Tom Murphy of Do the Math walks us through a topic that’s as crucial to the future of progressive, science-and-communications aided, modern society as anything could be: the comparative energy efficiency of human muscled-powered locomotion.
Corporate capitalism presumes the continuation — and, hence, the sustainability — of present mobility arrangements in at least its core areas. Under that arrangement, a large percentage of everyday, local-area travel is accomplished via automobile. This is due to the unique demand- and profit-stimulating effects (read: wastefulness) of cars-first transportation orders.
From an energy point of view, cars-first transportation means that fueling automotive engines is a major bottleneck for normal social existence. As such, the obvious question is how well does and could the cars-first arrangement compare to its major alternative, the reconstruction of towns and cities to encourage bicycling and walking?
Tom Murphy’s conclusion: On a diet of normal, mixed foodstuffs (rather than pure lard or some other means of maximizing the energy density of the comestible), short-distance bicycling yields an MPG equivalent of 290, or about 6 times the energy efficiency of a Toyota Prius. Walking, meanwhile, delivers about 160 MPG.
There is, Murphy says, one fly in the ointment here: the energy intensity of current agricultural and food delivery arrangements. Factoring that in, Murphy figures that the MPG of cycling drops to 130 and that of walking to 34.
So, even without altering the food system (via increased organic farming, localization of supply chains, moves away from food processing/packaging, improvement of the veggie/meat intake ratio, etc.), bicycles are almost four times more energy efficient than Priuses, and walking is right in the same ballpark. A blend of the two — surely a main feature of any genuinely sustainable, modern human future — would be far more energy efficient than any conceivable cars-first arrangement.
(All this, of course, leaves aside the question of the energy required to build and maintain the infrastructures involved. Cars-first requires huge streets, large parking areas, scattered building patterns, and gigantic, ornate fuel-delivery processes. Muscles-first living would imply much smaller streets, less need for parking, dense building patterns, and comparatively simple fuel-delivery processes.)
Muscles-first would, of course, also be a far healthier arrangement: Using one’s own body, rather than 3,000-pound electrical or fossil-fuel combusting machines, to achieve the desired movements, would have radically positive impacts on public health, as would the accompanying reduction in exposure to the chemicals and large collisions involved in cars-first living and breathing.
Need we mention which society would be more fun and sociable and sane?
Remember how, massively contrary to mainstream claims, automobile ownership is actually one of the most unequally distributed of all so-called “consumer” product categories? While their apologists manufacture dogmas about how cars unite the whole society across class lines, the reality is that, for the rich, cars are luxurious toys paid for out of petty cash.
This fact is an interesting aspect of the social psychology of the overclass as it relates to the perpetuation of cars-first transportation. The main factor in that endeavor is surely institutional, a matter of corporate imperatives and the corollary pressures of mainstream politics. But the ability to tolerate and encourage that institutional momentum is certainly rooted in the monied mindset. As recent research has begun to show with precision, the rich are different — they are more personally grasping and socially oblivious than the rest of us. My guess is that this is partly because power/privilege attracts the corrupt, and also because living with great privilege tends to go to anybody’s head.
In any event, here at DbC, we consider it part of our mission to track how the overclass uses, as well as pushes, cars.
The topic arises today because DbC has just learned that Porsche is about to break ground on two Porsche Performance Centers here in the United States — one in Los Angeles and one in Atlanta. (Other PPCs already exist in Germany and England.)
What is a Porsche Performance Center? Essentially, a DisneyLand for Porsche owners. The main attraction is the Porsche test track, on which, for a fee, visitors can live out their race-car and/or auto-mountaineering fantasies:
The centerpiece of the complex will be a world-class test track and handling course, including areas where special surfaces replicate rain, ice, and snow conditions. These training sections include the Ice Hill, where a steep slope, computer-controlled water jets, and a low-friction surface will challenge even the most experienced drivers and help them improve their real-world skills. A special off-road area will combine 45-degree declines and ascents – ideal terrain for unleashing a Porsche Cayenne.
