How not to be convincing

Here’s another neglected post – this one from June. Did you know I could stop writing for months and still have fresh material (sans editing) ready to go?

Here’s my formula (re: the post’s title):

1. I get a little angry.
2. I make it personal.
3. I act like a jerk.

I don’t know why it irritates me when people complain about the price of gasoline. It’s a legitimate concern. When gas is more expensive lots of other things we need get more expensive. What’s really great about rising gasoline prices is it simultaneously depresses economic growth AND spurs inflation – basically neutering the Federal Reserve (our magic bullet against economic woes).

Yesterday we were having a pleasant day until I overheard someone nearby say, “Congress better do something about these gas prices! It’s getting ridiculous!”

Quiet-boy was about to give way to his alter-ego.

I replied, “What do you think Congress should do about it?”

“Well, they could drill for oil in Alaska.”

“You know, we already drill for oil in Alaska, right?”

“Well, we should drill for more.”

“Let’s go wild and say we could add five percent to the world’s oil supply. It’s probably less, but lets say there’s another 5 percent there. Do you think it would bring the cost of oil down 50 percent, or any meaningful amount?”


“Besides, what do you think is the biggest reason gas prices are so high? Do you think it’s because the supply has dropped off?”

“Well, the value of the dollar probably has something to do with it.”

“Do you think it has anything to do with the increase in world-wide demand? Do you think it has anything to do with the growing economies of China and India, and their gall – thinking they can wiggle in on our God-given-right to all the world’s oil? Let me put this another way: do you think it’s possible the rising price of oil might be almost completely outside our control?”

“Well, maybe…”

“You know what I think? I think it’s your fault.”


“Congress could have been doing something about this 30, 20, or even 10 years ago, but it wasn’t your priority, so it wasn’t theirs. I’ll even concede the Democrats dropped the ball too.”

“Yeah, but we elect them to know about these things and do the right thing… what’s best for us.”

“What kind of horse-crap is that?”


“We’ve had a few elected leaders who were ahead of the curve on energy issues, but we did our best to un-elect them, branding them green-freaks, or worse: America hating socialists. You could have been listening, but you had your head stuck in the the tar sands (or the shale, take your pick). Now there isn’t a damn thing Congress can do that would have any effect on short term energy prices. They should do something, but drilling for more oil in Alaska – or anywhere else for that matter – is like peeing in a pool to warm it up.”

Nowhere in this conversation did the other person say, “Wow, your arrogant sarcasm really shines a light on the subject. I’m going to have to give this more thought.” When they say you shouldn’t discuss politics with friends or family, they have people like me in mind.

Like father, like son

My earliest memories date back to sometime in the mid 1970s. No, I’m not pointing it out to taunt you, or complain my days of possibly being drafted by the Celtics are over. I assure you it’s just a little context, nothing more.

I was sitting in my dad’s old VW Bug. It was cold winter day in New England. We were at a gas station and my father was jotting some figures down in a small spiral notebook. He was writing down the odometer reading and gallons pumped to keep track of the gas mileage he was getting. I’m not sure how much it had to do with the gas crisis at the time, or just dad being dad, but it sounds just like an engineer doesn’t it?

About a week ago I decided to see what kind of mileage I’ve been getting. I was pulling out my Palm at the gas station, flipping the cover… much like you might flip the cover on a small spiral notebook, and I was swallowed by a thick cloud of deja vu. Whoo! That was a wild trip.

I’ve been trying to save gas by associating my gas pedal with dollar bills flying out of my wallet, and CO2 molecules flying out of my tailpipe. (Even before gas prices shot up recently.) Obviously, public transportation is the best way to save on both, but it’s not a viable option where I live. Actually, my bicycle would be the best way, but that hasn’t been an option lately either (though I’m hoping I’ll be able to try again eventually). Consolidating trips and driving less is another way, but it isn’t the only way. Once you establish you have no choice but to get in your car and drive, there’s one more option a lot of you may not be thinking about: driving efficiently. It means several things: keeping the tires inflated to the proper pressure, not starting from every stop like you’re a teenager in daddy’s Lexus, laying off the gas well before red lights (coasting up to the light when possible, and not dangerous or rude), and shifting gears sooner. The last couple of things are a lot easier with a manual transmission (I love my 5 speed stick), but I think you can achieve almost the same thing in an automatic by taking a lighter approach with your gas pedal (with the exception of coasting – I’m not sure how wise it is to shift back and forth between neutral and drive all the time).

