Cars News and Reviews Astronomical Numbers and Climate Change - CARS NEWS AND REVIEWS

Posted by Carmella Ross on Friday

“There are 1011 stars in the galaxy. That used to be a huge number. But it's only a hundred billion. It's less than the national deficit! We used to call them astronomical numbers. Now we should call them economical numbers.” ? Richard P. Feynman

Photo Alan Fitzsimmons

One wonders what the Nobel-prize winning physicist may have said about today's US debt, which is counted in the 1013 dollars, or a hundred times more than there are stars in galaxy. One suspects that this "citizen scientist" would have some sharp remarks on the low acceptance in the US of climate science.

The argument against starting that fight sooner rather than later has always been that the amounts of money that need to be spent are daunting.

Lord Stern has revised his estimate of the cost to fight climate change to 2% of gGDP (up from 1%), or about $ 1.4 tn, specifically, to keep CO2 levels below 500ppm. Estimates of this cost depend strongly on the target CO2 level, and vary between close to zero and 5.5% of gGDP.

The fear is that global spending at that level would break "the economy".

But inaction also breaks the economy, and faster than you think.

Already, the reduction of global GDP (gGDP) due to climate change is estimated at $ 1.2 tn annually. That's 1.2 x 1012 dollars. Or about 1.6% of gGDP. And as the effects of global warming become more severe, the cost of climate change is only going to rise. About $ 44tn of the world's GDP are situated in countries at high risk of the effects of climate change.

It seems it's time to pull out the big guns on this worldwide problem. After all, it can be called a serious security issue in many ways. There are lots of places where enormous amounts of money is spent on things that are questionable in the light of the planetary emergency.

One example is media advertising: the global spending on advertising in all media has reached $ 0.56 tn in 2012 and is projected to rise further in the coming years. That's nearly a third of the required funds to fight global warming. But there are other places.

In 2012, the total global spending on defense is $ 1.76 tn. 'Nough said.

And the total global subsidies to the fossil fuel industry amount to $ 1.9 tn every year. Of that, $ 0.48 tn is in direct subsidies for people to buy energy, the rest is in the hidden cost of dealing with air pollution and climate damage: that is consistent with Lord Stern's $ 1.4 tn estimate. But it doesn not include costs like cleaning up after spills.

While we all know about the spill from BP's Deep Horizon disaster (total damages up to $ 90 bn), there are plenty of smaller spills from pipelines, and oil and fracking rigs that together must amount to another large number to be added to the constellation of astronomical numbers. If the fossil fuel industry were made responsible for any cleanup, to the last penny, enormous amounts of public money would be freed for fighting the really important battles.

One direct consequence of removing these subsidies is to expose the seemingly astronomical profits of fossil fuel companies for what they really are: not worth the investment.



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Cars News and Reviews The Car of the Future- CARS NEWS AND REVIEWS

Posted by Carmella Ross on Tuesday

Fans of Star Trek have delighted in the Audi ad that pits old Spock (Leonard Nimoy in a Mercedes CLS 550C) against young Spock (Zachary Quinto in an Audi S7 hatchback). The CLS is portrayed as old-school luxury, while the S7 is presented as a 23rd century starship. In the end, though, both are trumped by the self-driving Audi TTS (developed at Stanford).

"The Challenge"

Speculation abounds, as it has always, about what the car of the future looks like. "The car of the future will be electric. Powered by fuel cells. By hydrogen. By a small on-board nuclear reactor. It will look all curvy. It will look like a Lamborghini, only more 'space age'. It will be self-driving. It can fly."

Personally, I have no truck with the looks of the future car. I don't care if it looks like a box car. Or rather, perhaps I would prefer it to look like a box car (more on that below). Here is CelloMom's vision of our future transportation - or perhaps more appropriately called wishful thinking.

In the not-too-distant future, we will need a serious re-think of our energy flow. And since so much of that energy flows on behalf of our transportation needs, we will have to look out of the box when it comes to our cars.

In my ideal future, there are still cars on the road. Fewer than now. And none of them are mine. I have given up the burden of car ownership - the monthly payments, the insurance, the annual inspections, the oil changes, the hoisting at the fan belt, even the endless cleaning cycle - and traded all that for à la carte transportation.

In large cities, I can have a choice of public transportation options like the subway and the bus, paid for by a card much like the SmarTrip card used in Washington DC or the Oyster card for the London transit system. Lower-density suburbs still exist - there are too many of them to be abandoned or dismantled overnight - and there transportation are still provided by cars, but with a twist.

Cars are owned and operated by transportation providers that maintain a fleet of self-driving units. I use my phone to request a car, specifying the To and From locations and the time I want to depart or arrive, plus any large luggage, such as a cello. The system messages me with an estimate of the time I can expect the car, and a price for the ride, which depends on the distance and the time of day (deep discounts for off-peak travel).

