Sorry, Mitt: You can drive a car with a windmill on it

In Ohio yesterday, Mitt Romney told supporters he intends to pursue an energy policy that focuses first and foremost on oil and natural gas development. To drive home the point, he unleashed a one-liner that is currently bouncing around the Twitterverse:

“You can’t drive a car with a windmill on it.”

While renewable energy advocates will be quick to point out that you can drive an electric car charged with power from wind turbines, that’s not exactly what Romney said. He was pointing out that you can’t strap a wind turbine on top of a car and drive it down the road.

Or can you?

In 2010, California researcher Rick Cavallaro built an experimental wind-powered vehicle that, seeming to defy physics, could actually travel faster than the speed of the wind itself. It was, in fact, a car with a windmill on it:

In a way, maybe this proves Romney’s point. The wind-turbine car was a fringe experiment, an academic exploration into physics and mechanical engineering. It won’t travel into the wind, and it’s certainly not going to get you to the grocery store. Romney was essentially saying that while wind and solar power are growing, they still only provide a fraction of our energy, and growing our economy will require continued use of fossil fuels.

But at the risk of dwelling over a laugh line, what Romney’s done is marginalize one source of energy over another – “picking winners and losers,” you might say – by invoking an arguably false image of independence. A gasoline-powered car is a self-contained machine, a symbol of freedom and self-determination. Except for the fact that the fuel that powers it needs to be drilled, refined and transported hundreds or even thousands of miles.

After all – you can’t drive a car with an oil rig on it, either.

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