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Image is only imagined.

People live by their senses. Our senses tell us something is sharp, hot, moving fast, or angry. Being aware of what our senses tell us helps keep us alive.

However, marketers, PR analysts, politicians and editors know we are led by our senses, which is why our news, advertising, politics, and so much else in life are based on image.

The Toyota Prius, not an especially attractive car, was designed to be practical and efficient. For some people, a sense of ‘green’-ness was an image they wanted to convey, so the Prius became a status symbol, imagery.

Image and status alone don’t foster innovation of any practical sort. Advances in cosmetics might make you look younger, but can’t extend your life. Healthy food and exercise might be fashionable among your social set, but if you drive carelessly in your ULEV [Ultra-Low Emissions Vehicle] the risks can effectively cancel out your efforts. Not even all of the ‘Health’ choices that are fashionable are actually healthy, for that matter.

This effects our transportation choices in a lot of ways. If the local mass transit system required much infrastructure development and carries a small percentage of capacity, it is not more efficient than cars. Bicycling and walking are efficient, but if the best match for your skills is a job forty miles away….

Image also leads to misconceptions. It is assumed that V-8 engines are worse than 4 cylinders, or that diesels or flex-fuel vehicles or Hybrids are good. In fact, the number of cylinders in an engine has little to do with efficiency or even size. There have been 7-liter 4-cylinder motors and 3-liter V-8s. Likewise, an overweight car can have a couple extra batteries and an electric motor and be called a hybrid. Toyota actually sells some of the worst hybrids on the planet, under the Lexus brand.

Likewise, the ‘green’ transportation enthusiast usually isn’t excited about an innovation that produces more power from a given amount of fuel and engine size. They should be. The same innovations lead to more mileage per gallon and smaller engines, whether they are 3-cylinder motorcycle engines or miniature ceramic-metallic turbo V-12s.

When we talk about energy efficiency, we should be paying attention to are the engineering and science, not the advertising, public relations, ‘news’, and politics that use images to fool us into buying inefficient choices with ‘green’ labels.

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