightened that it is happening much more quickly than they had anticipated. What they thought would happen in our grandchildren’s time is happening now. There are many indications that governments are rearranging their policies, not just their rhetoric, to account for it — Russia claiming the arctic sea bed by launching deep water subs there, Canada building a deep water port in the formerly permanently frozen Northwest Passage to assert its sovereignty, the U.S. finally acknowledging global warming as fact, etc.

    Make your own judgment. But as Green Day says, “make sure you do it wise.” My children are counting on you.

    I could post a million links, but here’s one that’s quite pertinent:

    I guess one question, or two: if you don’t believe the consensus opinion of the best qualified scientists on a scientific question, on what do you base your opinion? And do you use the same approach when seeking medical care?

  16. […] it http://www.otismaxwell.com/blog/2010…r-3700-repair/ Hybrid Battery Toxicity | Hybrid Cars Why a Hummer is Better for the Environment Than a Toyota Prius The Prius Bad for the Environment? Thanks for providing articles to support my argument. […]


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