Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Moonbat reaction

I think that I may have chosen a bad target in Moonbat: I enjoy fisking Polly, as her bile and spite engender a similar reaction in myself, whereas Moonbat is just a fool. I was attempting to kick his emotive language as much as anything.

Let me amplify on some of the points made here (and please try to use the Blogger comments if you can; I've deliberately made it as easy as possible: the Haloscan ones will disappear after a while and these discussions will be lost). The argument has swung from Moonbat and onto cars in general.

For the record, I shall state my position: I do have a (clean, paper!) license and used to drive quite extensively (delivering tons of printed paper), but I do not own a car. This is because I live in the centre of the fair but miniscule city of Edinburgh where, quite frankly, a car is not terribly necessary. If I feel like it or, more likely, I am late, I will use a bus to get to places. However, I do realise that some people are not well-served by public transport.

Firstly, Witchibus, Tiny Judas and Robert make points about pollution. Witchibus up first:
However, speed cameras (as far as I know) have bugger all impact on the pollution that cars produce. I still suspect that motorised transport pollution has a far greater impact on health than speeding does.

As a matter of fact, speed cameras do have an impact on emissions, mainly in that accelerating and deccelerating produces more emissions than a steady cruise (I was always told that about 50mph was about the most efficient cruising speed, but this would differ, of course, with car profile, gear and engine tuning). So those who slow down at cameras and then speed up actually do produce more pollution; cameras themselves do not produce more pollution, but speed limits do, by slowing vehicles down. This applies equally to traffic-calming measures; as I explained here, these measures actually cause congestion (and thus more pollution).

So, what is going to use more fuel?
  1. A ten minute cruise to work, maintaining an almost constant speed, or

  2. A 20 minute stop-start, slow-over-ramps-speed-up, slow-up-for-camera-speed-up, stop-for-traffic-light marathon?

More fuel used quite obviously equals more pollution produced which is, naturally, what Robert points out:
Monbiot's essential gripe is that cars are causing pollution, and it is cars with large engines driving at high speeds (Clarkson's raison d'etre) that are the prime offenders here. Your argument for why people need cars is not an argument for why people should drive them so fast, or indeed drive cars that sacrifice fuel economy and the environment, for performance.

A fair enough point, I suppose, although one could say that these cars—expensive as they usually are—might well have finer tuned engines and cause less pollution than a 20 year Nova. However, I am no car expert, so I'm not going to assert this for sure. I also don't terribly care: the only way that you are going to stop people from making or buying these powerful cars is to ban them, and I don't think that that is a terribly practical, or desirable, idea.

What I do think is practical and desirable is an alternative to the hydrocarbon combustion engine. Timmy, for instance, believes that the era of the hydrogen fuel cell is not far off (and he does, to be fair, have some inside knowledge on this, through his rare metals business).

Tiny Judas points out that I have railed against car fumes on numerous occasions.
You yourself in the past have pointed out that the fumes from cars are far more potent than the effects of smoking.

Well, up to a point; I certainly think that they have more of an effect than passive smoking, and they are no less dangerous in and of themselves.
Car fumes pervade out everyday lives to such an extent that most of us no longer smell them. Once upon a time, to keep engines running smoothly, a chemical called tetraethyl-lead was added to petrol (essentially as an "anti-bumping" chemical). When numerous studies on the deleterious effects on the nervous system of lead were published, unleaded petrol became increasingly popular. All well and good.

However, what was put in, instead of lead, was a complex organic chemical based on the benzene ring (one of the most stable molecular configurations around). Incidentally, benzene is also a Class 1 carcinogen (by skin contact), requiring full bodysuits and breathing apparatus when worked with in an industrial setting. Benzene and derivatives are what is pumping out of car exhausts, my friends. Yummy, breathe that saucily cancerous air!

It is the sheer volume of effluent that makes it so dangerous, and we barely notice anymore. I occasionally stay with a friend in the country and, after a few days there, you notice the taste of exhaust in the air of even a small town. The point is that, no matter how we rail against pollution, cars (and buses) are here to stay. What we must hope for is that the hydrocarbon engine is not.
If cars are lumps of metal that can't turn us into idiots, then a speed camera is equally a lump of metal that cannot cause accidents.

Fair enough, let me rephrase that: the distraction posed by the camera, combined with the fear of being caught by it, induces a paranoia in even quite sensible drivers, which means that they check their speedo more often than they would.
The fault lies in people's driving - if you are maintaining a steady speed that remains below or around the speed limit then regardless of the presence of speed cameras you will not need to be frequently checking your speedometer (or at least, no more often than if they weren't there).

This is untrue. I always drive at or below the speed limit, for two reasons: firstly, for the last nine years, I have always been in a company van or a hired vehicle and would get into severe trouble were I caught speeding. Secondly, were I—a relatively young male with no no-claims bonus—to be caught speeding, the massive bill for insurance cover would probably preclude me from ever getting a car of my own should I want, or need, one in the future. However, I still find myself checking, checking and checking again when in a speed camera area: I know that it's not just me, because other drivers I know have said the same thing.

There is more on the subject of cars, liberty and efficacy at Strange Stuff.

1 comment:

Mister Whiskers said...

Sadly, hydrocarbon engines will always be with us while mega-wealthy oil companies are so powerful. We might have cars that produce nothing but a light, refreshing mist, even now, if there was any sense of governmental urgency to speed up the R&D. Unfortunately it looks as though we're going to be dependant on fossil fuels until there are none left, because to make the switch now would be such a huge cultural and ecomomic flip that no government concerned with nothing but winning the next election would countenance.

Great way to run a planet.

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