Archive for the 'Environment' category

More on pouring away gas

January 26, 2007 7:53 pm

This is something I’ve had stuck in my mind ever since I read the book “Stuff: The secret lives of everyday things” (or was it “Natural Capitalism”? I’ve lent out both books right now).

Take a wild guess at how much of the energy in the gas you put in your car actually goes towards transporting you. Don’t be afraid to lowball it. Write it down.

How did you go about it? Did you use the fact (which is fairly common knowledge) that car engines are about 30% efficient? Good. But 30% is not the answer. Did you pay attention to how the question is worded? “Towards transporting YOU”?

How about idling, energy lost in the driveline, energy lost on powering accessories in the car? With all that, about one-eighth (12.5 %) of the energy reaches the wheels. Around half of that heats the tires, road and air that the car pushes aside. That leaves about 6% or so applied to moving the car forward. When you figure in that your mass compared to the car’s mass is about 5%, that leaves less than one percent of the energy in the fuel for transporting YOU. Let’s be generous and say it’s actually one percent. Here’s a little visual of that number for you:


That’s a scary waste in my book.

Here’s more to make you think: A friend of mine, Stan King, did some calculations based on a discussion we had at a recent simplicity circle meeting at our house. I had wondered how bicycling compares to driving in terms of energy efficiency. He took on the task of figuring it out. When you convert the amount of energy needed to bike a mile and convert that to the car’s miles-per-gallon equivalent, riding a bicycle has a “miles-per-gallon” of about 650. That number makes hybrid cars pale in comparison.

When you consider that 99% of the energy in the gas is wasted on things other than transporting you, the passenger, riding a bicycle has a “miles-per-gallon” of over 6500.

Compared to that, hybrid cars seem almost like stone age technology.

This is the thinking behind our family’s decision to stick with one car, even though it creates some inconvenience. It’s also why I bike to work practically every day.

And just so you won’t think I pulled these numbers out of thin air, there’s a Wikipedia article that states a 653 mpg for bicycling, which matches Stan’s number well. The calculation on the efficiency of cars can be found in this article by Amory Lovins from July 2006. The journal this was published in can be downloaded here (3.17 MB PDF).

Try this search on Google. I promise you’ll be surprised!

5:43 pm

Doing some research for an illustration I wanted to post on this blog, I typed the following search terms into Google: aluminum can volume. What do you think a search like this would bring you? Try it out yourself. You’ll be as surprised as I was.

It’s this:


Almost every result talks about how much energy is wasted when you don’t recycle a soda can! It’s the equivalent of filling the can halfway with gas and pouring it out. If that idea won’t make you think more about recycling aluminum cans, maybe this calculation will:

Half a soda can is 6 oz. A gallon has 128 oz. So 21.333 empty cans thrown away equal a gallon of gas wasted. My car has a tank capacity of about 15 gallons (I think). So it would take 320 non-recycled cans for me to waste a tank full of gas. My car can travel about 300 miles on a tank of gas. I certainly don’t want to waste energy like that. Especially energy coming from our dwindling oil reserves. We’ll need that oil for lots of other things besides burning it for transportation. For example, most plastics are based on oil, and I wonder how many cool and wonderful gadgets and gizmos (needing plastic enclosures and parts) we won’t be able to produce in the future if we run out of oil. Pardon the digression.

Anyway, now I’ve used my illustration and even given it a little surprising Google story to go with it.

A Voluntary Simplicity manifesto

January 1, 2007 2:02 pm

Inspired by the manifestos at, here’s my Voluntary Simplicity manifesto:


The free market economy of boundless growth is unsustainable, since we live on a planet with finite resources.

Future generations have just as much a right to enjoy life as the current generation.

Future generations have just as much a right to enjoy a life of the same quality as the current generation.

Conspicuous consumption, as demonstrated by American consumers, will destroy our natural resources if adopted by countries such as India and China. A lot of people in India and China are already aspiring to the lifestyle of American consumers.

The only way to change things in the world is by changing personal behavior.

Once you’ve changed your personal behavior for the better, get others to follow.

The only chance you have for getting someone to do what you want, is to demonstrate that you do it yourself.

Voluntary Simplicity is about living more purposefully with a minimum of needless distractions.

People who practice Voluntary Simplicity realize that more material possessions do not equal increased happiness in life. Often, the opposite is true. More material possessions can actually diminish happiness in life.

Voluntary Simplicity does not dictate how or how much you simplify your life. Only you can decide when you’ve reached the point of “enough” in your life.

Voluntary Simplicity is not about depriving yourself, living in poverty or lowering your standard of living. It is about living more consciously, focusing more on “inner life” than “outward appearance”.

By practicing Voluntary Simplicity you can become a role model for a new lifestyle that will enable future generations to enjoy life.

By practicing Voluntary Simplicity and spreading the word you can help change America’s conspicuous consumption philosophy. You can help people in other countries see that there is another way to live besides consumerism.


To find out more about Voluntary Simplicity, check out the links in the sidebar on the right, and also take a look at these links:

Plugging CSA’s

September 25, 2006 9:45 pm

“What the heck is CSA?”, I hear you cry. CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture, and it’s the wave of the future in food as far as I’m concerned. Okay, maybe that’s putting it a bit strongly, but if you care about your local environment and like to eat fresh, organically grown produce, hear this one out.

There’s been a big problem with e-coli infested spinach lately. Apparently this was tracked to a big company in California, which markets pre-washed, bagged spinach to a lot of supermarkets. I’m not sure if the FDA has pinned down exactly what the root cause of the problem is, but Andy, one of the farmers of the CSA we are a part of, says it may have a lot to do with the industrialized processes they employ to get the product out there. That, and the bags make a nice little greenhouse for the bacteria to grow in. For full details read his article on the matter. If you belong to a CSA, particularly, you don’t have to worry about things like this.

The CSA farmers make sure that your food is grown organically and delivered to you in safe condition. One more reason to bypass big, industrialized processes and go small and local.

Go find a CSA near you (Search engines are your friend) and say goodbye to worries about food safety.