Of course, part of the idea is not just deepening Porsche owners’ brand loyalty, but also selling some Porsches:
The new West Coast location will be situated near the intersection of two major Los Angeles area traffic arteries, the 405 and 110 Freeways, is just minutes from Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) and is basically in the heart of Southern California, Porsche’s largest market in the United States.
At LAX alone, over 59 million travelers passed through the airport in 2010. Another 15 million consumers reside within a 50-mile radius from the facility, and even more are based within a few hours travel time by car, including Orange and San Diego counties, California and major markets to the North.
“Our mission is to help everyone who loves automobiles and car culture to experience the pure joy, the art, and the science of driving,” said James Taylor, general manager, Porsche Experience Center. ”Whether you want to experience the latest Porsche models like the new seventh-generation Porsche 911, upgrade your personal performance as a racer or athlete, or host a car club event or a product launch, we look forward to working with customers to create a memorable program.”
That “everyone,” of course, is hyperbole, given Porsche’s prices. The really interesting demographic is the number of capitalists who pass through LAX and reside in the area.
Meanwhile, while at the PPC, the aspiring racer/mountain scaler/athlete/product launcher can:
Come and learn about the exciting range of options available when buying a Porsche. The Personlisation Lounges allow you to sit down with an expert consultant and discuss the full range of options available when purchasing a Porsche. Uniquely to the Porsche Experience Centre you can test the more technical options in the cars when you are on your driving experience. Options on many vehicles on the driving experience fleet include the PDK gearbox and Sport Chrono Plus.
To see the more aesthetic options available you can build your dream Porsche using the Porsche Car Configurator with expert advice from our consultants. We want to show you what we can do down to the smallest detail. The only limit is your imagination. Make an appointment with your local Porsche Centre to discuss your requirements. Alternatively let us know when you are booking your driving experience or event if you are interested in a personalisation consultation session.
Not uninterestingly, here is Porsche’s admission about why PPCs are an attractive idea:
“Helping enthusiasts feel and connect with their vehicle’s full potential through intelligent engineering has always been a part of the Porsche philosophy,” said Detlev von Platen, President and CEO of Porsche Cars North America. “Now, we are excited to turn dreams into reality for all driving enthusiasts by creating a safe, exhilarating environment for experiencing the pleasure of being in the driver’s seat.”
In other words, Porsche knows it is in the business of selling its customers way more car than can actually be used. Race cars sit in traffic jams just like 25 year-old jalopies, and draw huge tickets, license sanctions, and lawsuits, if “unleashed” on public roads. Luxury SUVs, as every maker knows, are almost never driven off-road. Hence, in order to “connect with their vehicle’s full potential,” Porsche’s privileged market needs access to playlands where speeding and hill-climbing can be done in closed, Disney-fied conditions.
The price of a Porsche Cayenne SUV, by the way? $48,200 to $107,100.
The price of one “Porsche Cayenne Driving Experience” at the English PPC? £275.00, aka $440. Lunch at the Porsche Restaurant? £30 per person.
The ultimate cost of our overseers’ special blend of greed, childishness, and eco-social heedlessness? You tell me…
They Might be Giants is a pop music group who fancy themselves intellectuals and teachers of children. Here is one of their supposedly smart and educational offerings:
Excuse me, but this is (tuneless) ignorance on very creepy stilts.
The lyrics, amid a string of familiar phony green pablum, include the line “no diesel, steam, or gasoline.”
Okay, TMBG, tell us: Where does the “electric” car gets its electricity? Is it magic? Spontaneous generation? Something, as TMBG would apparently have the kiddies conclude, “verdant green”?
Nope, not even close. It’s 90 percent from nuclear fission and the combustion of coal and natural gas.
Meanwhile, what’s the title of the album from which this amazing piece of brainwashed brainwashing emanates? Here Comes Science. ROFL.
