I recently walked out of a restaurant with my family to find a pamphlet slid under the windshield wiper of our car. It read, “You are killing the environment!” I read on to learn that the reason we were killing the environment was because we drove a Chevrolet Suburban (SUV), which gets only half the gas mileage of a sedan or coupe. The note went on to explain why we were such terrible people and how many animals we were killing, as if we secretly connived with our evil sidekick “Global Warming” to rid the world of cool breezes and icebergs and snow cones and all that is cold and beautiful. You really have got to love those tree-huggers and their witty humor and scientific jargon. It’s almost as if they know what they’re talking about.

For those of you who don’t know, cars emit a gas called carbon dioxide, which is considered a “greenhouse gas” or GHG. It absorbs the sun’s radiation and reemits it as heat, which in turn warms up the environment. As more and more CO2 enters the atmosphere, the warmer the earth gets. Eventually, bad things happen. So, it’s not a funny story and is an issue that needs to be dealt with, but not in the way that the hippies think it should be.

Let’s say you’re in a family of four. Mom and Dad drive a Chevy Suburban and a Honda Civic. If they drive each car an average of 12,000 miles each year, they will dispense 22,499 pounds of CO2 into the atmosphere, and with gas prices at $3.75/gallon you will spend $4,313 on gas in one year. Alternatively, if Mom and Dad drive a Chevy Tahoe Hybrid and a Honda Civic Hybrid, you will produce 16,759 pounds of CO2 and pay $2,719 on gas in one year. So, you’ve saved 5,740 pounds of pollution and $1,594 on gas in one year. Congratulations, you’re saving the world. But don’t forget, you paid a total of $73,490 for the two hybrids while you paid $30,571 for the non-hybrids. That means it would take you almost 27 years to break even with the money you put into the hybrids. Not a good deal.

The numbers can get confusing, but the bottom line is, when you buy a hybrid, you lose. Then there are those same left-wingers – those who put the note on our car – who say, “But you saved hundreds of marvelous woodland creatures and you’re keeping our planet healthy!” You’re a winner, right?

Wrong. Not only is that few thousand pounds of CO2 that you’re saving less than a quarter of what you expel in CO2 each year from your home, but even if every household in America took the plunge and bought hybrid vehicles, it would not fix the problem at hand; it would just delay it by a small margin. So I propose, rather than take out a hefty loan and feel good about the political statement you’re making by driving a hybrid, buy a decent, relatively fuel-efficient, non-hybrid car and send the savings to The Northwest Territories or RainForestForever.org to plant or save a tree in your name. Trees aren’t expensive, and an acre of trees will more than offset the carbon emissions of any two cars you drive in a year.

Cars and trucks contribute less than a fourth of the U.S. total carbon emissions each year, and considering that the average car consumes much less than the average 18-wheel truck, the figures for personal vehicles go way down. The bigger picture is not to slow emissions in the small fraction of pollution that is produced by cars, but to offset and reverse that pollution. Everyone wants to point fingers to relieve themselves of their own guilt. Stop pointing fingers and start finding the solution.