Pressure and speed

Tuesday 25 May 2004

Everyone’s upset about the price of gasoline. Seems like everyone agrees that we’d be better off if we could use less. Taking swipes at Hummers isn’t going to solve the problem (satisfying though it is).

Of course, there are simple things people can do to reduce their gas usage: Drive slower, and check your tire pressure. I know these solutions are not popular, but why not? In a time when we’re at war and people are getting killed, when we’re spending hundreds of billions of dollars trying to stabilize the Middle East, why won’t people sacrifice just a little to help?

And once you’ve done those things, drive a little less. Like most of us, you could use more exercise anyway!

Comments

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andrew 9:15 AM on 25 May 2004

Well "drive slower" is certainly not popular. Least around here. Going 55 on 128 is a good way to get a semi up yer ass at 35 MPH.

However, upping your tire pressure is a no-lose proposition. Higher pressure tires perform better (in both curves and straightaways), contribute less to the consumption of the tire itself and really does improve gas mileage.

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Sylvain Galineau 9:27 AM on 25 May 2004

Hummer H2s get 9 miles to the gallon. I wonder how much of that is due to its smooth brick-like aerodynamics.

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Mike Watkins 11:45 AM on 25 May 2004

Or ride a bike! ;-)

In North America we have become adicted to cheap energy. While the current price escalation has all the hallmarks of being driven by speculation, in the long term this isn't always going to be the case.

Weaning society off of cheap energy and looking for alternatives a little more seriously is going to be in everyone's future.

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Ian Bicking 1:12 PM on 25 May 2004

You can also remove unneeded stuff from your trunk to save a little gas. But really, this is like asking people not to leave the water on when they brush their teeth -- yeah, it saves a little water, but it's not going to make much of a difference. Or recycling plastic... it's very unclear to me whether it's even good for the environment at all to recycle plastic, but the presence of recycling gives the false message that it's okay to generate plastic waste if you just recycle it.

There is an underlying message though that we should internalize a distaste for waste. This is one of those little values that we usually inherit from our parents (alongside our spending habits), and there's a pretty wide spectrum of standards. For instance, when I'm getting rid of something functional I make sure to do it on a nice day so someone else can pick it up -- I'll never know who takes it, but there's something that pains me to waste something, even if I don't care to use it myself.

Other values are important too. Personally, I would be ashamed to drive an SUV (unless I lived in the country or someplace where it made sense). I'd consider it immoral, because waste itself is immoral, as is vanity and selfishness (and an SUV is tied up in all three). I wish more people had these values and the thoughtfulness to apply them to their lives -- we can transfer these values to our children, but our children are small in numbers, and we can't wait generations for change.

So I think the little things won't do it. They might be a byproduct of other efforts, but alone they mean little. We need a change in values, a shift all around -- so the Hummer people own small SUVs, so the sedan people own compacts, so the compact people own bikes, etc.

We got this way because of a shift in values, because of the gentle pressure of a society culturally dominated by commercial interests. I think it has to be a cultural shift to take us back.

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Bob 6:15 PM on 25 May 2004

Good points, Ian but shifting values is hard. It takes a jolt stronger than $2/gal gasoline. Back in the 1970s when gasoline rationing and the related mess was going on in the US, people were dumping big cars. It wasn't a cost issue, it was the availability of gas. Noone in their right mind would have owned an SUV. I'm not suggesting that we ration gasoline, just that given the relatively cheap gas here, it's hard to imagine what would drive the cultural shift in values for considering owning a "gas guzzler" to be immoral.

Another option: work from home -- avoid the drive entirely. I know it's not an option for everyone but I avoid 50 miles of driving a week this way with a 20% reduction in weekly gas consumption (it's a commuter car and rarely driven on the weekends).

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andrew 10:33 PM on 25 May 2004

BTW, I drive a sickeningly large SUV and FUCKING LOVE IT!

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Mark Eichin 11:23 PM on 25 May 2004

The H2 only gets 9? I'm startled by that - given that my '00 Hummer ("real" hummer, before the H2 came out) gets 10 city and 12 highway, at least if I keep it around 65 - above that and it drops towards 10 again, the "aerodynamics of a brick" kick in.

Of course, it's also a *diesel* so it's only $1.85/g and that's at the convenient-but-expensive spot. I expect diesel isn't going to go up beyond where gas is anyway - the semi's that deliver food are diesel too, and the price of food in cities would directly reflect the increase, and *that* would get people to actually worry.

(Some other salient points: (1) there are only a couple of thousand hummers anyway - so while they make good showy rallying points for protest, if they all went away it wouldn't actually *matter* (2) European gas prices have traditionally been about four times US prices; don't know if that's still true with the dollar's current slide relative to the euro... but that's also led to a much bigger market there for high-efficiency turbo-diesels (3) Hybrids haven't yet gotten to "worthwhile" gas mileage - then again, they're not supposed to, they're about reduced emissions, but that doesn't save end-users money (4) Two companies made HMMWV hybrids - with excellent performance, and about 2x mileage - one of them won't sell to civilians, the other never made it into full production.)

Oh, random point: I don't commute in the Hummer (any more) and if I could get an interesting/pratical electric car here, I'd drive it - but we don't have CAFE, so no E-RAV4 for us (Zipcar has some, one of which was donated by the manufacturer) and the acpropulsion.com t-zero is awesome, but impractically expensive even for a Hummer owner...

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freddyMac 10:09 AM on 26 May 2004

Gas prices are a class polarization issue. They cause much more havoc on the lower end of the economic scale than on the higher. Those that can afford an H2 or Range Rover probably aren't as concerned about paying and extra $.50 a gallon as the Tercel driver.

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Caliel 1:29 PM on 26 May 2004

Petroleum companies in the US create 40+ different grades of gasoline. This is to satisfy the various EPA requirements in different regions of the country. California for example has different requirements, and different gasoline, than Texas. This has a price impact on everyone in the country. We do need to begin the transition to alternative fuels. It will happen eventually but the free market should determine when this happens, not some $4 government tax to inflate the cost. That would send too many ripples through the economy. As for SUV's, have you even tried to put 3 child-seats in the back of a passenger car? Impossible. They don't fit.

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john p. speno 2:22 PM on 26 May 2004

Ian might like http://www.freecycle.org/.

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Mike Watkins 11:41 PM on 26 May 2004

Reliance on cheap energy is setting the western world up for a fall -- a big one.

We owe our standard of life and economic potential to cheap energy. Imagine where we'd be without it... like rural China - only rural China 'wants in' too and so will other relatively light per capita users of energy too.

Commodity prices are up far more than they should be for this type of economic recovery - there was barely a recession let alone a serious dent in economic output yet commodities are shooting through the roof and it is not all speculation causing it. Capacity in some areas is at max.

When the under-developed world demands the same access to cheap energy, it suddenly won't be cheap for anyone.

Those ripples are going to happen, no matter what. Rising demand alone will do it; if the petroleum doomsayers are even 1/50th correct in their predictions, rising demand and declining supply will tip the boat keel over.

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