It’s a bit cruel to pick on people who still think the Democratic Party serves a human purpose, but it’s nonetheless interesting that the Daily Kos is fully on board with the practice of publishing blatantly unfounded promises of impending physical miracles bound to rescue cars-first transportation from its own massive internal contradictions.
The latest example is from Kosnik Keith Pickering, who yesterday ran his piece, “The Edible Battery That’s Too Good for Electric Cars.” Reporting on “aqueous sodium batteries,” Pickering would have his readers join him in thinking that these items could be put into “electric” cars, save for the fact that doing so would be a waste of the batteries’ potential.
Problem? There is no existing sodium-ion battery that could be used in an automobile:
Researchers have looked into sodium-ion batteries in the past, although typically they have used high voltages and organic electrolytes. Using lower voltages reduces the amount of energy the batteries can store–a problem for electric vehicles, where space and weight are limited.
“I hope [the] DOE funds the nonaqueous [potentially usable in cars but presently non-existent] work, too,” [comments an interested professor.]
So, the proper title for Pickering’s article is “The Non-Existent Edible Battery That’s Too Good for Electric Cars.”
U.S. auto-safety regulators are scrutinizing the safety of lithium-ion batteries that power electric vehicles after a General Motors Co. (GM) Chevrolet Volt battery caught fire, people familiar with the probe said.
The regulators have approached all automakers, including GM, Nissan Motor Co. and Ford Motor Co., that sell or have plans to sell vehicles with lithium-ion batteries with questions about the batteries’ fire risk, four people familiar with the inquiry said.
The Volt caught fire while parked at a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration testing center in Wisconsin, three weeks after a side-impact crash test, said an agency official. The fire was severe enough to burn vehicles parked near the Volt, the agency official said. Investigators determined the battery was the source of the fire, the official said.
As usual, NHTSA is dutifully representing the interests of the industry by keeping the investigation secret:
The official, as well as the three other people familiar with the inquiry, said they couldn’t be named because the investigation isn’t public.
I apologize to DbC readers. At the height of the Macondo Prospect blowout in the Gulf of Mexico, I said the following about the idea that President Zerobama would start listening to sanity about energy and ecology. “Nothing,” I then predicted, “could be more threatening to the continuance of corporate capitalism. There will be much hand-wringing, a few monkey trials, and another toughening of the regulations. Then deep-water drilling will resume in full. Nothing else is possible, barring a major social upheaval.”
Mea culpa: There have been neither monkey trials nor major new rules. And the partial pause lasted 15, not 6, months. Until yesterday, when the pre-Horizon Deepwater course was re-adopted:
The sales off Alaska, where native groups and environmentalists have objected to drilling, would be the first since 2008. And they would [include the] Chukchi and Beaufort Seas, which Interior officials called a “frontier” for drilling.
In the western and central Gulf,…the proposal puts all unleased acreage up for sale.
By the way, the semi-major social upheaval going on has been essentially silent about energy and ecology.
In his latest Do the Math post, physicist Tom Murphy estimates that total human energy use, in all forms across the whole globe and its 7 billion inhabitants, is something like 13 TW (TW = terawatts, or trillion watts). Murphy also calculates that the United States’ annual use of 7 billion (yes, it’s the same number now as the planet’s population) barrels of petroleum constitutes an energy burn of 1.3 TW, or ten percent of total human power use.
For those tracking the insanity of cars-first transportation, this suggests a few follow-up calculations.
We know that, as of 2009, 72 percent of U.S. oil use was in the form of transportation fuel. We also know that some additional petroleum is used both to build automobiles and to build and maintain asphalt roads for automobiles, so the true share of U.S. oil use explained by cars and trucks is certainly at least 75 percent.
Since the United States burns 10 percent of humanity’s total current energy budget on oil, and since cars-first transportation accounts for at least three-quarters of total U.S. oil use, then oil-based transportation in the United States devours 7.5 percent of humanity’s total energy budget.
