May 2007

Plenty of you have received the email, May 15 is National Gas-Out Day! This is supposed to be our big chance to stick it to Big Oil. "Don't fill your tank, last time we did this the price of gas dropped thirty cents per gallon overnight!" Another version says we should all stop buying from Mobil Exxon, then they will drop their prices and others will soon follow suit.

Good one. Nowhere does the author(s) of these posts or emails say anything about using less gasoline. No one wants to sacrifice for the greater good, they just want to punish Big Oil so they lower the price. So we can all consume more. See you at the Mobil station, business as usual.

We are a country with no real energy policy other than extract, take, make, buy oil and consume without limit with no guilt. The use of "green fuels" and even hybrid technology (developed in Japan to conserve fuel) are only going to help us all consume more. Check out the Pimp My Ride episode, where the Boyz trick up a 65 Chevy Impala with a 800 horsepower engine that they fuel with biodiesel. It hits 60 in 3.5 seconds, an outstanding achievement. The guest star is Governator Schwarzenegger, who praised the shop for following his "green initiative". What did you expect from a guy who drives an H1?

Meanwhile, farmers are planting the biggest corn crop in history, huge chemical plants are sprouting up in the farm belt, and the price of tortillas has doubled in Mexico. Next we will be asked to boycott corn on the cob to send those rich farmers a lesson.

Does any of this make sense? If we convert our entire corn crop to ethanol, we'd create between 8 and 13% of our annual gasoline consumption (140 billion gallons per year). No problem, we'll plant more corn! But wait--the ratio of energy out to energy in for ethanol production is just 1.27. So we'd have to increase our corn crop by 50X to create a sustainable fuel supply.

Here's a lesson from 1933. A deflating wheat price bubble caused the the United States to plant the biggest wheat crop in history, displacing thousands of square miles of prairie grasses that act to prevent wind erosion. Then a drought kicked in, followed by high winds, and it rained topsoil all the way to the Atlantic Ocean. The dust bowl may have been the biggest reason that the Great Depression was so "great".

Rush Limbaugh doesn't believe that man could possibly be responsible for global warming, our endeavors on this planet are seemingly minuscule compared to nature. Yet it's an inarguable fact that the dust bowl was caused by man. Here's a critical thinking exercise for followers of Rush: what happens when we convert our prairies into a massive corn crop, and drought and high winds caused by "Nature" kick in?

OK, so far this was all negative, what's something that we can do to help the messed up planet short of posting a U-do-it vasectomy video on YouTube? There are plenty of things we can legislate that will reduce energy use with little to no impact on people's lives. Too bad the Unknown Editor isn't running for president in 2008, we'll have to pick once again from a field of do-nothing candidates. All of these ideas may seem like a drop in the bucket, but changing people's idea of personal sacrifice is gonna have to start with baby steps.

Let's reexamine Cheryl Crow's idea

Controlling the use of toilet paper is ridiculous. But controlling what toilet paper is made of makes sense. Recycling is a noble cause, it saves energy and natural resources. But today there just isn't that much of a market for recycled products. Let's make one. Toilet paper should be the end of the food chain (pun intended) for paper products, it's unlikely that we'll ever recycle it. But we can require that it is made of 100% recycled paper. While we're at it, let's eliminate bleach from the process and give some our most polluted rivers a rest. Brown paper works just as well as white.

Allow 88 Octane only

Premium gasoline is a vanity product for people who have more money than they need and want to feel like they deserve better than the rest of us. In reality, premium gas takes more oil to produce yet has less energy content. Did we mention that the price to produce high-octane gas is only about 1 cent per gallon? High octane gas has been the industries cash cow for decades. It's time to mandate a single octane fuel for the country. The real savings of single-octane comes from eliminating the distribution and storage of a product that is used by 15% of motorists even though only 3% of vehicles require it. Storage capacity at gas stations would double overnight, and higher storage capacity smoothes out price spikes. California estimated that a single octane gas system would save consumers $400M per year. Enough is enough.

Require restaurants to publish calories on menus

So much food is wasted in this country, all of it requiring energy to produce, distribute, cook. Why does Chicago Grill need to serve  2000 calorie appetizers? Because in our economy we are all trained that if you "get more for less", you win. Too bad your waistline loses, and the dumpster gets filled with tons of fresh food. If restauants were required to put calorie values next to entrees, maybe we'd start ordering smaller portions or splitting dishes. Restaurants wouldn't lose money, we'd eat out more often and turn over tables quicker. Everyone wins.

Outlaw toll booths at the federal level

We all know that the average reader of this palaver knows how to cruise through using E-Z Pass, we invented it. But the underclass is never gonna have that option, so millions of people sit in line to fish out quarters to pay tolls that keep politician's loser relatives employed. The only upside is that it's helping kill them off. If a state wants to profit from highways built with federal money, the Federal government should cut off their highway funds. We have enough traffic problems without these artificial jams. Besides, if they really want to profit from auto travel, the state can always fall back on the option of raising tax on gas.

Stop minting pennies

When was the last time you bent down to pick up a penny? Can't remember? That's because they have to economic value. The same could be said for nickels; but nickels are needed as an interface between quarters and dimes because you can't make change for a quarter with just dimes. Meanwhile we mint 13 billion pennies each year, and half of them don't circulate for even a year. OK, it's only a few million pounds of metal, but it's a few million pounds of metal that we have to extract from the earth and smelt, coin, carry around, move from one pile to the next, every day, for no economic reason. It's all a colossal waste. Most toll booths won't accept them as cash.

Outlaw drive-through windows

Sure is convenient sitting in that big SUV with the windows rolled up, waiting in a long line so that someone can serve your fat kids a Happy Meal. Want to raise your kids' fitness level? Have them walk from the car to the restaurant. The rest of us will breathe just a little easier in the long run.

Ban two-stroke engines

It's time to eliminate this environmental disaster. Think about the millions of gallons of oil that Johnson, Evinrude and Mercury outboard motors have dumped into pristine lakes over the years, not to mention the carbon monoxide treat they serve first to our fish, then to our atmosphere. The real reason we still have two-stroke engines is that the immediate result of a ban would be that another American industry would have to catch up to more agile companies like Honda. We used to thrive on challenges, are we that fat dumb and happy that we couldn't retool for some new kick-ass products? While we're on the subject, might weed wackers be a little quieter with four stoke engines?

Beyond legislation, the best way to decrease energy use is to change our personal behavior. Some suggestions: Find hobbies and interests that don't involve fossil fuels: take your kids roller skating or rock climbing instead of to a NASCAR event. Fly less, and stop bringing your golf clubs. Trade that power boat for a sailboat. Buy a smaller car.

Here's something we don't need...

The world's fastest truck races a plane in this lame video. Contributed by JC!

That's all for now!


Check out the Unknown Editor's amazing archives when you are looking for a way to screw off for a couple of hours or more!