Sunday, September 16, 2012

Go Dogma Go!

"...the reception of a new paradigm often necessitates a redefinition of the corresponding dogma." 
- Thomas S. Kuhn -

With my kids in tow we recently attended a reading of the story Go Dog Go at the local library. I have read the story hundreds of times over the course of my parenting days but during this particular reading was struck by the power of the few pages that have the dogs driving cars. The dogs are lined up far down the road, each one on their own, in a car, obeying a traffic signal and then zooming off. By far this part of the story got the most attention from the little people in the audience. They were excited by the prospect of pretending to drive. If a dog can do it surely I can.

Stories are important. I had not considered until now the impact this introduction of car driving dogs has on the little people growing up in our driving culture. Even dogs are doing it. According to the Federal Department of Transportation there are more than 200 million cars and light trucks on American roads. These vehicles use over 200 million gallons of gas a day. Nearly16 per cent of the worlds oil production goes into American cars. In terms of total C0² contribution cars represent a third of U.S. greenhouse gas production. Worldwide the proportion of contribution from U.S. vehicles is 5.4%. Carbon dioxide contribution from U.S. cars cannot be ignored.

Electric cars are beginning to become more available. Although the cost is out of reach for the average American family. Hybrids first came on the scene about 8 years ago. In general they have better fuel economy then non hybrids and switch to electricity at slow speeds and in stop and go traffic. A few total electric solutions have been released recently as well. These cars can be plugged into an outlet to recharge have a maximum speed of about sixty mile per hour and can travel a maximum distance of about 60 miles on average. I always wondered if everyone had an electric car and plugged it into a power source derived from burning coal if there would be a significant net decrease in the overall C0² contribution. Turns out this has been studied. An entirely electric vehicle would produce greenhouse gas emissions from its power source equivalent to a car that gets a little over 30 mpg. Over half the country has power that is coal derived.  It seems as though it is just a shift to another C0² producing mechanism for power. Now the cars are not burning oil they are burning coal as the power plants would have to ramp up energy production to support all the cars being plugged in. There is an incremental emission decrease from electric cars however when dealing with the hazardous waste the batteries produce when they are no longer viable, serious consideration must be given to the net benefit of the electric car.

In our attempt to understand the solutions to many climate change issues we lack clarity. It seems that electric cars are more of a distraction then a solution to reducing transportation related C0² contribution. The solution to transportation related contributions is to create communities where for the vast majority of people owning an automobile is not required in their day-to-day lives. Like many of the solutions the answers seem improbable, if not impossible. It is important however not to be paralyzed by the scale of the problem. In the words P. Eastman "Dogs, Dogs in cars, Dogs driving away fast in cars." Are we born to drive?

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