Cars

Full disclosure: I am a gearhead.

It goes, I suspect, with the natural inclinations I have that resulted in me wearing an iron ring.  I am fascinated by things mechanical, electrical, electronic, hydraulic, pneumatic, electro-mechanical… well, you get the picture.

Now, let me also say that as an engineer, I have a great appreciation for things that are well designed, efficient, economical of resources, elegant and fit-for-purpose.  Bling is not high on my list of what’s important, though I can appreciate well wrought bling, judiciously applied.

Which leaves me in a position, as Tom Lehrer once said, of feeling “like a Christian Scientist with appendicitis” – my passion for cars is at odds with the future survival of the human race (not to mention a few other species with which we cohabit the planet but who are, sadly for them, along for the ride).

Yes, internal combustion engines are, all at once, marvels of engineering technology and in their most recent incarnations pretty efficient as well – but with few exceptions, they still take dead-dino juice a.k.a. petroleum products and, in an insignificant fraction of the time it took Mother Nature to convert that decaying biological matter into said liquid hydrocarbons, break the rather strong bonds between the carbon and hydrogen atoms to release the energy required to haul us and our cargo hither and yon.

And in doing so, we alter the composition of our environment (and I’m not just talking about the atmosphere, after all there’s the process of extracting the dead-dino juice which affects both the land and the oceans) by moving carbon out of long-term storage into the air and the water, plus releasing a significant amount of wasted energy as heat (despite significant technological improvements to the internal combustion engine which have increased their efficiency dramatically, they are still bound by an ultimate theoretical efficiency limit of about 37% by the laws of thermodynamics – we throw away about 2/3 of the released energy as waste heat).

So as much as I love cars (and I do love me them some), I am painfully aware of the negative impact that cars have had.  Which is why I choose to drive less and walk, bike or use public transit when practical (although like many complex problems, there are real constraints in life which can tip the balance of choice towards driving, but I try not to find convenient excuses to stack the deck in favour of driving – as Kermit the Frog said “It’s not easy being green).

Now, having got the letter C out of the way (for the A-Z Blogging Challenge) please excuse me while I go out for a walk.  Feel free to chat amongst yourselves while I’m gone.

3 Responses to Cars

  1. whiterose52 says:

    Don’t apologize for having misplaced your affections…or for being an engineer…

    In defence of the auto, I would point out that a 2/3 energy loss on conversion is mighty respectable compared to the efficiency of other energy sources, like, say, wood. The disadvantage of hydrocarbons is that they do not renew themselves on a realistic scale…the carbon life forms of today will take so long to convert to gas even Ford will have to pack in dreams of reviving the double barrelled monsters we loved from the 60’s (c’mon, even I wanted a Shelby Cobra and I’m, as you’ve probably noticed, a girl…)

    Hydrogen as a fuel requires a huge cost in terms of generating the electricity necessary to make the fuel in the first place. Hydro and Nuclear power plants, necessary for hydrogen manufacture and for the various current models of pure electric vehicles, are both absurdly inefficient in their energy conversion rations and require enormous infrastructure investment.

    Other alternate energy sources such as wind and solar are still miles away from being sufficiently efficient or affordable in terms of infrastructure to take over from Hydro or Nuclear plants.

    Hybrid cars are even more of a nightmare in terms of what they will leave the future generations in terms of clean up when you factor in the batteries they carry (not to mention the energy required to move all that lead creates the need for more batteries to generate more power).

    So, maybe your love of the gas powered car isn’t such a bad thing after all. And the walking will help keep you around longer…which is a very good thing.

    xxoo
    moe

  2. Rob says:

    Thanks, Moe. At this point, with current technology, to paraphrase Sir Winston Churchill: the internal combustion powered car is the worst form of personal transportation except all the others that have been tried.

    I share the feeling that many of the proposed (and highly hyped) ‘green’ alternatives end up being a mug’s game, when you look at overall life-cycle energy use and emissions of carbon/other nasties into the environment.

  3. […] been following my blog, you should have realized by now that I’m a gearhead – a somewhat conflicted one at that, but nonetheless still passionate about cars and making them go fast.  And that can be […]

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