Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Saving the world, one math problem at a time...

In high school algebra and geometry, you were taught that have variables which must be understood and solved in order to solve the overall equation. Proofs which incorporate different laws and properties use logic to derive an acceptable conclusion from an initial premise. The fuel crisis we are facing is no different. By taking this problem step by step and working it like you would a math problem, you will hopefully have a better view of the individual pieces of this problem and see how inept most attempts so far have been at providing a solution.
Read the article before calling me a doomsayer or a hippie or even someone who doesn't care about an imminent threat. I like my low-30s mpg Volvo station wagon which also has a bit more than 200 hp when my right foot asks for it. I like driving fast and enjoying cars but I also understand that there is a problem, and whether it becomes serious ten years or one hundred years down the road, a solution had better be in hand. I simply want to provide a clearer understanding of the situation for people.

The initial premise for our fuel crisis is this:
  • Oil is running out, whether in the next 20 years or 200.
  • Oil mostly belongs to states which are unstable and don't seem to like America very much.
  • As populations grow they require more resources.
Thus at some point, oil supplies will run out or become prohibitively expensive. Every day, more and more people become dependent on a resource that can only decrease. Elementary notions of supply and demand give you two options. The first is to restrict the supply of oil that individuals can actually consume, thereby lengthening the amount of time that the Earth's oil supplies will last. The second is to make our use of oil more efficient, thereby reducing the overall demand for oil.

The first option is the less appealing one at first sight; if America suddenly imported less oil, we'd be back to the 1970s and gas rationing. The second option looks much more appealing. All we need to do is make our cars and planes and power generators more efficient.

Now cut to this scene: you are driving along the interstate in your Toyota Camry. Bestselling car in America for years. You went for the four cylinder because you wanted fuel economy more than you wanted horsepower, so you've got about 160 horsepower and 30 mpg under the hood. Driving along in the middle lane, you see a Chevy Tahoe in your left mirror coming up fast. Though it is in the HOV lane, which requires that you have at least two or three occupants depending on the road, you can't see anyone but the driver in the vehicle. As it passes by, you see it's the new Tahoe hybrid, which Chevy's website quotes as having "fuel efficiency you never imagined — an outstanding EPA estimated MPG of 21 city, 22 highway for 2WD models, and 20 city, 20 highway for 4x4. In fact, 2008 Tahoe Hybrid 2WD offers the same city fuel efficiency as a four-cylinder Toyota Camry."

Great, so the giant rolling fortress which gets ten mpg less than you gets to go in the HOV lane even with only one occupant.

Chevy also announced that the hybrid versions of the Tahoe will receive special "Hybrid-specific badging and graphics."
As far as I can tell, the only real purpose to this vehicle is to give a bold middle finger to Greenpeace and undermine all the consumers who own more fuel efficient non-hybrid vehicles.

Mathematical modeling, anyone?

What is decent fuel economy? Would a minimum of 25 mpg for every vehicle on the road (excluding true farm equipment, but this means every vehicle, not the average over a manufacturer's range) start saving America, if not the world? 35? 75? How do we determine adequate reductions in fuel consumption?

It is incredibly arrogant for politicians and activist groups to issue calls for radical change in

I have put forth to you, the reader, many questions that cannot be fully answered by me. If they could, our energy crisis would be on its way to being solved and I'd be incredibly rich. If we do not understand all important aspects of a problem before trying to solve it, we will not get anywhere closer to a solution. We didn't send astronauts to the moon using an Acme slingshot and a protractor. Solving a problem which affects every American who has anything to do with a car will require as much sophistication, resources, and public support as spaceflight. One of the defining moments of my parents' generation was landing on the moon. If one of the defining moments of my generation turns out to be virtual energy independence, it would be no less glorious a moment.

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