I hate facts. And physics.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Forbes | Blues for Greens I was at the doctor’s yesterday for a routine checkup (Everything is fine, thanks - doctor says I’m healthy) and I saw this article in Forbes magazine. I don’t think I’ve ever read anything in a reputable publication that was so divorced from reality. Well, maybe Fox News. Which is reputable for some value of reputable.

Solving the energy problem is easy if you pay no attention to the laws of physics. That’s the wonder of the U.S. Congress. To pass is easy; to achieve is something else. This is where I break your green heart. Americans know that Congress passed a law ordering all cars and trucks to average 35 miles to the gallon by 2020. It won’t happen.

Writing snarky opinion articles for Forbes is easy if you pay no attention to facts.

But there’s just no way anyone subject to the laws of physics and automobile engineering can get a 5,000-pound pickup, or any mass-produced, reasonably priced sport utility near that weight, up to 35mpg.

Is anyone suggesting that should happen? Let us hop on over to the NHTSA and see what CAFE standards REALLY mean.

Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) is the sales weighted average fuel economy, expressed in miles per gallon (mpg), of a manufacturer’s fleet of passenger cars or light trucks with a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of 8,500 lbs. or less, manufactured for sale in the United States, for any given model year.

So, that means that if I’m Car Company A, and I want to sell some gigantic SUVs that get 6 MPG and not pay CAFE fines, I can just sell a bunch of little fuel-efficient cars and balance out my fleet average. Wow! That was easy. By the way, I have no idea which particular laws of physics he’s referring to. I think perhaps it might be Archimedes' Third Law of Big Honkin' Trucks, which states: SUVs get bad mileage. It might also be something discovered by Georg Ohm, better known for his work with electricity and resitance and whatnot: As the size of the truck approaches 5,000 pounds, the fuel economy (in miles per gallon) approaches some arbitrary number that is most definitely less than 35. It’s probably, like, 12. Maybe 13. There might be other laws being violated, too, but I’m not a physicist, and can’t possibly be bothered to look anything up before I share my opinions with the world.

The best way to increase fuel economy (and reduce greenhouse gases, too) is to reduce the weight and engine size of the vehicles. Congress could pass a law ordering that no car weigh more than 1,750 pounds (a Toyota (nyse: TM - news - people ) Camry is in the 3,200-pound range), no truck weigh more than 2,500 pounds and no engine run more than 75 horsepower. Most Americans couldn’t fit in such cars, but they would average 35mpg.

Okay, I don’t honestly know what the best way to increase fuel economy is, but there is ABSOLUTELY NO WAY that this is it.

The U.S. could also lower the speed limit to 40 miles per hour nationally. That would do it, too, since engines would shrink, and air resistance is a lot lower at 40 than at 60.

Air resistance? AIR RESISTANCE? Is this man honestly telling me that he thinks that air resistance is the primary cause of bad fuel economy? Maybe we should ban air. He says some more stupid things about biofuels that I’m not going to get into. I actually agree with him that mandating more production of corn-based ethanol is a bad idea. However, I’m pretty sure this agreement is just coincidence - I don’t want to mandate more corn-based ethanol because we’re already starting to see problems stemming from this practice, and because corn is a stupid thing to make ethanol from. He doesn’t want to mandate it because OMG PHYSICS!!!! What makes this article even more ridiculous is that there are arguments to be made against setting CAFE standards. One could argue that these regulations hurt the automobile industry by interfering with the natural supply and demand. One could argue that it’s not the responsibility of the auto industry to force people into smaller, more efficient cars. One could argue that this unfairly targets American auto manufacturers, who focus more on the big, heavy, inefficient vehicles, and therefore helps the Japanese and Korean manufacturers, who tend to make smaller cars. One could argue many more things, and I would say, “Yes, you have a point”. Then I would proceed to talk to you about changing habits (Driving less, living closer to work, promoting walking and public transportation). I would talk to you about changes in technology (Do you really have such little regard for American ingenuity that you can’t imagine a breakthrough technology?). But this guy didn’t make any of these points. He just made up some “facts” and then complained about the big bad government pandering to the whining of California hippies.

Posted in: cars , physics , science , stupid people , Wind kissing