It’s really tough being a caring, sharing green. First the British government pulls the plug on the great solar power scam, and then the bloggers start fussing about the terrible damage caused by mining the rare earths without which your Prius won’t go. Battery power needs lots of exotic materials, which makes it much dearer than an equivalent conventional car. Not only that, but there’s a fair chance that the thieves will nick your shiny new motor to melt it down for its innards, once they’ve finished stripping the copper from Britain’s railway lines.

It seems that consumers in the US are finally seeing through the hype about electric cars. Sales of Toyota’s Prius, the uber-fashionable electric hybrid that was so recently the choice of the sensitive film star, are plunging. Ford’s effort, the Fusion, is doing even worse, with sales in the first 10 months down by almost half in a car market which is recovering. General Motors admits that sales of its big hybrids are now mostly to businesses which value the green PR that attaches to them.

The eco-enthusiasts can claim to have stimulated improvements in engine efficiency, with today’s best petrol cars running almost as far as the hybrids on a gallon. However, the high price of oil has concentrated minds, and once efficiency gains are made, they remain if the oil price falls, making petrol cars still more attractive.

Like the hybrid, the electric car is a technological dead end. The energy losses in generating electricity, added to those in the transmission system and in turning the juice back into mechanical power, are intrinsically greater than refining and then burning the oil in an internal combustion engine. The electric car merely produces the CO2 at the power station instead of on the road. The fuel of the future is already here. It’s called petrol.