Monday, October 18, 2004
I've been so nice lately. I gave away pumpkins from my garden to local children, I've been smiling at strangers and I donated money for disadvantaged teenagers. I've been so nice, I reached niceness overload and got jilted into a mean streak. I've been cutting in line at the grocery store, making fun of people with speech impediments and dissing your mama.
It was with this attitude that I picked up an issue of Green Car Journal. I've been railing against the oil wars, promoting alternative fuels and vehicles and trying to make people think about their car culture in different ways for two years now, so I was pleased to see these concepts embodied in a slick, glossy (but printed on recycled paper) magazine. Their mission is "to inform and entertain while also encouraging understanding of the exciting and environmentally positive vehicles in new car showrooms today, as well as those soon to come."
Great, great. The magazine originated from a newsletter, "Green Car," which was started in 1991 by Ron Cogan. Cogan worked at Motor Trend magazine as an editor for years, and is an admitted "car guy." With the debut issue of Green Car Journal hitting the shelves in 2003, Cogan now has his own quarterly trade magazine.
Well, what could be wrong with that? Nothing, and I shouldn't say a word (maybe they'll publish my work), but … mean streak. Let me start with the teaser on the cover: "The Truth About Biodiesel." Was there a falsity about biodiesel that people didn't know about? What I found was a mediocre introduction to biodiesel that had a few errors. One is that Rudolf Diesel did not invent his engine to run on biodiesel, as stated in the article. His engine was to run on pure vegetable oil. We now use biodiesel to accommodate dinofuel diesel engines that were modified from Rudolf's original design. The other caveat the author gives is to not use homemade biodiesel because "some of the techniques look pretty crude-like crafting moonshine in a still."
Let me tell you, I've seen some horrible, sludgy biodiesel made by a huge company that met the appropriate specifications (which really means they paid $100,000 to join the soybean, money-rich National Biodiesel Board). I think of biodiesel as something almost anyone can make, and smaller batches are better, so quality can truly be monitored. Let's empower people, not make them mindless consumers.
The worst offense, though, are his guest columnists. One is Rick Zalesky who works for a subsidiary of ChevronTexaco Corporation. Zalesky, president of the Technology Ventures Hydrogen Business, discusses the future of hydrogen. Now, why would I listen to the opinions of a person who is biased monetarily to begin with? And what he had to say—that hydrogen made from natural gas is going to be the "bridge strategy" at ChevronTexaco—did not satisfy me. Zalesky assured us they'll figure out a renewable technology for making hydrogen eventually, but what would the motivation be for ChevronTexaco to do so? I'm not buying itl. Columnists should present non-biased articles that don't sound like ads: "We at ChevronTexaco are pleased to help lead this worldwide effort." Blech.
Another guest columnist, Dr. Gerhard Schmidt, is also a biased source of information. He is Vice President of Research and Advanced Engineering at Ford Motor Company, for heaven's sake. His article, called "The Auto Industry at a Crossroads," makes reference to Ford's Escape Hybrid, the 2007 Mercury Mariner Hybrid, diesel technology at Ford and their fuel cell-operated Ford Focus. It, too, reads more like an ad than a piece of journalism. These two weird columns sent me to the masthead—is this magazine actually just a thinly veiled media project for some automotive public-relations group? It's hard to tell.
I did like a few things in the magazine, like the article on Mercedes' Smart car, which will probably be available before the official 2006 U.S. release date; the 10 Tips for High MPG, and a profile of a biodiesel-running VW rental car agency in Hawaii. But overall, I want an alternative car magazine that questions big companies instead of giving their vice presidents and presidents a spotlight, critiques the way energy policy is pursued in this country and looks for real alternatives to the ones sold on television. This might be considered bridge-burning, but sometimes that's necessary.
Novella's mean streak just ended, email her at [e-mail missing].