At present, the population of the United States is about 4.5 percent of Earth’s human population.
Interestingly, the 59 percent of the total U.S. oil burn that goes into personal cars and trucks works out (.59 times 7.5) to 4.4 percent of total world energy use, meaning that, if energy use were distributed fairly across the planet, the U.S. fleet of personal-use automobiles would be devouring the nation’s entire per-capita share.
This, of course, doesn’t include the gas and diesel fuel that gets used in the country’s cargo-delivery trucking system. Much or all of the long-distance trucking sector exists as a way to break and preempt labor unions and thereby restrain labor expenses/incomes, as long-haul truckers are about as disinclined to form unions as railroad workers are prone to forming them.
The President who happily signed the most recent major legislation encouraging the ascendance of long-haul trucking over railroad freight, the Motor Carrier Act of 1980, despite the obvious energy inefficiency of trucks compared to trains? Nope, not Reagan. Our old friend and darling of phony-green false history, one James Earl Carter, Jr.
Neil Postman once argued that permitting corporate capitalists to continue their dominance over off-the-job experience and communications would progressively turn us into a nation of mental teenagers. Was he right? Consider this new offering from the bailed-out Fiat-Chrysler corporation — a Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3-themed Jeep Wrangler!
This fine, appropriate, grown-up offering for our age of Peak Oil will be listed at “$36,495 for the two-door model and $40,070 for the four-door (Jeep Wrangler Unlimited) model.” The MPG for this 4,000-pound machine? 17 in the city and 21 on the highway.
And what will our hordes of armchair tough-guys do with their new Jeeps? Some, of course, will go destroy what remains of a local forest. Many more will stick to the usual.
You just can’t make this stuff up.
Huzzah! GM has now sold 5,003 Chevy Volts in 2011. That’s a whopping five one-hundredths of one percent ( or .0005) of 2011′s total year-to-date sales of 10,503,526 “light vehicles” in the United States.
Meanwhile, with the government having bailed GM out of the cost of developing this pathetic coal-burning boondoggle, the corporation is settling down to reality, where GM now all but openly admits the Volt is nothing more than a halo product/marketing device.
The marketing operates at two levels — mass media and showroom floor.
In the mass media, GM continues to spend exorbitant (probably a record, if judged by marketing dollar per Volt sold) sums on Volt commercials and ads.
The mass media marketing strategy? Greenwash plus techwash:
Volt marketing chief Tony DiSalle says this one car could lift the whole company. “When consumers see that, they quickly go to the notion that you are smart enough to design and engineer and manufacture a vehicle that’s this capable and this innovative, [and] you just must make better vehicles overall,” he says.
The showroom strategy, meanwhile, is straight-up bait-and-switch:
[Chevy] Cruze sales, by contrast [to below-anemic Volt sales], are on fire. The compact was the nation’s 11th-best-selling car last month, more popular than the Toyota Corolla. And Reuss says he thinks he knows one reason why: Customers lured to the showroom to check out the Volt are leaving with keys to a new $16,720 Cruze. That’s the Cruze shown at top; the Volt to the right.
“The Volt is leading to a lot of Cruze sales,” he told a group of Los Angeles-based reporters last week. Customers “went to see the Volt, but not everyone can buy the Volt.” Reuss says he insisted that every Chevrolet dealer get at least one Volt, knowing it will work as a lure even if no one is buying it. [Source: USA Today]
I would add that the other halo effect of this whole scam is an extension of Tony DiSalle’s point about so-called “consumers” thinking that if “you are smart enough to design and engineer and manufacture a vehicle that’s this capable and this innovative, you just must make better vehicles overall.” The larger rotten presumption they are undoubtedly encouraging is the notion that if they can make a Volt, then cars-first transportation must be sustainable and just fine.
You can tell how much trouble they’re in from just how far and how hard they now have reach.
Here is the Music Player. You need to installl flash player to show this cool thing!