I admit driving efficiently has been a lot harder than I thought. I’m just as flawed as the next guy, and many of my flaws show up when I’m behind the wheel. For one thing my gas pedal is well acquainted with the floor. I really like to drive. Even though it’s not a sports car, zipping around in my little civic is a lot of fun. I can work that stick like a speed bag while my feet dance from pedal to pedal. But if I’m honest with myself, it’s a little too fun. Maybe the real problem is my alternate personality. I’m pretty laid back in life, unless I happen to be behind the wheel. When I close the door and turn the key it’s as if the A/C is filling the air with a fast acting, aerosol amphedamine. No speed is too fast and no delay is acceptable. I always seem to be in a big hurry and it doesn’t leave a whole lot of room for patience – which I think is key. Plus… oh crap, I can’t remember what I was going to say here. Moving on….

You might think this is crazy, extreme, or down right communist… but now the first thing I try to think about when I get in the car is all of you. There are other people on the road, and sharing nicely is a virtue (or so I’ve been telling the kids). It’s not just the road I’m sharing; its the world’s air and energy resources too. Plus, I try to remind myself that driving fast doesn’t save that much time. On a ten mile drive to work, what am I going to save with jack-rabit starts, maybe a few seconds? I might shave a whole 60-90 seconds off my time if I manage to miss one extra red light. Is my time really worth that much?

Maybe you don’t care about the emissions. You should, but I’ll do anything here to make the sale. If so, think about those dollars flying out of your wallet every time you put your foot down. Or better yet, do a little math. The last time I figured out how my car was doing on mileage (during my lost child of the Andrettis days), my little Civic was getting around 25 MPG. I admit that’s a bit rough though. It’s based on a few times I did some quick math in my head. I never reset the trip odometer and took precise notes. Since I started making an effort to drive more efficiently, my mileage has crept up to 32 MPG in the city. If I run some conservative numbers, just counting the drive back and forth to work (picking up the kids along the way), I drive 25 miles per day. If I’ve done the math right, it means I’m saving about a gallon of gas every week. That’s not a huge number, but it adds up. Plus, I don’t act like an ass on the road anymore.

Now go really crazy and double that number, assuming I can lighten Cheryl’s foot too. (Her commute is about the same.) Or how about I go stark raving mad and figure I drive 10,000 miles every year (I don’t, but many people do… and more). All by myself I’d save just under 90 gallons of gas per year, or $350 (assuming gas is $4/gallon). Multiply that by two, again assuming I can switch out Cheryl’s lead loafers, and I’ve almost saved enough to buy a new computer every year.

(Although that’s a bit wasteful too.)

That’s not even considering the potential savings in brakes, tires, etc.

Maybe you don’t believe my fuel economy numbers. Well don’t take my word for it, Consumer Reports did their own test. When they reduced the highway cruising speed on a Camry (from 65 to 55), fuel economy increased by 5 mpg. When they avoided frequent bursts of acceleration and braking they improved fuel efficiency by another 2-3 mpg. They noted a tire’s rolling resistance (re: pressure and/or style of tire) could add or subtract another 1-2 mpg.

So consider lightening up on the pedal. You don’t need to wait on Congress or your local government to improve your transportation options (not that you should let them off the hook). You’ll be doing another small thing right now to make the world a better place.

Call me fanciful. Call me silly. Call me weird. Call me anything you like, just think about it the next time you put your foot on the gas.

The Gore Challenge

You may have read about Al Gore’s speech, but consider listening to it without the commentary, if you haven’t already. This is just a few short pieces of the speech (about 5 minutes of your time), but you can find the whole thing here.

Offshore oil drilling

Some polls indicate more americans favor lifting Federal restrictions on offshore oil drilling.* A site I visit frequently explains why you shouldn’t drink the Kool-aid: you’re being fed a load of crap.

Climate Progress:

The oil companies already have access to some 34 billion barrels of offshore oil they haven’t even developed yet, but ending the federal moratorium on offshore drilling would probably add only another 8 billion barrels (assuming California still blocks drilling off its coast). Who thinks adding under 100,000 barrels a day in supply sometime after 2020 — some one-thousandth of total supply — would be more than the proverbial drop in the ocean? Remember the Saudis couldn’t stop prices from rising now by announcing that they will add 500,000 barrels of oil a day by the end of this year!

Note: this comes from an analysis of a government report on available, and anticipated domestic reserves of offshore oil. By government, I mean the current government… the one that muzzles the EPA, and runs Federal government agencies as if they’re a branch of the RNC.

