the myth of every little thing

Back in December a friend gave me two books to read. One was Friedman’s “Hot Flat Crowded”, about which I’ve already posted at least once and will probably add more later. It’s a rich source for humor. The other book is Kostigen’s “You Are Here”, which is a typical Boomer attempt to show the various hidden ills of the world by flying everywhere via jet, traveling locally by fossil-fuel-powered conveyance, etc, in other words burning up a couple tons of resources just to tell you what you could probably find yourself in under 5 minutes of Googling. To add insult to injury, this book exhorting us to pollute less is itself cased in a 4-color printed cover with a film laminate ~ not exactly a model of green-ness.

Then there is of course the classic case of Saint Al Gore, who has some 7 different residences .. and let’s not dare be so politically incorrect as to count the carbon-bigfoot footprint of that one’s collective family and support staff.

Our yahoo friends at NAZgulCAR are even getting in on the act by doing things to promote fuel saving measures among their fans ~ while they themselves continue to drive in circles on a bounded track in vehicles averaging fewer miles per gallon than a loaded semi, for no other purpose than to complete a certain number of laps around the track.

Someone I know IRL recently dumped his older, beat-up GM Suburban for (surprise) a newer Suburban with the displacement-on-demand system. Don’t know what the real numbers are for the fuel savings on this vehicle. Like the previous one, this one spends 99% of its time being a solo commuter vehicle .. he just happens to like really big vehicles.

In all of this stuff, you can find the people involved mouthing that little mantra about how every little thing helps, with the implication being that a lot of little things will make up a few big things. In other words, if you’re a strip-mining Hummer driver who likes to go off-roading in the free time, it somehow makes things better if you insist on wearing only natural cotton undies instead of stuff containing those nasty synthetic fibers, because “every little thing” counts.

Sadly, this is an example of that much-reviled “new math” that helped addle more than a few generations of students.

The proper way to cast these efforts is something shaped more like the well-known metaphor about rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic: do these efforts make any progress toward changing our destructive way of life, or do they merely continue that same way-of-life (perhaps with a few window-dressing items like a hybrid car or CF lightbulbs) with only minor appeasements to the greenie contingent?

Sadly, probably more than 99% of what people recommend doing to “reduce carbon use” or “reduce fossil fuel use” belongs to the window-dressing category, and not the realm in which progress is actually made.

Here is how you can easily tell whether a given “green”-minded change is actually making a difference. Simply apply to it the question: “Will taking this step ultimately mean I stop using whatever resource we’re trying to conserve?” Most of the time, the answer will be no. A hybrid car uses less fuel (at least for daily operation per distance) but never weans you off using gasoline. A CF lightbulb uses less electricity (at least for a given time span of operation) but also does not offer you any path for getting off electric lighting completely.

To return to the Titanic metaphor .. during the period of time between when the ship hit the iceberg and when it later sank, some of the people on board were in fact in denial about the scale and timing of the emergency facing them. Many of them, famously, continued rearranging the deck chairs, emptying the ashtrays in the smoking lounge, making sure their bunk spaces were neatly arranged, etc. A minority of them on board correctly perceived the problem, and had the ability to ditch the “consensus trance du jour” (to borrow from Kunstler again) and realize that no combination of business-as-usual actions would in face save them from the pending disaster.

So much of what’s promoted these days as “easy green things you can do” is just so much window-dressing, meant to assuage the guilt of those of us living in the richer and more resource-hogging nations without actually making any real changes. One does not need to change one’s driving habits much to go from a guzzler to a hybrid .. in fact, it is simply a lateral move that does nothing to lessen one’s dependence on having an individual motorcar ~ which is surely the most wasteful means of conveyance yet devised.

Thus do you have the NASCAR weenies convincing their fans to drive slightly smaller motorhomes to the tailgate parties, or switch from F-550 to F-350 trucks for casual driving, while the dummies continue to drive their 4mpg cars around a circular track, going nowhere in life at high speed; thus do you have the guy still using an 8,000lb vehicle as a solo commuter vehicle, even though he imagines he’s saving fuel; thus do you have millions of CF lightbulbs in use (ironically in houses that use above 100kWh/month on other stuff) even though we’ve since learned that they’re full of mercury and in fact constitute hazardous waste if not properly disposed of; thus do you have fools like Friedman and Kostigen contributing to the problem while advocating only the tiniest of steps that do not actually involve any changes in our lives other than switching out a few stage props.

