If you read the blog, you know that I try hard to save energy. Wasting energy is bad for one’s pocketbook and creates extra pollution that we don’t need. I didn’t plan to turn off my lights this weekend for “Earth Hour“, but I was already in bed by 8:30 p.m. so my lights were not on anyway. One thing I have done for the last 7 years in order to save energy (and stay healthy, and save money, and to give me good energy for the morning shift) is ride my bike to work. If more people moved closer to work and either walked or rode bikes, the nation would be a lot healthier and wealthier. I know it is not possible for everyone, but I like to encourage people to give it a try at least.
One would think that state and Federal governments would promote riding bikes, again based health considerations of not only the environment but for individuals. One would think this would be especially true in the state of Washington given that it is the seat of many environmentalist organizations and because state government leaders like to loudly proclaim how environmentally conscious they are. This is not the case. In fact, Washington has now decided to actively discourage the use of bicycles. The newest budget has a proposed bicycle tax of $25 for any bike that costs over $500. At least they are not targeting poor people, but why punish people who are saving the environment (and probably saving the government a lot of money in reduced sick-care bills). If the state government in Washington was serious about pollution, “climate change”, and such things, they would be PAYING people $25 to ride bikes, instead of driving cars.
Unfortunately, many times politicians are known to think short term, plus as a country we have a lot of sunk costs in old infrastructure built to support the automobile. That means there are a lot of jobs and tax revenue to be handed out supporting the “sprawl”. So on the one hand, we have a lot of people proclaiming to be “environmentalists”, while on the other hand supporting huge sums of money to support urban sprawl. In California, they are planning on taxing driving in order to support the humongous and ailing auto-mobile infrastructure, while they are also trying to build a high speed rail. If they really wanted to change the state of affairs they should use the driving tax to support the high speed rail. If they were REAL environmentalists, they would tear up I-5 and lay down train tracks in the same spot. I know, quite a radical idea.
Another place where priorities collide is in the automobile itself. You have probably heard a lot of talk about raising the CAFE standards for autos in the U.S. The current planned regulation is to raise the average fuel efficiency up to 54.5 mpg by 2025. Whatever you think about the government forcing manufacturers to produce cars and trucks in a certain way, 54.5 mpg might seem like a lot. It isn’t. I grew up with many cars that achieved 50 mpg on the highway – 30 years ago! Little diesel VW Rabbits would easily achieve 50 mpg on the highway and with a little practice at hypermiling, probably closer to 60 mpg. I remember the GEO metro easily hitting 50 mpg. So what happened? How come you can’t find a good small cheap car with great gas mileage right now? One of the smallest cars available, the “Smart” cars only get a pathetic 38 mpg on the highway. My 96 Mazda Protege got 38 mpg and it was bigger. And cheaper. So how did even the smallest cars become more expensive and less fuel efficient than 20 or 30 years ago? A lot of it has to do with safety and environmental regulations. It is a trade-off. Airbags, anti-lock brakes, pollution control systems, etc. all add to the weight and the expense of a car. Most people wouldn’t give up the safety features, but it invariably has led to less fuel economy, which adds up to more pollution over the past 10 to 15 years (and might make it tougher to achieve carbon emission goals in the future). Thankfully, technology is helping us out. Newer composite materials are making their way into more automobiles. Manufacturers are also dropping some things that used to be standard, like the spare tire. Wireless systems might also be coming to a car near you. All the electric cables in a vehicle add a bit of weight. If different components of the car communicated wirelessly, no need for so many wires.
Another way in which technology is helping is with the advent of electric cars and driver-less (robot-driven) cars. Government programs to assist with the purchase of electric vehicles are at least not in conflict with environmental concerns (such as with the bike tax).
The latest in driverless autos comes from Japan where they are testing long-haul trucks with the technology.
Also, Audi is testing out their auto-park system. In the article it is stated that real self-driving cars are still ten years away. I doubt it. The cars have already been tested on roads in full traffic and have a stellar record of safety, which shouldn’t come as a surprise. The bots running these cars can sense, act, and react faster than any human. The only remaining hurdles are cost and legal concerns. Unfortunately, these sometimes to take a decade to sort out.
The most interesting EV news comes from BMW. They are going to test out a program where a person who buys an electric vehicle will be able to loan out a gas powered model when they need to take a long trip. Sounds like a good idea to me.
Have a good Tuesday! Meteorologist Justin Loew
This post was written by jloew on March 26, 2013