Tuesday, May 02, 2006

$3 a gallon

Date: May 2
Mileage: 26
May mileage: 26
Temperature upon departure: 46

Because of all the bicycle riding I do and the small town that I live in, I don't buy much gas anymore. Maybe one tank a month currently, but summer travel season is about to begin. While I was driving around town today, looking for an auto shop that could squeeze me in for a tire change, I noticed that gas prices have officially hit the $3/gallon mark. Wha?

In three days I leave for a trip to Utah, so I have to catch a plane in Anchorage - about 215 miles from here. I went online and did a little research, and realized that driving my car to Anchorage, parking it for 9 days in the Dimond Parking Lot, and then driving it home will actually be more expensive than simply flying between Homer and Anchorage. So I bought another plane ticket. Now, instead of slogging down the Kenai Peninsula in the middle of the night upon my return, I'm going to be napping through a not-even-long-enough-to-reach-cruising-altitude flight on a turboprop plane.

I don't know if I should be horrified that it's actually cheaper to fly than drive - or relieved. When you think about it, there are a lot of pluses to the skyrocketing gas prices. Those gas prices have motivated me to get my lazy morning butt in gear and start bicycle commuting to work. They've convinced a lot of other people to ride a bicycle, period ... something many haven't tried since they were kids. My hope is that people will soon discover that they don't have to wait for technology and politicians to sort out any impending "energy crisis." They will discover that they are their own alternative energy source. They'll reunite themselves with all those once-vilified-but-so-missed carbohydrates. They'll trade in their high blood pressure medications and diet pills for natural, old-fashioned shots of dopamine and adrenaline. The suck up some of that sweet clean air, and they'll get themselves to their destinations, with their own power ... be it 20, 200 or 2,000 miles away. The economy will make room for this slowed-down lifestyle, because demand will push it that way. All economy is, after all, is a well-organized way of life.

And people will forget what they ever saw in oil. They'll realize that they had possession of the most valuable commodity all along ... freedom.

18 comments:

  1. I like the way you think:-)

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  2. Ricky5:27 AM

    Hmmm.... nice idea... but I think I'll stick with oil for the moment. Gas is still (even at $3) actually alot cheaper than in pretty much any other country... plus, some of them bikes cost upwards of 5000! Whats up with that? ;-)

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  3. Oh if it were only true...

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  4. nicely stated . . .

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  5. My hope is that people will soon discover that they don't have to wait for technology and politicians to sort out any impending "energy crisis." They will discover that they are their own alternative energy source. They'll reunite themselves with all those once-vilified-but-so-missed carbohydrates.

    That's righter than you may have realized.

    The efficiency of a typical gasoline engine is about 10-20%. The efficiency of glucose metabolism in a typical mammalian cell is about 50%! Glucose metabolism produces reduced equivalents that are ultimately used to synthesize ATP, the stored form of energy your muscles use to do work.

    Better yet, the metabolism of one molecule of glucose yields two reduced equivalents for ATP production, but oxidation of one molecule of a long chain fatty acid (stored fat in your body) produces, iirc, 16!

    Get out and ride America!

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  6. When did this become a comedy blog? ;)

    Seriously, though, I don't think it's going to happen. Prices need to go even higher, and the government not only has to let it happen, they have to encourage it. Taxpayers don't like that though, since hamburgers and driving are two of their God-given rights as Americans.

    (Well, that's my Canadian perspective. I didn't say it wasn't biased.)

    I'm looking for gas to be $3/L. Then maybe they'll clamp down on this damned urban sprawl problem we have.

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  7. BikeWorld-- you know, like WaterWorld only without the gill-toting character played by Kevin Costner ...
    No really, I'm trying to convince my wife that when (not if but when) my car conks out, I just need to put together a commuter frankenbike that I can leave out in the rain while I'm comfortably at work.
    I'm not sure she's sold on the idea just yet.

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  8. Well guys, welcome to the real world. We’re hitting $ 5.07 per gallon here in Spain. You’d think that should get my countrymen running for them hills, but it doesn’t look like much is changing. Granted, our commutes are shorter because we tend to live much closer to work than Americans do. This has always been a necessity because of gas prices; otherwise the average José would be starving. The sad thing is that – as always – politicians do not think long term – ok, they don’t think period – but assuming they did, they are just incapable of considering alternatives with any degree of seriousness.