If a candidate tells you the answer to high gas prices is more offshore oil drilling, he’s talking out of his ass.

*There are some folks who question the validity of their results, due to the way questions were asked.

I had this post written a week ago, but never got around to posting it. To be fair, I should note that oil prices have come down some in the last week or so. Some folks believe the prices have come down due to lower demand, primarily in the US, due to the slumping economy.

Light it up


From Treehugger:

When Lighting Your Water on Fire Isn’t a Magic Trick

Jessica Ernst lives in the village of Rosebud, Alberta, East of Calgary. EnCana, a big oil & gas company, is operating close to her house. The photo above speaks for itself.

So the big question: is the water from her well just naturally flammable (I suspect it’s not), or has the process of drilling/extracting gas nearby fouled the water?

Read the article. A few of the comments after the article are interesting.


Climate Progress:

Independence Day may be the best day to ask ourselves — what is the greatest, preventable threat to Americans’ life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness (LLPH)…

Between Homeland Security and the Pentagon, we spend billions of dollars every month to try to prevent terrorism…

But unrestricted greenhouse gas emissions are by far the greatest preventable threat to Americans’ LLPH (see “Is 450 ppm politically possible? Part 0: The alternative is humanity’s self-destruction and Part 2: The Solution“). Yet the government spends virtually nothing to fight global warming — certainly no significant amount of new money has been allocated for this major threat (the Clinton Administration tried, but the Gingrich Congress reversed that effort, reducing or zeroing out every program aimed at climate mitigation or even adaptation).

Maybe you heard about a recent Wall Street Journal article, “Global Warming as Mass Neurosis,” and you’re not hip to the threat. If so, here’s a rebuttal.

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Tuna waffle

I wonder if Charlie is feeling a little heat…

The gov’s words, via St Pete Times:

“Only when we are able to do so far enough from Florida’s coast, safe enough for our people, and clean enough for our beaches, should we even consider increasing our oil supply by drilling off Florida’s shore. Let me repeat: far enough, safe enough and clean enough.”

But allow me to pile on a little. Later-day drilling doesn’t sound so clean, not with all the crap they put in the water when they start to drill (before they get the first whiff of crude).

Again, from the St Pete Times (a different article):

Critics like Enid Sisskin of Gulf Coast Environmental Defense, a Pensacola group that has opposed offshore drilling for more than a decade, say they are not as concerned about oil spills as they are about what she calls “the routine, everyday, day-after-day pollution they dump in the water.”

When the rigs first drill into the ocean floor, the crews use fluids called “drilling muds” which include toxic substances including barium, chromium and arsenic. The EPA found that such discharges into the eastern gulf would “introduce significant quantities of contaminants to these relatively pristine waters.”

In 2002, the Mobile Press-Register tested grouper and other fish caught around Alabama’s offshore rigs. They contained so much mercury that they would not be acceptable for sale to the public under federal guidelines. The source: the drilling muds, which left mercury in the sea-bottom in concentrations as high as that found at Superfund sites.

It’s great the oil companies (and their well compensated representatives in government) say offshore drilling worries are “so thirty years ago,” but I don’t even need all my fingers to count back to 2002.

You want that grouper sandwich with or without mercury?

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Oil on my mind – or – A well oiled rant

Sorry for the swearing…

For the moment, let’s set aside the merits of offshore drilling. It seems to me like some “conservatives” (note the strategic use of my buddy, the quotation mark) bat around the words “offshore drilling” like it’s an act of patriotism; a shared sacrifice for a greater good. I think it’s code for building a bunch of oil platforms in Florida’s gulf waters. It’s a nice/neutral/GOP-speak way of saying “I wanna turn the west coast of Florida into a shit-hole, fuck-you very much.” As you can guess, I think I’ve got a lot to lose in this debate. Two Pinellas county beaches consistently appear at (or near) the top of a ranking of all U.S. beaches – including Hawaii. Caledesi Island (just down the road) is this year’s number one. Ft Desoto was number one in 2005. Call me a selfish prick, but I think that’s worth something. Then again, my car isn’t big enough to re-enact the sinking of the Titanic, so my sensibilities don’t mirror those of the Hummer horde.

What I can’t figure is why the director of a Florida tourism organization (not in Orlando) would be in favor of drilling. Tell me friends, how many hotels does an oil rig fill? (figuratively speaking, of course)


Larry White, the executive director of the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau on Florida’s Gulf Coast, said the area depends on its pristine beaches but is also affected by rising gas prices. He said 70 percent of the area’s tourists drive all the way to the Bradenton area — many of them from Texas.

