Friday, January 04, 2008

Conservation doesn’t have to suck

With oil prices flirting with a hundred bucks a barrel, two geoblogospheroids have been flaunting their Priuses. Jim has even been scientific enough to show us his data, allowing us to see how his fuel economy has improved over the past year. When one of his students asked how the car is at speeding down the highway, he said that driving energetically misses the whole point.

This is a general cultural perception that conservation means forgoing all hoonic pleasures, that it requires a life of austerity and forbearance. Better to fry the planet than to freeze in the dark is one common objection to simple living. But the fact is, by being clever, one can actually conserve while still having a good time.

For example, here is the mileage graph for my PhDmobile:

My average mileage, 45.5 mpg, was only slightly worse than Jim’s. And this was back when hybrids were just a twinkle in Amory Lovins’ eye. But despite this miserly fuel consumption, my humble Honda could do 0-60 in around 5 seconds- greater acceleration than a Corvette of similar vintage.

So sporty handling and fuel efficiency are not necessarily incompatible. Just a bit of basic physics is needed. For example, I was able to achieve this excellent fuel efficiency because I had a 600cc engine- less than half the size of a Prius engine. And the reason that such a small engine could provide high acceleration is simple Newtonian physics. F=ma, and my vehicle only weighed 200 kg.

Furthermore, since I rode my bicycle to work, my total usage was fairly modest, at about 5000 km for both 1999 and 2000. Here is my internal combustion engine carbon footprint for those years:

yearLitersgallonskgkg CkgCO2

Obviously this doesn't include my electricity, gas, and airplane emissions, but the point is that a person can still live like a rev-head and have a third-world emissions profile.

As I’m sure you all guessed by now, this vehicle was a motorcycle. A 1987 CBR 600, to be exact. But due to cultural misconceptions, many people still don’t understand that a sportsbike is just as good for the planet as a Prius- probably better when you look at manufacturing impact.

There are added bonuses as well, which include:
  • Easy to park
  • Fun to ride
  • Lower registration fees
  • Cheaper to buy
  • Chick Magnet


Kim said...

But do you still drive it much, now that you have a Small Human to tote around? I'm in search of the perfect vehicle for a one-child family in the mountains. I don't need an SUV, but I need four doors and decent handling on snow. It's rather frustrating that the most fuel-efficient vehicle I've ever driven (a diesel VW Rabbit) was made in 1980.

Dr. Lemming said...

No, I sold it when I got hitched (insert pathetic symbolism here). My new car is great for one kid, and gets only slightly worse fuel economy, but they aren't sold in the US. However, I think that some of the newer VW's may occupy the same niche.

C W Magee said...

I've included a table of my annual CO2 emissions from 1999 and 2000- and they are equivalent to an average Sri Lankan's.

jrepka said...


Cutting back to two-wheels is certainly an option -- in many ways I'm surprised that the streets of southern California don't look more like Rome, just because it would be easier to get through traffic. And it's not as if the weather here is usually a major barrier.

I'm not against having fun, my point to my student was simply that we're at of the end of the age of cheap oil, and thinking of performance first is the equivalent of letting the water run during a drought.