Thursday, July 26, 2007

Frustration of Conservation

The reasons for conservation are many; two of them being that it 1) saves money and 2) reduces the demand for finite resources. Depending on how active and aggressive you are in your conservation efforts and how much of a lifestyle change you make you can save a lot of money, lower demand for electricity/petrol/water/land use and feel like you are making a positive change. What if you discovered that it really didn't matter? All that effort, in the end, winds up being wrung through a cycle of self-defeat. What would be your reaction?

The way our economic system works and through the choices we make, we do indeed erase the results of efforts. The idea goes this way: You start conserving in general and because of that your bills aren't as high as normal. Utilities, food, petrol... anything. A net savings is realised and dollars normally spent on those things listed above are instead kept in your bank account. Your financial institution uses that money to make a loan to someone else, which results in economic growth. Let's say that person buys a car or house with the money you (and other conservers) saved. Then a new house leads to a new family and the cycle repeats itself. The way our banking/capital allocation system works perpetuates growth and the expanding use of limited resources. An obvious problem is what happens not only when we hit the wall of growth, but even when we approach its limit.

My goal here isn't to bash capitalism and state that we need to move away from it. I think that for the situation humanity has been in (industrial/technological/oil age), it has been the best system to use. It has allowed the bulk of the population to come out of an agrarian economy, has brought prosperity to a broad range of people and has made living much easier - as opposed to a "nasty, brutish and short" life described by past philosophers.

Thing is, we don't live in a purely capitalistic system. We have entered the age of demented corporatism. Business has been given the same rights as people even though it doesn't possess a set of morals, intellect, reason and many other human traits. It used to be that corporations were formed for specific goals: to build a bridge or railroad, and the charter was then undone upon completion. Now we have eternal entities with one specific goal: to make profit (via growth) at any cost. All systems have their flaws - this one not being able to understand exponential growth and that someday it will hit its limit. I find it hard to believe that these two items can be reconciled - that an economic system that exists only to grow, irrespective of costs and resources can survive in a reality of fewer natural resources, peak oil, population overshoot and excess pollution/climate change. Of course its not the fault of the economic system per se that it fails to recognise these limits, but rather the businesses and real people that operate within it. Though they are rewarded most (and rewarded now) for producing and growing as much as possible. Self destructive feedback loop.


The world is facing the problems that have accumulated over the last 170 or so years, and in hindsight, the path that allowed us to arrive at this point is staggeringly simple (read any of Richard Heinberg's books). The paths ahead of us are unlimited. One option: we can sit around and be cynical. Think "If the resources I save through conservation are only going to be used up by someone else, why not use them myself?" This seems logical too; people watch out for #1 first in most situations. As we continue to gobble up resources they will become scarce so we should maybe think about conserving not ought of it a) being the right thing to do b) financial incentives c) environmental concerns d) etc. but rather because in the future it will be forced on us by physical limits. Our one-trick-pony and outdated economic system whose only solution is to find/produce/grow will not save us.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Nitpicking

As Bru is on holiday in a land far, far south of here, I have free reign of our quality rag for the time being. Muahaha!

I really hate to flog a dead horse here, but even after all this time I still have issues with the CNN article on why we need big SUV's. I could have posted again in the comments but most likely it would not be seen. Also, I figure it's OK as I (hopefully) am not just rehashing Bru's post in my own words.

First things first: ambiguity. Right away the article subtitle states that the Yukon hybrid saves more gas than a civic hybrid. Now I am somewhat slow to react on a lot of things: jokes, wordplay, puns... but when I read that it made me think the article was about SUV's using less gas than civic hybrids. Wow! I understand titles are there to draw readers in but that, to me, is somewhat misleading without a qualifier.

Next comes the actual numbers and math behind the report. Normally I would expect to see a fuller analysis done and then a conclusion drawn from that research. This article seems to have an agenda it wants to get published (better to only develop and use hybrid technology in SUVs). It then lays out selective numbers to back up that point. Bru easily cuts through the rubbish here. The point here is that the author skips over numbers that I, and many others, would view as essential in a decision to purchase or perhaps even produce hybrid SUV's. The author doesn't even go over total annual gasoline use when comparing hybrid and non-hybrid SUV's and cars. All we are presented is one sentence -as Bru said, the one that disqualifies the rest of the article- with the difference stated (and even that is a bit off using the articles figures!). Its 322 gallons/year for the hybrid sedan (prius), 394 glns/yr for the regular hybrid sedan, 793 glns/yr for the hybrid SUV and 941 glns/yr for the non-hybrid SUV. Now and again while I was on the senior slide in college, I cherry picked some math to use for presentations and was ripped to shreds by my peers. It wasn't fun, but that's reality for poor analysis.

The other part that got to me was at the end where the article seems to insinuate that developing hybrid technology for different kinds of autos is mutually exclusive. "Use hybrid technology in SUVs because that's what I want to drive!" he seems to be saying. If a car company wants to develop hybrid technology for SUVs and produce them, that's fine, but it doesn't mean it can't also use it in smaller cars. So then technology is confused with production, which in the end is what really matters.

OK, I'm off to look for my shovel so we can bury this once and for all. Just wanted to get that all this out before I start digging.

Monday, July 02, 2007

267 MPH

If only I could publish posts on the Brudaimonia as fast as this Maglev train leaving Shanghai: