I had an experience last weekend which shows just how far we could already be in the race for fuel economy, if we were really trying.
I had to haul some stuff around last weekend. Instead of renting a truck (expensive, burns a lot of fuel, overkill for what I needed to do) I rented a 4x8 U-haul trailer. I already had a trailer hitch on the car for the bike rack, all I needed was the wiring for the lights and the little doohickey with the ball on it. Two visits to the nearest shop (I got there too late the first day) and I was good to go.
This was a bit of a long trip, at highway speeds. I typically cruise at 65 MPH or the speed limit, whichever is lower; this was going to be no exception. The car (2004 Passat TDI) usually gets between 39 and 42 MPG. I figured that I might get 25 MPG with the extra weight and considerable drag of the trailer, especially going up and down mountains with the A/C running.
I was wrong. I measured 29.6 MPG.
900 pounds of trailer obviously wasn't enough, so I added roughly another half-ton of cargo (total vehicle weight measured at 5520 pounds) and headed back the other way. Up and down the same mountains, in the rain, using the A/C, I got about 28 MPG. And the sub-2 liter engine pulled up 5% grades without either slowing down or downshifting.
An engine which can pull a car and a ton of passengers, cargo and trailer up a mountain is clearly more than enough for every-day use. An engine which can do all of that while exceeding the CAFE limit for cars ought to be in just about everything, shouldn't it? It's not like any of this technology is particularly new. Yet Detroit's offerings are still biased toward trucks because they can't meet CAFE if they tried to fill the same niche with cars.
Why doesn't Detroit do better? If I knew, I'd tell you.
If this wasn't coming from the guy who lost the 2004 presidential election, I'd be screaming "HOT DAMN!" instead of muttering it under my breath. A serious pol is echoing the salient points I've been making here for the past two years:
If any of his speechwriters have been reading this, please contact me! There are plenty more goodies where those came from; I'll do my damndest to make it worth your while. (Or maybe I know them already.) Unfortunately he repeats the same long-debunked nonsense about ethanol and Brazil, but you can't get far without pandering to the Iowa corn lobby.
What follows is from John Kerry, relayed to me by mailing list:
Senator John Kerry
Our Energy Challenge
June 26, 2006
Here in Faneuil Hall, America's first great gathering ground of free speech and dissent, we came together two months ago and nearly two and a half centuries after the voices of patriots were first heard within these walls.
We came together to affirm that the patriotism of 2006, no less than the patriotism of 1776, demands that we speak truth to power - that for love of country, we must end a war in Iraq that kills too many of our sons and daughters, betraying both our national interests and our ideals.
Last week, in the Senate, we stood against appeals to politics and pride and demanded a date to bring our troops home. We did that because that's the way you get Iraqis to stand up for Iraq and fight a more effective war on terror.
We defied the White House tactics of fear and smear. Presidents and Republican politicians may be concerned about losing votes or losing face or losing legacies. We told the truth because we are more concerned about young Americans and Iraqi civilians losing their lives. And I guarantee you, our success would bring less loss of life, less expenditure of dollars, and it would make America safer.
I say "we" because even though our resolution only won 13 votes this time, I know every minute of the debate you were there with us -- there with Russ Feingold, there with Ted Kennedy and there with us as we voted our beliefs and yours - that a policy based on deception and filled with blunders is no excuse for its own perpetuation.
But while we lost that roll call, I guarantee we will win the judgment of history because Washington is wrong and Americans are right, and we must set a new course in Iraq.
Yet our challenge is not just to end this war, it is to prevent the next one. The arrogance of ideology and the willful ignorance of the intelligence led us into a war of choice in Iraq. Now we must act so that at some future date America will never have to fight for its economic security because we are permanently held hostage to foreign oil.
We must make the hard choices - about alternative energy and clean coal, conservation and fuel efficiency - that will free our future from the dominance of big oil and yesterday's fossil fuels, a dominance that in the era of global warming threatens the future itself.
So I come here again to Faneuil Hall, which is also the cradle of American independence, to set out a strategy for energy independence. To propose specific steps for an energy revolution as far-reaching as the industrial revolution. And to oppose the procrastination, the Washington evasion and the Cheney-run secret task forces by and for big oil.
How insulting and ridiculous it is to be told that the solution to our problems is to drill in and destroy the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge that would yield a few months of oil when we are already importing 60 percent of our oil and climbing? God only gave us 3% of the world's oil reserves. There is simply no way to drill our way out of our problem. We have to invent our way out.
To do that, we also have to invent our way out of the politics of greed and empty posturing that has worsened our dependence and denied the undeniable and potentially disastrous effects of global warming.
Not long ago, in the face of record gas prices, a volatile Middle East, and hostile rhetoric from a fundamentalist regime in Iran, a President of the United States asked "Why have we not been able to get together as a nation to resolve our serious energy problem?"
His name was Jimmy Carter - and that steamy summer of 1979 seems as familiar today as the question he raised then. Almost twenty seven years later we face another summer of record gas prices, raging violence across a volatile Middle East, renewed rhetoric of hate from a fundamentalist regime in Tehran. Our national neglect has made the quarter of a century since then what Winston Churchill called "years the locust has eaten." Today we endure another summer of record gas prices; we witness the violence raging across a volatile Middle East; and we hear the rhetoric of hate from a hostile government in Tehran.
George W. Bush now says that "America is addicted to oil." His preferred policy has been to feed the addiction; his attitude on greenhouse gases is to let them increase; his energy alternatives are token; again and again his approach to crisis is to denigrate the environment. Mr. President, the people know the truth: America is not addicted to oil because it wants to be. Washington is addicted to oil because that's the way powerful interests want it to be.
And it has been this way ever since President Nixon announced a national goal that by 1980, "the United States will not be dependent on any other country for the energy we need." President Ford extended the deadline: energy independence by 1985. Come 1985 President Reagan was promising to "ensure that our people and our economy are never again held hostage by the whim of any country or cartel."
The bottom line - whenever we face an energy crisis, talk of energy independence becomes the common currency of the American political dialogue. We have Apollo projects and Manhattan Projects for alternative fuels; summits and conferences and energy expos. And then, as the price of oil falls or supplies increase or a war is put behind us, the sense of urgency evaporates.
Too often our leaders in both parties have done what's easy, turned their backs on hard realities and great possibilities. Renewables, efficiency breakthroughs, clean technologies have been marginalized in the face of self-interested forces.
In these lost years, we could have created millions of new jobs, opened up vast new markets, improved the health of our citizens, slowed global warming, saved the taxpayers money, earned the respect of the world, and significantly strengthened our long term security. Instead America's energy strategy has been rhetorical, not real.
For evidence, look no further than the fake energy bill Congress enacted over bipartisan objections - a monstrosity with no guiding national goal, no tough decisions, no change in priorities - just a logrolling, back-scratching collection of subsidies for any industry with the clout to get a seat at the table and a share of the pork. A few good ideas, a lot of bad ideas and ugly ideas - Washington smiled equally upon all of them.
I don't know how to say it more plainly: Washington's energy policy is as real as their claims of Mission Accomplished in Iraq. But it is also the latest chapter in the long story in both parties politics at its worst - ducking the difficult choices, giving into the big contributors, substituting words for deeds, postponing the reckoning until the day after tomorrow. If you offend no one, you change nothing. The world is changing and now the reckoning is real.
Last Thursday, Brian Williams opened the nightly news with a stark statement: "Top climate scientists are saying with a high level of confidence that the earth is the hottest it has been in 400 years." NBC's science correspondent reported that global warming may lead to "rising sea levels, heavy rains in some areas, drought in others, and an increase in severe weather, including hurricanes." Was there room to argue? Well, as the NBC story concluded "you can [always] make a debate if you can find one scientist who says the earth is flat and have him debate it against everybody else."
Well, Washington is full of "flat-earth" politicians. No matter how the evidence has mounted over two decades -- the melting of the arctic ice cap, rising sea levels, extreme weather - the flat earth caucus can't even see what is on the horizon. In the Congress they've even trotted out the author of Jurassic Park as an expert witness to argue that climate change is fiction. This is Stone Age science.
Here's the bottom line: within the next decade, if we don't deal with global warming, our children and grandchildren will have to deal with global catastrophe. It is time to stop debating fiction writers, oil executives and flat-earth politicians, and actually take on the other mortal threat to America after terrorism, which, because of our oil dependence, is a decisive front in the war on terrorism.
We can't respond to climate change, and we can't wage and win a real war on terror if we don't at last take bold, real steps towards energy independence. For too long, we have allowed fundamental problems in the Middle East to fester by signaling corrupt Arab regimes that we don't care what they do so long as they keep the oil flowing.
So, energy independence is more than an important economic priority; it is an indispensable element of our national security. Our reliance on oil not only props up decaying and dictatorial regimes, but those that tolerate and sustain terrorist groups. Any long-term strategy for winning the war on terror must be matched with a determined effort to reduce our dependence on petroleum. It demands an international response, linked to the rapid emergence of new energy technologies, in order to ensure that emerging economies don't become the new enablers of Middle East autocrats. Make no mistake, our long term mission in the war on terror depends on long term energy independence. We must end the empire of oil.
For some, it may be hard to conceive of a world where fossil fuels, and especially petroleum, are not the dominant sources of fuel.
In fact, we've been here before. One hundred and fifty years ago in Massachusetts, in New Bedford and Nantucket, no one could conceive of a future that didn't depend on whale oil. But until recently, America's history has been to drive technology, transform marketplaces, and invent a future never imagined before. In America, making the impossible possible has been a credo and a way of life. In the 1930s only 10 percent of rural America had electricity. Utilities refused to wire rural counties because homes were too far apart. To bring electricity to all Americans, Congress provided more than $5 billion to finance rural electrification. By the 1950s, there was hardly a corner of America that was still dark. Across our history we've successfully moved from wood to coal, coal to oil, oil to a mix of oil, gas, coal, nuclear and hydroelectric. Now it's time to move to solar, wind, biomass, fuel cells, clean coal, and other wonders of American ingenuity, and I believe Washington must lead the marketplace in the right direction.
Today there is as compelling a national interest to address the security and environmental threats of fossil fuels as there is to defeat radical, extreme Islamists and global terror. Our soldiers shouldn't be the only ones to sacrifice in this war. We must all be soldiers, and we must all welcome some sacrifice in that service.
As individuals, the change can be as simple as replacing traditional light bulbs with efficient fluorescents. In our communities we should require that new buildings include lights that turn off when people leave the room. We should follow the lead of Tokyo and their energy efficient escalators that shut off when they aren't being used. There are literally thousands of things to be done, too few of which we are being asked to do.
Each of us can do something. And together all of us can insist on leaders who secure our energy independence, not ones who barter it away. We wouldn't elect a candidate who said terrorism wasn't a threat. We wouldn't tolerate a candidate for national office who didn't say he was committed to capturing or killing Osama Bin Laden. But for too long we've tolerated those who treat the threat of energy insecurity and the truth of global climate change as an inconvenient myth. Well, from now on, every American who walks into a polling place can and should vote to kick out anyone who stands in the way of energy independence.
But it is also time to put Washington to the test. Time to tell powerful interests that the old era has ended and so have their easy arrangements. Then instead of empty slogans and long laundry lists of bite-sized ideas that tinker at the edges of outdated policy, we can embark on revolutions that will put our energy future in our own hands and put global climate change at the top of the national agenda where it belongs.
Today I want to focus on the three big steps that are imperative to addressing global warming and transitioning to dependence on homegrown sources of energy. First, I believe we need to establish an oil goal and implement an aggressive set of policies to reach it. Second, I believe we must immediately expand the availability, production, and distribution of renewable fuels to run our cars. And third, we need to get serious about climate change and take measures to freeze and reverse our greenhouse gas emissions.
To start: We must establish mandates for reducing U.S. oil consumption by 2.5 million barrels of oil per day by 2015 - an amount equivalent to the oil we currently import from the Persian Gulf.
Yes, I said mandate -- and I said it because we have lost too much time for voluntary measures to be put to the test. And we can't just set a mandate - we have to provide incentives to businesses and industry to make the mandate achievable.
We must significantly ramp up our production of Flex Fuel Vehicles. They run on alternative fuels, like E85, a blend of 85 percent ethyl alcohol -- a home-grown, domestic, completely renewable source of fuel that burns cleaner than gasoline.
Other countries already know something we don't. Actually they've been doing something we won't - something influential interests don't want us to do. Thirty years ago when Brazil faced an energy crisis they got serious about alternative fuels. Relying on new stocks of homegrown fuels in addition to its own oil production, this year Brazil will achieve energy independence. If Brazil can do it, why can't we? If a developing country can go from 90 percent dependence on foreign oil to zero percent dependence in three decades, then we -- the most powerful, creative, industrial country on Earth - we can change the destructive course we're on.
Today, in this country, only six million vehicles - just 10 percent of all those on the road - can be fueled by E85, and less than one percent of the service stations have even a single E85 pump. To change that we must require - not just recommend - that an increasing percentage of new cars can run on E85 and that by 2020 all new cars will have the capacity to run on E85. 20/20: that's not just a vision, that's a real program to jumpstart energy independence.
But building these cars doesn't get you very far if there is nowhere for Americans to them fill up. What a Washington solution it would be if we built flex fuel cars but you couldn't buy the fuel - talk about a bridge to nowhere. We need to immediately expand our investment in E85 infrastructure. Mandate that 10 percent of all major oil company filling stations offer at least one ethanol pump by 2010. And to deploy this technology quickly, provide financial incentives to both independent and retail chains to install the new pumps. Just think -- we can put ethanol pumps in every single gas station in America for what we spend in Iraq in just one week. I don't think there's a Member of Congress who will want to tell their constituents they didn't think breaking our dependence on oil was worth as much as one week in Iraq. When the energy spending bill comes before the Senate, I will offer an amendment to get over 1800 E85 pumps across the country in the next year alone, and with your help we'll make the Congress vote yes or no - choose the status quo or choose America's energy future.
To ensure we have enough ethanol to meet our demands, we must also invest in the kind of ethanol produced from plant wastes and energy crops like switchgrass. And we must set a goal of having 30 percent of our fuels come from biofuels by 2020. Believe me, if we're spending 2 billion in Iraq in one week, we can commit $2 billion in funding for cellulosic biofuels over the next ten years!
Energy efficiency can be a powerful weapon in the arsenal of our democracy and is as indispensable as armor and munitions. We have to combat the threat to soldiers that comes not just from gun barrels but from oil barrels. We should all be incensed that we are in effect financing both sides in the war on terror every time we fill up our tanks. We can't keep asking American troops to risk the ultimate sacrifice in Iraq if those of us on the homefront aren't ready to make even the smallest sacrifice to help them.
I remember sitting with a top CEO from the auto industry in the spring of 2003. He'd come to see me to talk about automobile efficiency standards. I asked him why the American auto industry seemed unwilling to build more fuel efficient cars. He told me that the American consumer wouldn't buy a more fuel efficient car. He asked me, "Why in the world would we change everything to build more fuel efficient vehicles when no one wants them?" Three years later as the demand for hybrids and high mileage vehicles soars, the Japanese are there in the market and our own companies are struggling to catch up and even survive.
With leadership in Washington through a combination of incentives, grants and standards, we can and must at last revolutionize the way we drive.
We must no longer be afraid of the third rail of energy policy - fuel economy standards. Fuel efficiency standards have been essentially unchanged since 1980. Think about that. Jimmy Carter was President, my daughters were playing Atari and wearing leg-warmers, apartheid was a way of life in South Africa, and America was tuning in to find out who shot J.R. Since then, because Washington stood still, captive to powerful interests, the average efficiency of vehicles has actually declined. The United States can't have a serious policy for oil security until we leave the 1980's behind - entering the 21st century by demanding a major increase in the fuel economy of our cars.
Massachusetts and California have led the way cutting CO2 emissions from cars, leading the way for more efficient cars in these states. But state action alone cannot meet this national challenge. Washington must do its job, too. We need to establish a federal standard for controlling carbon dioxide emissions from cars and trucks. If the entire country did what Massachusetts and California are already doing, we could raise fuel efficiency by 40 percent.
Building the cars of the future - fuel-efficient, advanced-technology vehicles - will require automakers and their suppliers to retool their factories. I believe the federal government has a responsibility to help them remain competitive. Tax credits will help support the necessary investments, make the new technologies cost effective, and create jobs for the workers who will build the cars of the future and help consumers buy them. We should commit $3 billion to this effort in tax credits over the next five years - tax credits that will not only help reduce oil dependence but which will pay for themselves through tax revenue generated by the growth and productivity that follow.
