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Too Nice

Cancel my subscription. Oh wait, I don't actually have one. Just hand me a match.

By Novella Carpenter

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 Shakespeare in the Park for disadvantaged teenagers. I've been so nice that I reached niceness overload and got jolted into a mean streak. That's right, I've been cutting in line at the grocery store, making fun of people with speech impediments and dissing your mama. I'm being mean.

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 rethink car culture for almost two years now, so I was pleased to see these concepts embodied in a slick, glossy (but printed on recycled paper) magazine. Its 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." Sounds 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, Cogan now has his own quarterly trade magazine.

Well, what could be wrong with that? Nothing, but: mean streak. Let me start with the teaser on the cover: "The Truth About Biodiesel." Was there some hidden falsity about biodiesel? What I found was a mediocre introduction to biodiesel with a few errors. 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." Well, 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). Biodiesel is something almost anyone can make, and the smaller the batch the better, so quality can truly be monitored. Let's empower people, not make them mindless consumers.

The journal's worst offense, though, is its choice of guest columnists. One is Rick Zalesky, who works for a subsidiary of Chevron Texaco 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 to begin with? And what he had to say about how hydrogen made from natural gas is going to be the "bridge strategy" at Chevron Texaco did not satisfy me. Zalesky assured us the company will figure out a renewable technology for making hydrogen eventually, but what would the motivation be for Chevron Texaco to do so? I'm not buying it, and neither should readers of Green Car Journal.

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. His article, "The Auto Industry at a Crossroads," makes reference to Ford's Escape Hybrid, the 2007 Mercury Mariner Hybrid, diesel technology at Ford and the company's fuel cell-operated Ford Focus. It too reads more like an ad than a piece of journalism.

I did like a few things, like the article on Mercedes' Smart car, the "Ten Tips for High MPG" and a profile of a biodiesel-fueled 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 TV. My message is: Cancel my subscription. Oh wait, I don't actually have one. Just hand me a match.

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From the October 13-20, 2004 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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