We’re fast approaching the time when the few who see the problem correctly should quietly head for the exits (or the lifeboats) while the rest continue to be dazzled by the live floor show in the Coliseum.

Got lifeboat community?

21 Replies to “the myth of every little thing”

  1. “displacement-on-demand system.”

    This has to be the biggest load of shit ever, flying in the face of physics & engineering. To make an engine more efficient you INCREASE the power to weight ratio, not the inverse.
    Say I have a 200ci engine and I use a turbo* to stuff 300ci of fuel/air into it. Hey presto, apart from a few slightly heavier (read stronger) parts, I have improved the power to weight ratio. If less power is required, dial in less boost. The balancing harmonics remain unchanged, and efficiency is better than a normal IC engine.
    Now imagine I have a 300ci engine, and don’t fire 1/3 of the cylinders. Yes, I keep the compression more optimal in the cylinders that do fire, but they have to make 1/3 of the moving parts flail around with different harmonics, changing the way the torque loads & unloads the crankshaft. This is a serious matter. A normal straight six engine when old will almost always fail at the #5 journal. This is because as the engine gets old and the crankshaft is fatigued, it is also exposed to misfires as the ignition system ages. This can result in a reverse torque moment at the fifth cylinder more than twice the maximum of the engine when new!
    Proponents of such a system will say that no, the ‘dead’ cylinders are cushioned by the spent exhaust gases which act as a spring, loading the crankshaft appropriately. Haven’t they heard of blowby? That’s why you have a crankcase breather tube. So, after a few thousand squishes of the fetid exhaust gases, the piston now does the opposite, and starts to draw in excess oil back UP past the piston rings (due to a vacuum on some of the stroke).
    J6P now puts his foot down, the engine then burns the oil, and the engine management system squirts in even more fuel because that cylinder is knocking (oil in the fuel/air mix reduces the octane rating).
    Show me one of these engines working after 10 years and I’ll be surprised.

    *that thing that utilises some of the 50% of energy that goes straight out the exhaust pipe

  2. The East Coast “Indians” (Native Americans) had the coolest outfits, like their vertical feather headdresses so often depicted on wooden statues in front of tobacco shops.

    And, they raised and smoked quality tobaccos, all organic of course. And the Navajo had their peyote buttons. All major freak and cool, IMO.

  3. nudge,
    sister-in-law does that. She was in social security when times were bad, got a promotion to the tax office when times got good. Guess I know where she’ll be looking for her next promotion, then.

  4. Nudge, another fine post. On the CFB, I wonder how much to worry about the mercury in them. How does that mercury compare with the amounts from coal-fired power plants? My guess is quite small. There’s also a mercury offset there in the electricity saved, but I’m not going to quibble.

    On the Titanic analogies, I have one of my own. There was a lot of floatation material on board that ship in the form of wood paneling and doors, etc. Wood tables in the galleys, the infamous deck chairs. TPTB on the Titanic were aware of the limited life boat capacity. Therefore, had cooler heads prevailed, some more intense packing of the first boats away could have been ordered, and some axe and saw action of the doors and tables, panels, bed frames could conceivably have saved a few moron.

    Similarly, we have a sinking ship. There is certainly more than a few hours, days, weeks, months, perhaps even years left before events catch up to us. How we best use that time and our energy capital is critical to how many of us get through the collapse and bottleneck. The good news with Peak Finance is it has gotten folks’ attention. The bad news, especially for energy importers, is the clock is ticking on our credit line and we are being closely scrutinized by our foreign investors. There are many reasons for the USA still having credit, despite the banksters foolishness, but one of the biggest ones is our ability to vaporize anyone anywhere anytime we want to do it, thanks mostly to the Cold War.

    So, what gets done or doesn’t get done now is critical. We’ve given ourselves very little time cushion to get it right, and we must finesse our credit relations before that too, gets called, and we have to resort to some very ugly head cracking and global demonstration of our continued absolute “superpower”, should we be forced into a corner.

    Recall Nixon’s comments about the “most powerful nation on Earth”? He was broadcasting messages.

