August 5, 2008

More Miles, Less Gallons

I had originally wanted to chart my gasoline usage and report back to you on differences in my driving which have made a in impact on fuel usage. But it's not as easy to do a controlled experiment in a car when you also have to use that car to get around.

It appears that driving around the highway speed limit (or just below) does improve your gas mileage, but all that progress can easily get blown away if you get stuck in traffic at all. It makes sense, because being in traffic burns gas without moving your car much or at all. Being stuck in traffic is like driving home without traffic and then just spilling some of your fuel tank on the ground.

I can't tell you how much the improvement is, but I can tell you it is an improvement.

More efficiency means more opportunity. Pouring out fuel on the ground forces you to buy more fuel, and some might think of that as more economic activity. This is sometimes referred to as the Parable of the Broken Window: the idea that waste, breakage or war is a net benefit to society. I believe this to be a fallacy (as Frédéric Bastiat put it, Your theory is confined to that which is seen; it takes no account of that which is not seen.) And so I believe that more efficient uses of energy lead to more opportunity and a stronger nation.

I'm surprised to see the McCain campaign making a joke out of suggestions that keeping your tires at the right pressure can make a difference to this nation's energy consumption. It's long been good automobile practice that keeping on top of car maintenance (oil changes, tire pressure, tune ups) mean better gas mileage. If people see the personal benefit of this, (in lower fuel costs) that's great. If they see it as an issue of national responsibility, that's even better.

What's wrong with asking people to take some responsibility? Instead of joking about it, our leaders should be telling people they can make a difference. And the evidence says that they can make a difference. I'm with Lindsay Beyerstein; I don't get the joke.

I believe Americans would make many lifestyle changes that could help reduce dependence on foreign oil. But an attitude the McCain campaign seems to be fostering is that the government and oil companies are the only ones who can make an actual difference. The strong father rears his head again; he'll take care of you. He won't ask you to be an agent of change, or to take any responsibility. He'll just ask for more power to act on your behalf.

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Posted by James at August 5, 2008 2:17 PM
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