But like all the funding in my proposal, let's not leave it subject to the whims of Congress and an army of appropriators. We need to create a new security and conservation trust fund to guarantee the resources to move the nation towards energy independence. This isn't a matter of capacity, it's a matter of willpower. We have the money, the question is whether we have the right priorities. Just by rolling back the tax breaks for big oil which even President Bush opposes, and by renegotiating oil leases, we can invest in a fund for energy security.
Instead of a tax code that works for the K Street lobbyists, let's provide an aggressive set of tax incentives and grants to ensure that by 2020, 20 percent of all passenger cars and trucks on the road will be fuel efficient, low emissions hybrid vehicles. Sure, hybrid vehicles are more expensive today. But they don't have to be if we put a little presidential muscle behind them. The doors of college were only open to the rich and powerful until President Lincoln pioneered a system of Land Grant Colleges that gave us UMass and URI and the University of Connecticut. After World War II, highways and roads were underfunded by local governments and some were unusable until President Eisenhower pushed through a national highway system. You want hybrid vehicles out on those highways? Make it affordable for Americans to buy American hybrids - because that's a hell of a lot better than subsidizing Saudi sheiks who look the other way while madrassas teach kids hatred and violence.
Here's another bottom-line: Good energy policy is also fundamental to coping with global climate change. In 1992, I was part of the Senate delegation to the Rio Earth Summit. I was continuing an interest sparked when I lead efforts in the eighties to deal with acid rain -- efforts that culminated in our creating a Cap and Trade system for emissions and making it part of the Clean Air Act in 1990. I believe that George Herbert Walker Bush - Bush "41" -- can be proud that he was a President Bush who signed into law bills to help us reduce pollution.
The story since then is not just a disappointment -- it is a flagrant, dangerous, arrogant disavowal of science at the behest of the powerful. It is a damning story of public irresponsibility and private profiteering. Those who have encouraged, facilitated and acquiesced in it will go down in history as modern day robber barons who sold out future generations for their own selfish gain. We need to use this November to throw the robber barons and their cronies out of the Congress and put the peoples' interests back in.
Each year since 1992, the science has become more certain. What was theory in some areas is now proven fact. Scientific models have become more sophisticated and more accurate. Across the world scientists and national leaders - except ours -- have spoken out and acted decisively. Only the United States stands out as a flat earth holdout for inaction. When confronted by scientific facts, leaders must not change the facts to suit their politics; whether the issue is global warming, stem cell research, or Iraq, leaders must tell people the truth.
In the last month Al Gore's "Inconvenient Truth" has brought the science to millions of Americans in a dramatic and persuasive way. Al was an early leader and a visionary on climate change - and if he had not just been elected but been inaugurated as President, America today would be the world's leading advocate, not the world's leading opponent of climate change.
The question now - even more than it has been for the last years - is not whether climate change is happening but what are we going to do about it? No, I don't mean how does the political system moan and groan and adopt makeshift responses. I mean what are we really going to do? How do we turn this danger into opportunity? How do we meet a challenge of epic proportions with an epic American response?
Well we have to start by ending the bizarre disconnect of American politics. Real crises stare us in the face, screaming for solution. But non-existent, contrived ones replace the real ones on the agenda of a Congress that wants to change the political climate instead of dealing with climate change. They remain bent on dividing the country with flag burning and gay bashing amendments to the Constitution when we should be strengthening the country with a determined attack on global climate change.
Compare that kind of craven politics, to last week's announcement by the nation's leading climate scientists -- a shocking new report that revealed that the earth's temperature is at a 2,000 year high. The scientists said - let me just read it to you - that the "recent warmth is unprecedented for at least the last 400 years and potentially the last several millennia" and they also stated that "human activities are responsible for much of the recent warming."
Unless we deal with global warming boldly and quickly our world will undergo a string of terrible events in both the Atlantic and the Pacific far worse than Hurricane Katrina.
Never before have so many people lived so close to the coasts: More than a hundred million people worldwide live within three feet of sea level. Some of the world's greatest cities like - New York, Shanghai, Bangkok, and Tokyo - are at risk.
