01 June 2008

Random Ramblings on the price of Gas (and other such annoyances)

Early disclamer: This is one of my rare but sometimes provocative opinion posts. Brace yourself.

Well, the average price of gas right now is over $4.21/gal. After some random looking on the web for ways to get higher MPG, I came across a story about Wayne Gerdes. It's a really interesting story and I highly suggest you check it out. I totally admire the guy's motivation: he wants to do his part to reduce American oil money funding Middle-Eastern terrorists. My core reason however is probably a little more self-preserving: I just want to save money.

I've really been trying to modify my driving style these past few weeks, though not to the extent Wayne does. Turning your car off and drafting semis doesn't seem like a great idea with two kids in the backseat. The people who know me as "speedman" and, well, anyone who's ever ridden in a car with me probably can't believe this, but it's true: I barely hit the speed limit on the highway, I'm coasting as much as I can and I'm watching the MPG meter in my wife's car (mine doesn't have one... yet) like it's a video game score.

Fortunately, there's one thing that allows me to travel the 6.5 miles to work on a whopping zero gallons of gas: my bicycle. Other bonuses of biking to work include exercise, fresh air, more energy and the occasional wolf whistle. Not all cities are great for biking, but fortunately California has paid special attention to cyclists and it's not uncommon to see them on the roads. Unfortunately, I can't sell my wife's beloved turbocharged premium-guzzling Audi and get her a bike to take the kids all over town. At least, not if I expect to have a wife much longer.

I also hear cycling is also pretty good for the environment. While that's all fine and good, things I do for the environment are usually to save me money, so you won't catch me buying carbon offsets (or onsets for that matter) or funding silly counter-productive ventures like Earthrace. No, I don't buy into the global warming nonsense. I do however recycle what I can and I paid a gardener to plant a whole bunch of flowers and vegetation in my back yard.

Which brings me to my second rambling point: Compact Florescent Lamps. I saw the money-saving promises on the box and was about ready to jump on the bandwagon when I thought I should dig a little deeper. Certain things are obvious: they're more expensive and should last longer than incandescent bulbs, but instead of burning out in one giant flash, they have some rather undesirable end-of-life characteristics. The light they give off usually isn't the most pleasing, and if you can hear high-pitched sounds, the noise they make can be irritating. The kicker for me is that they contain harmful (to people and the environment) mercury and require special consideration for breakage and must be safely recycled or disposed of following hazardous waste guidelines. Also, check out this quote:
Although mercury in these bulbs is a health hazard, special handling upon breakage is currently not printed on the packaging of household CFL bulbs in many countries. It is important to note that the amount of mercury released by one bulb can exceed U.S. federal guidelines for chronic exposure.
No wonder the packaging looks enticing! You don't find out how dangerous it is by reading the box.

Now, all that said, I did use a few CFLs, but I'm not converting all of my lights to them. I only used CFLs for the lights that I tend to leave on for long periods of time, like ceiling family and living room lights and the lights I leave on overnight. Again, trying to save money. But I don't want to imagine the horror of my kids breaking one or my wife or I having to follow the HAZ-MAT cleanup requirements. There are reasons we don't have mercury thermometers anymore.

Ok, done ranting for now. I'll be the guy on the bicycle laughing at the SUVs with the pedal to the metal speeding past on $4.21/gal gas.


Toldain said...

I'm not inclined to tell you to do anything different from what you describe. Biking to work is great, driving more efficiently is great and I understand your concern about the flourescent bulbs. Though they are actually very hard to break.

I would like you to consider the evidence for global warming via greenhouse gases. For example,
Woods Hole's page
on evidence for global warming.

Anonymous said...

I find myself doing the same thing as far as my driving style goes. Where I used to zoom down the freeway at 80, I rarely break 65 now. I used to race up to red lights, now I coast. I've convinced my boss to let me work from home so that helps too.

Regarding CFL's, I looked into them as well and most of the house has been replaced with them. The family is aware of the issues and when one does burn out, I'll dispose of it properly.

Being aware of things in your life is hard work!

Noah said...

You know where I stand on driving. I just don't do it unless I have to.

You and I are much alike, as you well know. This includes my perspective on the environment. I don't go out of my way to harm it. The things I do could be considered "Green" by some. Sure, there's a good dose of being a good steward with what God's given us reign of, but it's more about saving some cash than saving the world.

My wife can't stand total darkness in any part of the apartment, so I use CFLs on lights that remain on all night, like the light over the oven, which gently illuminates almost the entire main living area of our place.

As far as gas prices go, it's not that bad out here in Kansas City yet. Premium just broke past $4/Gal but I've already started to see less cars and more bicycles out here.

Oh yeah, Hypermiling is retarded. I've seen some of these morons with their cars turned off, coasting off a highway exit ramp and taking a sharp turn in excess of 30 MPH, people on surface roads driving mere inches from a trash truck, and the like. I'm a pretty laid-back guy, but this makes my blood boil.

While being less of a leadfoot will help some, you've found what many won't acknowledge: The best way to reduce your fuel usage is to drive less.

Thanks for another thought provoking post.

Anonymous said...

I'm lucky enough to live in a small town where I walk to work everyday except when I have to do the banking... It amazes me the amount of my co workers who still drive to work..