Skip to comments.Vanity: In Praise of Internal Combustion
Posted on 07/23/2005 11:26:11 AM PDT by grey_whiskers
Former Vice President Al Gore, in his book Earth in the Balance, has stated that the internal combustion engine is a greater threat to the safety of mankind than nuclear weapons. Leaving beside the obvious absurdity of the statement--World War Two was not ended by dropping Studebakers on Japan, nor was the Cold War marked by Strategic Chevrolet Limitation Talks--the mindset evinced by this statement should be critically examined.
P.J. O'Rourke has performed a hilarious comparison of the efficiency of the human body--in particular, rickshaw pullers--with the efficiency of the gasoline-powered engine. He notes that the chemical energy available in one gallon of gasoline is equivalent to over 30,000 calories, an amount of food sufficient to feed a person for two weeks. However, he fails to note the obvious corollary, which is the practical limit to the size and weight which one can transport by hand--say, when moving to another state.
I recently had experience in this matter when relocating from Minneapolis (go, Vikings!) to Phoenix for a new job. The major obstacle on the trip--aside from the joys of transporting two elementary school children and the family cat--was (as a cursory glance at any atlas will tell you) the Rocky Mountains. Too big to ignore, too lengthy to detour around, and for damn sure too tall to climb. Particularly when lugging an entire deluxe U-Haul full of furniture, the family cat, and the cat's litterbox. More on the litterbox later.
At first the drive was uneventful, even downright boring. Long stretches of Iowa and Nebraska went by: you get in the car and drive for four hours, and look at your watch, and only 20 minutes have passed (apologies to Bill Mauldin). On the third day of travel we crossed the border into Colorado. I was surprised that (at first) it looked much the same as western Nebraska. But then came a series of rolling hills; they were large by Midwestern standards; and a vague dusky look on the skyline. It could be--it just might be--it WAS! The famed "purple mountain majesties, above the fruited plain." For the first time the words of "America, The Beautiful" seemed more than stale cliches. Just for an instant, I had a glimpse of the gratitude and awe of the pioneers, of a lush, fertile, land, and awesome scenery overlooking all.
But awesome scenery is not all there is to the Rocky Mountains: if you have merely traveled over them in a jet, you have no real feeling for their size and grandeur. You have to go through them to get a true sense. But on the other hand, I have no real idea either. Driving on I-70 is a far cry from travel by foot or by wagon train. We have almost all of us moved at some time in our lives. Even going a few blocks, it is easier to use handcarts, dollies, and trucks than to heft a sofa by hand. Consider then, the immense effort it would take to haul a sofa, or a bed, or a desk--not just up several flights of stairs, but up to the Johnson-Eisenhower tunnel, 11,300 feet above sea level!
And this is really my point. Here I was, not exactly in the lap of comfort, but in a large, ungainly U-Haul truck, with a 455 cubic inch gas-guzzler V-8 engine, with fuel efficiency topping out at 8 miles per gallon (all right, so I coasted downhill, too). I vividly recall the automatic transmission grinding and slowing as we crawled up the 8% grades from Denver into the Rockies. From Denver to the Tunnel is some 60 miles. I was hauling four tons of furniture, two-hundred thirty pounds of me (one eats more fast food than usual while moving), several pounds of cat, and a similar quantity of cat doots. All I had to dowas press down with my foot, and we went. How much muscular effort does that take?
Even the hardiest pioneers, with their wagons, teams of oxen, and sheer American cussedness did not come this way. They took the Oregon trail: starting from say, Independence, and following the Platte river. Like many travelers, they enjoyed getting fleeced for provisions--at Ft. Laramie, for example, the cost for flour, which could have been bought before beginning the trail at $4.00 per barrel, was $1.50 per pint. And you thought convenience stores along the interstate were ripoffs.
Yet here we were, at $1.59 a gallon, using a maximum of --what-- $20 dollars (2001 dollars), to replicate their quest over the mountains. And the most harrowing experience of the trip was when the transmission lurched and spilled my diet coke into the (absorbent) litter box, the feline equivalent of leaving the seat down. At say, $1.59 a gallon, and using (going uphill all the way) 4 miles per gallon, I used 15 gallons of gasoline--twenty four dollars. And even if you use todays rates, $2.50 per gallon, and account for inflation, you are still shelling out under fifty bucks.
And as I said, all I had to do was hold my foot against the floor to press down on the gas pedal. It sure beat wagon train; it sure beat walking. I am filled with a new respect for the pioneers, after putting my self in their tires for a few miles. So for those like Al Gore, who decry the internal combustion engine as a greater threat to mankind than nuclear weapons; for limousine liberals who want everyone but themselves to drive Euroweenie hybrid cars; for those Birkenstock-wearing college-dwellers who cry No Blood for Oil, I have just three words:
Up Your Gas!
Someone on TV put it simply enough for even me.
$2.00 takes a 4000 pound vehicle X amount of miles down the road.
There simply is nothing comparable,....yet.
Has anyone seen Al Bore hoofing it lately? I am sure he has given up the use of the "dangerous to mankind" horseless carriages. Also his house has probably been unwired for electricity because of those awful "dangerous to mankind" power plants liberals hate.
These daqys Algore looks like he's on the hoof..
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