    Alberto

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  9. A couple points of discussion:

    Lots of people are fond of comparing the "high" $3 price of gas in the US with the "normal" $5-8/gallon paid by the rest of the world. It should be mentioned that the difference is mostly due to differential rates of fuel taxation in different countries. The recent uptick in price here in the US (and everywhere else) is the result of tighter supply-demand relationships, not because the US is suddenly adopting the European model of fuel taxation. My point is that the comparison about different fuel prices might be interesting conversation at a cocktail party, but it's not terribly instructive when trying to explain what's going on with fuel prices.

    I like to think about the price of gas in terms of dollars per mile. If you drive a 15 mpg SUV, you can travel 15 miles for $3, at a speed generally faster than you could probably pedal a bicycle. Even if the price was $6, it's still not that bad - for those who live in cities, a lot of errands can be run with 15 miles of driving. Still, I'd rather ride my bike for most trips.

    I'd also like to point out that the comparison between metabolic efficiency and the efficiency of internal combustion of gasoline is not quite correct. On average, food in the US travels 1500 miles or something from where it's produced to where it's consumed. Fuel travels, too, but in quantities that make the energy required for transport small compared to the energy contained in the fuel. The upshot is that 1,000 (kilo)calories of food energy that can be used to pedal represents a much larger actual input of energy. For people who care about such issues, it makes sense to eat locally produced foods as much as possible.

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  10. The upshot is that 1,000 (kilo)calories of food energy that can be used to pedal represents a much larger actual input of energy.

    I merely compared the efficiency of use of the two fuels.

    Nevertheless, you need to remember in your calculation that transporting oil from A to B is only part of the cost. That oil has to be refined and transported again before it can be burned as gasoline in a car. Many glucose-rich foods, on the other hand, can be consumed directly once they reach the market. Note I'm not seriously suggesting the latter could completely replace the former in any practical sense. ;-)

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  11. Gas has been at around $3.25 here in California. That's for regular grade gasoline.

    High gas prices are inducing people to try public transit. Last night for my evening commute I couldn't get on the train! The bike car was completely full and I had to wait 15 minutes for the next train.

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  12. Nice post Jill. I paid fifty dollars for a tank of gas today ... I've never done that before.

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  13. Ok, time to weigh in before I head out for 6 hours of 80 degree training. Yup, I'm rubbing it in. Anyway, there actually isn't a shortage of fuel in this country, we are actually only a few thousand barrels below maximum storage capacity. Refining capacity is low, but that's because no new refineries have been built in the US in over 20 years, but that's not the point. Part of our problem is that the US is so large. Even when I lived in Indianapolis, IN, it was 26 miles from my house to my job by the most direct route. I rode my bike to work (at a bike shop) and it took me about an hour once I was in racing shape. It took me almost as long to drive using the interstates.
    As for efficiency, a cell might be more efficient, but the human body on a bike is only about 17-19% efficient, roughly the same as internal combustion. There are a myriad of factors that bring our efficiency down.
    Personally, I advocate mass transit. Growing up in upstate NY, there really isn't any, except the train and bus to NYC. I think cars should be taxed on engine displacement, so the biggest engined monsters would be the most expensive to buy. Add in a yearly tax to boot and we'll see much more fuel efficient cars out there.
    Don't even get me started on hybrids, check my blog a few posts back if you want to see some interesting info. Ok, next in line for the soapbox...

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  14. I believe this is the source for the statements about bike-fuel efficiency. I'm not sure I completely buy it, however, and I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if some other study came out tomorrow backing up Mike's assertions about gas being as efficient as food.

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  15. As for efficiency, a cell might be more efficient, but the human body on a bike is only about 17-19% efficient, roughly the same as internal combustion. There are a myriad of factors that bring our efficiency down.

    Sure, and likewise there are a myriad of factors that reduce the efficiency of a car carrying its cargo powered by a gas engine. But that wasn't what I was comparing. To do that you'd have to compare the two carrying a proportional cargo a certain distance at a given speed, all other factors (friction, grade, wind, dissapative heat, etc.) equal. And then divide that by equivalent thermal calories expended (human body vs automobile). In that case, I'm quite certain the human on the bike is still far more efficient.

    Though obviously the car is preferred if you need to take a family of five on a weeklong vacation. ;-)

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  16. If you need to fly out of Anchorage in the future, you can park your car at my house and I could give you a lift to the airport. I only live 10-15 mins from the it. It would save parking money.

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  17. Ricky8:38 PM

    Wow, thats alot of comments on human efficiency vs oil.... interesting..... :-)

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  18. Great blog - very informative.

    I've been using a Gas Mileage Saver that is saving me up to 50 cents per gallon of gas.

    Gas Mileage Savers

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