Negative Environmental Impact

This Honda Insight may be loaded with advanced technology, but it's not particularly plush inside.

Courtesy of Kristen Hall-Geisler

What's that? You thought buying a hybrid would be the ultimate expression of concern for Mother Earth, a gesture that would help reduce smog and save trees and whales alike? Well, not exactly.

First and foremost, hybrids are still internal-combustion, gasoline powered cars. While they might use less of it than other vehicles, they still depend on a fuel that often comes from volatile and war-torn parts of the world, and they still create emissions when they drive around.

The batteries inside hybrid cars depend on materials like lithium and cobalt. Mining for those minerals is an extremely destructive process, and one that has left entire mountains leveled in their wake. Local residents benefit little from these endeavors. Furthermore, the countries with the most lucrative mines tend to also be some of the most unstable, including Bolivia and the Democratic Republic of Congo. So increasing our dependence on electric and hybrid cars may mean trading the conflicts in the Middle East for another set of problems [source: Robinson].

Then there's the issue of plug-in hybrid cars. While they have the potential to use far less gasoline than conventional engines or even regular hybrids, the electricity they use comes from our existing power grid. And in the U.S., most of our electricity comes from coal and only a little from nuclear power -- both of which can be somewhat nasty to the environment for a variety of reasons. Adding more plug-in hybrids will put an extra strain on the grid that just means more output from existing power plants, at least until our country runs on renewable energy sources [source: Scientific American].