When innovators working in a free-market come up with a better, environmentally friendly solution to a problem, what is the reaction of government agencies? Attack it.

Tom Watson, a King County employee who calls himself the “EcoConsumer,” offers his thoughts on how to be a good environmentalist. On his (taxpayer-paid) blog, you will find a range of topics, from praise for Occupy Wall Street to recommending that people eat more kimchi (he calls it one of the “most enviro-friendly foods you can eat” but doesn’t explain why).

Recently, he attacked the Car2Go program in Seattle, noting darkly that it is “owned by the giant international corporation Daimler,” and worrying that people using the cars aren’t using public transit. He wrote:

Governments and the public need to support public transit. If a new transportation option is resulting in people getting off public transit and using fossil-fuel-burning, privately-owned vehicles instead…that could be a problem.

He goes on to warn that the “King County Metro Transit bus system is currently facing potential major cuts in service because of a lack of funding.”

As is too often the case with the county’s EcoConsumer, he chooses pontification over science, and government over the environment.

While Watson is quick to defend government programs, he doesn’t provide any data to support his arguments. In fact, Car2Go may be the better policy for the environment.

According to Metro, King County buses in 2011 saw 441,634,833 passenger miles using 10,484,083 gallons of fuel, amounting to 42.12 passenger miles per gallon. This is a countywide number and includes Seattle trolleys that are all-electric and use no fuel. Since Car2Go offers cars only in Seattle, it is hard to know whether this fuel number is high or low. On the one hand, trolleys are primarily in Seattle, which would increase overall fuel efficiency. On the other hand, most Seattle buses are diesel-powered and fuel efficiency, even for hybrid buses, is much worse on city streets than highways.

By way of comparison, Car2Go Smart Cars average about 34 MPG. Assuming that one-in-four trips in a Car2Go has two people, the average gas mileage per passenger increases to 42.5 passenger miles per gallon. A Car2Go would be more environmentally friendly even if every person using the service came from buses.

There is some margin of error here, but the numbers are extremely close. The experience with another car-sharing service, ZipCar, is that car sharing allows people to avoid purchasing an extra car. This is a more efficient use of resources.

When you combine the fuel efficiency of Car2Go with the ability to avoid purchasing an additional car, the program is a clear win for the environment.

There are additional reasons to support Car2Go.

First, taxpayers subsidize every public transit rider, rich or poor. If Car2Go shifts costs from taxpayers onto those who can pay for themselves, it allows Metro to focus on serving the poor, who have few options beyond public transit. Requiring working families to subsidize people who can pay for themselves makes no sense — unless you simply believe that all government programs are superior to the private sector.

Second, government exists to serve people, not the other way around. The King County EcoConsumer’s basic argument is that people need to sacrifice themselves to make life easier for government. I can understand why government employees find that argument attractive and demand more money and more sacrifice from others, but it doesn’t fit with any democratic concept of government.

This is just the latest failure of the EcoConsumer to get the science right. He is emblematic of environmentalism that values government over the environment, and feel-good policies over science.

If the EcoConsumer doesn’t care enough to spend the time on accurate, science-based information, why would we believe he actually cares about helping the environment?


[Reposted with permission from the Washington Policy Center blog]