  5. Doom, very nice post, and thanks for reading. (I write too much .. the next 4 posts are sketched out. JR has not yet revoked my posting privs yet, however.)

    Not sure if the UPL will be able to continue indefinitely with its current act of parlaying possession of the most expensive military ever into coercing cooperation from the rest of the world, at least where it comes to purchasing our debt or putting much faith in the value of those boringly-green pieces of paper we print so flagrantly. No doubt it will be cakework to take out China’s one-and-only aircraft carrier (if they can ever afford to build it now, that is) when the time comes.

    Even if we seal our borders a la WW2, ration all materials and fuel, spend fuel only on the military and on farming/trucking etc, there will still be enormous externalized costs: the dragdown effect of delayed/stolen prosperity, massive social unrest as we go from tattooed Wal*Mart nation to Rosie the Riveter style enforced patriotism, the Stasi-type policing required to make such an arrangement function at all, state confiscation of wealth, total loss of dollar exchange value, and so on.

    Like my Grandma pointed out, the wartime rationing years were a lot worse than the depression years. She told me about how the fuel board had visited the home of her aunt (who she lived with at the time) and had told her the house was too big and would use up too much heating fuel. So she had to have the whole second floor closed off, with the heat and water and electricity cut. The two of them lived in the 1BR first floor. Grandma had to do her college homework in the bathroom then because there was no other free space left.

    Can you imagine the fuel board coming around to tell all those asshole douchbag SUV drivers that their vehicles are too big and use too much fuel? It’ll be “Recycle this POS .. you’re riding the bus!” or “Drive with anything less than 7 passengers, and you’re going to jail” or some such.

  6. UY: the person with the DoD Suburban claims he’s getting 12mpg local and 35mpg highway. Err, something about that seems wrong. But then, this same guy already has a history of delusion (he still thinks GWB was the greatest prez ever, hahaha), and listens to Rush Limbaugh and loves it.

  7. SB wrote: “Nudge, I think you oftentimes go over the top .. ”

    That’s the beauty of doing commentary. I’ve never tried to write anything that pleases everyone anyway .. the we’ll-muddle-through folks and the middle-of-the-roaders (CFN is full of them) just bore the living bejeebus out of me. Also I think that particular writing style is called hyperbole, and yes, Kunstler taught me how to drown in that particular well.

    If I had a pet bird, the WSJ would be lining the bottom of the cage. Has the world ever had a finer neocon cheerleader rag?

    Oh, and good morning :) time to find the coffee

  8. 35mpg?
    Non-stop <55mph with over-inflated tyres on a flat highway – it’s possible, I suppose.
    Think of the mileage and acceleration off a cliff though!

  9. UY, I believe that particular guy is delusional anyway. Most of the time he parrots Rush L without doing any fact-checking. One day he was overheard talking about how fantastic the UPL-made vehicle fleet’s mileage is and how sucky the Toyota fleet’s mileage is. Clearly the man is capable of looking into the desert and seeing only a lush, forested jungle.

    When I got the Insight, I spent the whole first year monitoring its mileage very closely. It has a number of onboard gauges that tell you its mpg’s. To eliminate as many variables as possible, I used only one gas station for filling up (while not out of state on vacation, at least), parked at the same pump every time (to eliminate variations in fill-up level due to uneven ground), filled it at roughly the same time every time (7:30~8am ish), filled only to the pump’s auto-stop, recorded the dispensed fuel in a spreadsheet, checked the odometer’s stated distance-traveled against a GPS, kept the tires inflated to recommended pressure, etc – the works. (ex physics major)

    Not surprisingly, the numbers given by the Insight’s onboard instruments are accurate to within 0.5%.

    Captain Delusion may simply be taking his foot off the gas pedal every now and then, noting the momentary spike into double-digit mpg’s, and claiming that’s his highway mileage. I doubt I’ll get the opportunity to test it. Would be very surprised if the thing averages above 15mpg in real life.

  10. This is my second time posting. Lets see if the post shows. My last one did not.
    Nudge, we may need to reconsider the SUV.

    Best Reason Yet for Driving a Bulky SUV: You Might Stand a Better Chance of Surviving if the Cops Open Fire on You for No Reason

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