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Tire-pressure politics

August 8, 2008

Commuting on a bicycle keeps you in tune with certain realities.  One of these is that tire pressure has a huge effect on rolling resistance.  Get enough air in the tires and your bike just seems to glide down the street with hardly any effort.  Ride on under-inflated tires, and you’re worn out by the time you get to work. 

There’s no fundamental difference between a bike tire and a car tire.  So along with his comprehensive energy plan, Barack has talked about small conservation steps that people can take, like checking their tires more often.  They won’t fix the problem in one dramatic stroke, but they’ll help, sometimes quite a lot.  The reason is that conservation is a ‘high-payoff’ activity.  If you save a gallon of gasoline, that’s about four gallons of crude oil that never have to be pumped out of the ground in the first place.  It’s a big effect for a small change.

But conservation is one of those things that conservatives just don’t seem to want to think about.  It’s in the category of “Things they won’t do for their country.”  Which is weird considering that conservation doesn’t really involve any significant sacrifice.  It just involves a little care for a big payoff.

Now the Republicans are handing out tire pressure gauges and saying “that’s Barack’s energy plan.”  As Barack says; “It’s as if they’re proud of being ignorant.”

Well you bet they are, Barack; they’ve made ignorance a virtue.  And oh my, what a relief it is to hear it said out loud on the national stage. 

This is not to say that Barack’s energy plan is perfect; it isn’t.  It still contains some really stupid things like corn ethanol and carbon sequestration.  But I’m willing to consider that those things are political necessities.  I don’t think you can get elected president without some pandering.  On the whole, his plan is a good one, and it’s the right approach.  He isn’t trying to treat addiction with one more fix.  He proposes hitting the energy problem from a whole lot of angles at once, which makes sense because it is a multifaceted problem. 

In his novel Friday, Robert Heinlein described an energy storage device called a “Shipstone”, that could take energy from any source and store it compactly and without loss.  The Shipstone was a single, simple invention that solved all energy problems for an entire fictional society.  But in real life we already have most of the technologies and the methods we need to fix most of our energy problems.  We just need to stop whining about it and get off our butts. And if we don’t want to do it for our country, maybe we could do it for our grandchildren. 

Categories: Politics
  1. August 8, 2008 at 08:13 | #1

    What really gets under my skin about the whole energy/conservation debate is that all the solutions are being presented as new. If climate change wasn’t a real threat that won’t go away, I’d be betting on all these “new” ideas having their moment in the sun and then fading away just as they did before. It’s a waste of breath to try to remind peole that if energy conservation, recycling, etc., hadn’t been treated like fads, we might not even be facing our present and oncoming problems. Nobody wants to hear “I told you so.”

  2. August 8, 2008 at 08:47 | #2

    I’m anal about tire pressure. I even over-inflate slightly.

    You’re real “hyper-miling” junkies over-inflate a lot! Right up close to the sidewall burst pressure. Brave souls, I guess.

    Since my care gets such good mileage to start with, I don’t need to hyper-inflate with its concommitant risks.

    Way back near the beginning of W’s administration The Veep, old “If It Ain’t Good For The Oil Industry It Ain’t Good For America Cheney,” said something like: “Conservation may be a good idea but it’s not the basis for an energy policy.” What a complete and utter nincompoop. Talk about anti-intellectual!

  3. Lucas
    August 8, 2008 at 08:56 | #3

    I think it’s funny that the whole reason this came about was because of a criticism that Obama made about McCain’s energy plan.  He said something about how McCain’s plan for offshore drilling would have about the same effect on oil prices as just keeping your tires inflated.  His point was that offshore drilling will have a very small effect, and so shouldn’t be something we’re willing to compromise our principles for.  Given that filling up your tires can have something like a 3% increase in fuel economy, Obama probably overstated his point.  Filling up your tires will have *much higher* and *much faster* effects than offshore drilling ever could.

    The “problem” with Obama’s energy plan is that he won’t actually do anything to reduce the price of gas.  To me, this seems like a good thing, since higher fossil fuel prices will create incentives to produce less carbon emissions.  (It was pretty funny watching Obama squirm when asked if higher gas prices could have a positive effect on the climate.)  The weirdest part is that as an alleged free-marketeer McCain should have the easy out here: Gas prices are set by the market mechanism that takes into account supply and demand.  Since demand is always rising, as global supply is falling, prices have gone up.  In the short run, we should all conserve, and in the long run we should transition to renewable energy and electric cars.

    Oddly, despite McCain’s love of sacrificing for country, he won’t state the obvious—we need to drive less.  In fact, the republican party seems to have stopped believing in free markets (maybe never believed).  Instead, they now use “free markets” as magic words to eliminate regulations, but an increase in the price of one commodity is cause for immediate government action.

  4. August 8, 2008 at 19:45 | #4

    Even without checking tire pressure, using hypermiling techniques has allowed me to increase my mileage (city) by 25%; limited highway driving results are about the same.  Instead of neutral-gliding to stops, my road neighbours race to pass me and then hard-brake at the stoplight.  I judge the cycle of the light (though I hit far more grens than before) and turn off my engine rather than idle more than 15 seconds.  Yet my race-car neighbours will bitch about the price of gas.

    My assumption is the applying related conservation methods iat home and in business would yield results similar to what I have easily achieved.  Just today a co-worker calculated that at our location alone, (1000 employees) our company could save 5 million BTUs per day (not to mention the electricity savings) simply by enforcing a policy of suspending PCs after a period of inactivity.

    Conservation IS a key policy, it is the first ‘R’.  But that should be obvious; if Cheney says it’s not’ you can be absolutely certain that it is.  Time to work th light side.

  5. August 9, 2008 at 11:51 | #5

    “On the whole, his plan is a good one, and it’s the right approach.  He isn’t trying to treat addiction with one more fix.  He proposes hitting the energy problem from a whole lot of angles at once, which makes sense because it is a multifaceted problem.”

    I agree … when you actually take the time to read the candidate’s plans, Obama’s is more comprehensive and emphasizes forward-looking problems a bit more than shorter-term solutions. Combining vision and practicality is a tricky balance. For example, he includes clean coal tech in his plan … while some idealists will get miffed that he’s including coal at all, it has to be dealt with because it’s the reality. An actual plan needs to deal with action items of what to do now AND goals to strive for. I think his plan does that fairly well (at least better than McCain’s).

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