I’m told the Seattle Weekly’s Rick Anderson really isn’t a nitwit — that he’s an experienced reporter and all around good guy. But you wouldn’t guess that from his recent crusade to expose Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels as an environmental hypocrite.
Among those still not heeding Mayor Greg Nickels’ advice to use their cars more sparingly is Mayor Greg Nickels. The mayor’s vehicles consumed more than 1,130 gallons of gas, costing $3,500, in the 12 months since he urged Seattleites last year to find alternative transportation to save the Earth, according to newly released City Hall figures.
The thesis: Mayor Nickels has made a name for himself challenging America’s mayors to have their cities voluntarily meet or beat the Kyoto standards, and yet he still drives a car. A lot.
The figures show the mayor has consumed about three times as much gas since putting his economical hybrid SUV into service last June as he did for a comparable period when his previous car, a 17-mile-per-gallon Cadillac limousine, was in service.
Oh gee. Where to start? Hmm. How about simple math? Or maybe, the English language — for when Anderson calculates gas consumption over “a comparable period,” it is instructive to understand exactly what he means by “comparable.”
The new records show that from Oct. 1, 2006, to April 1, 2007 (the billing period covering the time after the Cadillac was retired), the mayor charged more than 800 gallons of gas, costing $2,400. That compares to 260 gallons at a cost of $870 for the shorter, five-month March 2–Aug. 6, 2006, billing period, when the leased Cadillac was in service.
Uh-huh. Anderson’s spelling is impeccable, but I think he might want to yank out his dictionary and look up the meaning of the word “comparable.” I’m no professional journalist, but if you ask me, “a comparable period” to October, 2006 through April, 2007, might be, gee… I dunno… the same exact seven-month period during the previous year? And when we actually compare these two periods, we find that, oops… the mayor only charged 835 gallons of gas during the hybrid era, compared to 995 for the limo.
Not exactly the “three times as much gas” Anderson rails about. In fact, it’s actually… um… less.
While the hybrid switch … may have helped clear the air in several ways, the mayor wound up using more money and gas than he did when he cruised around exclusively in the limo, according to city records.
No he didn’t. And I know this, because I know how to do math. And, because I acquired additional data. Of course, to be fair to Anderson, he didn’t really have a large enough data set to make any sort of reasonable, vehicle-to-vehicle comparison. But if Anderson wanted to be fair to Nickels, he never would have implied that he did.
(Our good friend Stefan — a self-proclaimed Excel spreadsheet savant — lauded Anderson’s reporting. Hmm. Given the same mathematical expertise he used to so accurately predict the contested 2004 gubernatorial election, you’d think Stefan might have at least taken pause at Anderson’s less than scientific analysis of “comparable” periods.)
Apparently, Anderson had a gotcha story in the works, and he was gonna run with it come hell or bad data.
City officials repeatedly warned Anderson that they didn’t keep the records required to make the sort of calculations Anderson wanted. But that didn’t stop him. Indeed, even in acknowledging his inability to track the hybrid’s gas consumption, he sneeringly blamed the city for any inaccuracies in his futile attempt to do so.
Schubert-Knapp this week said she was referring to her “sincere doubts” about my ability to accurately report the data. That’s maybe understandable, given the confusing mess of records her department released, showing they can’t even track how much gas is used by each of the mayor’s two and sometimes three cars.
And while Anderson makes clear that the seven-month period from October, 2006 through March, 2007 also includes trips made in the mayor’s backup vehicle, “a Ford Explorer SUV that gets 11 miles to the gallon,” he glosses over the fact that the vast majority of the Explorer trips weren’t actually made by the mayor.
“The Explorer is now the backup car, and is also the car the mayor’s security takes home each night.”
That’s right, the Explorer is not just a “backup” car; it’s driven almost every single day, and usually, sans mayor. And all of its fuel receipts are mixed in with those of the hybrid.
So what exactly is Anderson’s point? That the mayor’s hybrid gets crappy fuel economy?
The EPA has already lowered the Highlander’s mpg rating from 31 to 27, and some consumer road tests come in at 20 mpg.
And he tells us this twice. But instead of trying to extrapolate the MPG from incomplete data, or implying a worst-case scenario by authoritatively citing “some consumer road tests,” Anderson could have just used his noodle and asked the right question. Like all hybrids, Nickel’s Highlander has an on-board computer that definitively records actual fuel economy. Nickels spokesman Martin McOmber told me it currently reads about 24.5 mpg.
Not quite the EPA rating, but a helluva lot better than the typical, full-sized SUV, and possibly as much as twice the MPG of the limo it replaced. (I’m not sure where Anderson plucked his number, but according to the EPA, the supposedly “17-mile-per-gallon Cadillac limousine” actually rates 11.9 city/18 highway.)
Or maybe Anderson is simply implying that the mayor is driving more miles now than he did a year ago?
Perhaps. I don’t know. Not knowing which receipts were for which car, or the exact fuel economy of each vehicle, or even what percentage of fleet miles were actually driven transporting the mayor, it is impossible to extrapolate from this data an accurate mayoral mileage report. But what we do know is that the mayor’s fleet cut its year-to-year fuel consumption by about 16-percent over a comparable seven-month period.
If every household and business in Washington state were to cut their motor fuel consumption by 16-percent, we’d save about 500 million gallons of fuel annually, putting over $1.5 billion back in our pockets, and 10 billion fewer pounds of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. That sounds like a pretty good start to me.
But I suppose what Anderson is really implying is that the mayor simply drives too much: if Nickels wants us to use alternative modes of transportation, he should lead by example, I guess, and hop on the bus himself.
Hmm. How do I best explain Nickels’ driving habits to Anderson? Oh. I know: um… he’s a FUCKING MAYOR! Of a major American city. It’s his job to rack up tens of thousands of miles a year traveling from one constituency group to another, and he couldn’t possibly do it relying on our region’s bus system. You couldn’t ask him to give up his car any more than you could ask a traveling salesman. (In fact, politicians and traveling salesmen have an awful lot in common.)
Still, all of this nitwitpicking is beside the point, because Anderson’s entire thesis — whatever it is — is a complete and utter load of bullshit. It is little more than a local variant on the same intellectually lazy frame that attacks a jet-setting Al Gore as a hypocrite for emitting copious greenhouse gases while advocating that these emissions be cut.
Sure. Gore could stay at home, bicycling around the family farm. But by stingily counting his own carbon emissions he couldn’t have anywhere near the impact he has traveling the world, persuading others to make modest cuts of their own.
The same holds true for Mayor Nickels. He makes an effort, however imperfect, to bring greater awareness to what municipalities can do locally to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and Anderson thanks him by devoting two whole “news” articles and a blog post toward trashing him as a hypocrite.
Apparently it takes a nitwit to ask whether the self-professed “green” mayor is practicing what he preaches – as the records show, he doesn’t.
No, it takes a nitwit to misread a spreadsheet, and totally dismiss the warnings from those who gave you the data. It takes a nitwit to focus your contempt on those who at least attempt to do good, while giving a free ride to right-wing nutcases like Kemper “Transit Equals Communism” Freeman Jr. and his lifelong campaign to kill rail in this region. It takes a nitwit to echo the hate-filled, partisan rants of a science denier like Stefan, and then dare to call it journalism.