“I want to protect my beaches,” he said. “But if we don’t get some relief they’re going to say, ‘I can’t afford to come.’ “

Let me get this straight. A bunch of folks are driving all the way from Texas to see our beaches (even those not within a 4-5 hour drive of the major theme parks). Don’t they know they have beaches in Texas too? Even if gas is relatively cheap, semi-circumnavigating* the Gulf of Mexico is more expensive than a quick trip to the coast.

Oh… I know. Maybe it’s because the black stuff doesn’t seem so golden when it’s mixed with sand and accumulating between your toes.

I’ll bet you’ve been waiting for me to take down those hanging merits. I’ll warn you though: this won’t be a comprehensive review. My time’s in short supply lately, so I’ll only be covering those points with handy, off the shelf rejoinders. Still, you may feel free to consider the sentiments genuine.

Unless you’re a tree-hugger or a hotel owner, you might be thinking oil is WAY greener than tourism – in the only way it matter$. That may be true in the short term, but what happens when the oil runs out? How long are we left with the crap that’s left behind? Maybe you’re among those who see the burning of the world’s oil as America’s manifest destiny, but the price at the pump is ruining your ride’s allure… its mojo. I’d ask you to consider an oft-cited government study which suggests tapping the remaining offshore oil in the U.S. wouldn’t have an impact on domestic oil supply or prices until 2030. Granted, the study arrives at the 2030 date by assuming we wouldn’t start exploring/drilling until the current federal bans expire, in 2012; but either way you slice it (2030 or 2026)… that’s a long time before we’d see any changes in price. Or consider this quote from the report (taken somewhat out of context, but I think still applicable):

Because oil prices are determined on the international market, however, any impact on average wellhead prices is expected to be insignificant.

So yeah, let’s get right on that.

I know what you’re thinking: a government study, from this administration? Yeah, I know. Leave it to the Bush boys to pee on the oil parade**. (Does that qualify as sarcasm, irony, the coveted daily double; or am I just being redundant?)

Hell, I don’t know why I care. At the rate we’re going Florida will be underwater anyway.

*I thought it had a nice ring to it, even if it makes little sense and makes me sound like an idiot.

**See above.

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Light tuna in oil


Describing his position as evolving, Florida Gov. Charlie Crist said he now supports exploratory drilling for oil and gas off Florida’s coast because “Floridians are suffering…”

The National Petroleum Council estimates the eastern Gulf might hold 36.7 trillion cubic feet of natural gas and 5.2 billion barrels of oil. Others doubt those numbers but say there is no way to know without further exploration.

Environmentalists warn, however, that Florida’s multibillion-dollar tourism industry, its fisheries industries and its soaring coastal real estate market are as much at risk as the environment if drilling anywhere in the Eastern Gulf is allowed.

Federal environmental regulators acknowledge that drilling discharges harmful drilling fluids and cuttings, disturbs delicate marine life and poses a threat to endangered sea turtles.

For those and other reasons, Florida politicians from both parties have considered the endorsement of oil drilling as a ”third rail” of political issues to be avoided. They have worked to keep the drilling ban in force along Florida shores for more than 25 years.

Let’s be clear about something. Everything in Florida comes down to tourism. Our entire system of government depends on sales tax receipts and a few other taxes paid by tourists (on hotels, etc). There’s no income tax. Taxes on wealth, like estate and intangibles taxes, have been slashed by our Republican legislature. There are a few miscellaneous fees and taxes, but we live and die by the sales tax. Guess what happens to those sales taxes our tourist friends pay when oil rigs pop up on the horizon, and trace amounts of the stuff they bring up start coating our beaches?

You may argue that it’s in the nation’s best interest for us to fall on our sword, but lets not mince words – that sword’s going to run us through. Others might argue that it’s well past the time we start looking to energy alternatives.

Charlie must not be interested in running for re-election, or for VP either. A lot of us Floridians suffer from a little too much sun, and we can appear to be a bit dim witted at times (re: 2000). But a lot of us still have enough wits about us to recognize what our meal ticket is, and it ain’t natural gas. We may be suffering at the pump (and from the resulting inflation) like everyone else, but it’s nothing like the suffering we’ll face if the backbone of our economy breaks. Just ask the folks in the rust belt what it’s like when your main industry pulls up stakes.

So now I have to wonder, what good does Charlie do McCain if he can’t bring Florida with him? I used to think he was a pretty savvy politician. Now, not so much.