So we need a plan that actually does what the science tells us we have to do to. That's why I will be introducing in the Senate the most far-reaching proposal in our history. Nothing else will protect our security and our world. And I believe that anyone who knows the urgency of this global challenge, would be fighting to make this our national policy. And that is what I'm going to do.
It will stop and reverse U.S. emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. I propose establishing an aggressive economy wide cap and trade program to reverse emissions growth starting in 2010. After that, we will progress to more rapid reductions and end at 65 percent below 2000 emissions by the year 2050.
At the same time, we cannot be reckless about the economic impacts. We must ensure American businesses remain competitive with the rest of the world. To achieve that goal, my plan will provide the tools to help the economy transition to new clean energy technologies, protect workers and affected communities, and protect companies and consumers from energy cost shocks. We will provide tax incentives for good behavior and increased funding for research, development and deployment of clean energy technologies. And I believe we should double the federal government funding for research and development to support private sector energy research, demonstration, and deployment.
The U.S. is the world's single largest emitter of greenhouse gases, but the U.S. alone cannot solve the challenge of climate change. It is going to take action from other countries - - both developed and developing. We must re-engage in discussions with the international community and work together to plan a path forward. It's a global problem and it's going to require a global solution.
We have big challenges to solve - and a whole host of people in Washington who don't know how to tackle them, and a whole cast of political consultants who will counsel their candidates not even to try.
That's where you come in. You need to push the curve. You need to shake things up. A Saudi Arabian oil minister and a founder of OPEC once said, "That the Stone Age came to an end not for a lack of stones, and the oil age will end, but not for a lack of oil." We are not about to run out of oil, but the consequences of endless dependence on oil are too great, too profound, and too dangerous for our nation. Rather than have our energy policy be the last big mistake of the 20th century, we can and must create a policy that is the first great breakthrough of the 21st century.
So for the second time in our history let's declare and win our independence. This time not from foreign rule but from foreign oil. If we are as Lincoln said the "last best hope of Earth," let's stop being the denier of global warming that endangers the Earth. Let's give our people back the truth, and let's give the world back its future.
He's too timid (reverse emissions as late as 2010? only 20% hybrids by 2020? only 2.5 million barrels per day reduction by 2015?), but the audience barely believes these things are possible. When the pols get people to accept the program, the engineers will be able to tell the whole truth... and be believed.
I know this will shock some people, but I am a regular NPR listener. I feel disconnected if I don't get All Things Considered on a regular basis, I love Marketplace, and Prairie Home Companion and Car Talk keep me in stitches on the weekend.
Yesterday I was listening to Car Talk, and I heard the following proposal from Ray:
He identified some of the benefits of this proposal, including a decrease in the real cost of oil and a transfer of money from the oil companies (he didn't mention producers) to, well, us.
Car Talk is somewhat of a comedy show so I do have to consider the source, but this was a very pleasant surprise. Tom and Ray often recommend that people buy relatively large SUV's; to hear them propose measures to discourage people from doing exactly that is a welcome development. It means these ideas are getting more and more traction, and just in time for the elections too.
Just one thing, though; if they've been reading The Ergosphere for policy ideas, why the heck haven't they called me to say thanks?
It's been a very tough month here.
Because of an offer I couldn't refuse, I wound up working far from home and living in a facility which claims to offer "free high-speed Internet". The problem is, they don't. Or rather, someone put in some equipment and told them they did, but it is neither properly wired nor correctly configured. The owners and local manager are computer-illiterate, and the company which did the work thinks that
What happened is that the stuff 50 feet from their router worked OK, but at 150 feet from their router I was getting 100% packet loss on 1500-byte pings to 192.168.1.1. A lot of my data was never getting so far as the cable modem. I literally had to click for half an hour to get to the next message in my Yahoo mail on several occasions.
I tried to let everyone know, but I literally could not post (the Captcha image never loaded in less than half an hour). One of the things that kinda made it was one of my attempts to update the template here. Unfortunately, it only uploaded a partial template. That scotched the main page.
Now that I'm back on-line, I see I have some patching up to do. I'm going to try to recover the original template, or at least fix things up so it looks sort of like it did. In the mean time, this should put the blog back on line.
Off to find some template-compatible glue at the hardware store...
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