Self-driving cars are already here, and the software required to optimise the travel routes of a large number of vehicles has been developed by companies like UPS.

Because I get charged per ride I have become very mindful of efficiency measures such as bundling my errands, or perhaps asking my neighbour who is going grocery shopping to fetch me the dozen eggs which are my only need for the day.

I get a two-minute warning by phone before the car pulls up in front of my house (I don't have a driveway any more, it's all garden, as glorious as I can manage to make it). I get in, perhaps joining other people who are in the car already. I could specify privacy in the car, which would cost more, but the default is that you share the car with other passengers; rides are optimised for optimal total efficiency in real time, so the size of the car that comes to pick you up depends on how many other people in your neighbourhood happen to need a ride at the same time.

Rides to schools have priority over everything else. Rides to work are timed to occur a little later in the morning so that the same vehicles can be used for that commute; but most of the workforce telecommutes at least part of the time anyway.

I get total flexibility in the kind of vehicle that moves me and my stuff around: If I specify that I'm hauling a cache of eight-foot two by fours for a home project, I get sent a different type of vehicle than when it's my four-person family going out together. If I want to organise a trip with twelve people, we can all fit in one vehicle, just for that one time, but none of us need to actually own an extended Econo-line van.

For longer distances, the cars would clump into small highway caravans of self-driving units, maintaining the same speed, bumpers separated by a few feet. This kind of hypermiling, impossibly dangerous in human-operated cars, would boost the overall fuel efficiency significantly, since only the caboose car would be hampered by serious turbulence instead of each car. My guesstimate is that optimal fuel efficiency requires that each car be quite boxy, which incidentally also gives best headroom throughout the car, so that even sitting at the rear of the car you don't have to feel like the ceiling is bearing down on you.

Even in town, cars can drive much closer together than they need now. This frees up space on streets; perhaps middle lanes can be turned into median parks that accomodate festivals and pop-up stores. You don't need in-town parking spaces any more, which anyway mess up the streetscape: when not in use the cars are tucked away in the multistory garages where the maintenance is also done. So on-street parking lanes can be converted to bike paths. We won't need three parking spaces per car any more, and since we share the ride, we need a much smaller total number of cars, another energy saving.

And sure, the cars are electric, and get their juice from renewables like wind and solar, their batteries forming a vast storage reservoir of energy that smooth out the vagaries of the highly variable availability of sun and wind. But as much savings in carbon emissions come more from the way we use the cars, as from what powers them.

Disney will eventually build a theme park where you can drive an old-style car with a steering wheel, after going through their training session. They set up a mock village in which you can drive around (not too fast), complete with shops, antique parking meters, and - o marvel! - traffic lights.



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Cars News and Reviews Snow, Ice, and Your Tires- CARS NEWS AND REVIEWS

Posted by Carmella Ross on Saturday

You know you're in trouble when it's been snowing, you're out on the road - and more than half of the other vehicles on the road are snow ploughs.

Photo by SPQRobin

Under those conditions the wisest thing to do is to stay at home. Build a snowman or an igloo with your children, bake bread, make some slow food, settle with a good book and a cup of hot chocolate while your children shovel the driveway. Enjoy the day. Take a vacation day if you have to. An employer that requires its employees to struggle their way into work under unsafe road conditions is not a good employer.

If you absolutely must go out into the great white world, remember that your tires are your best friends, more than they usually are.

If you live in a place where wintry conditions happen for several months of the year, you may consider getting winter tires: they are designed to give better traction than year-round tires, by the structure and depth of the treads. But more importanly, the material itself remains softer and more pliable at low temperatures, giving better traction even on dry (but cold) roads. This means better handling, and a shorter stopping distance. It's not surprising that winter tires are popular in Canada.

If you live in warmer climates you might not need winter tires. But these days, with climate change making weather more erratic everywhere, living in a temperate zone is not a guarantee that you will never be visited by snow. Even Jerusalem had enough snow to build good snowmen. That makes snow-covered palm trees the new image for Christmas cards.

Snow in Jerusalem. Via

Obviously, if it snows once in a blue moon where you live, you're not going to spring for winter tires. You don't have to. You don't even have to do anything special to your regular tires. But watch out for urban myths. In particular, there is a myth floating around that letting the air out of your tires gives you a safer ride on snow.

It is a myth.

Sure, soft tires give you better traction on snow and ice. If that's all you did, and at low speeds, and not very far, you may be allright. But consider also that the rubber is harder; under-inflating your tires causes a larger deformation to your tires which is tough on the hardened rubber. When you go driving at higher speeds, that larger deformation can cause the tires to heat up excessively, and you may end up with blown tires just when you least need it: on the side of a snowed-over highway, for instance.

The advice experts give is to check your tires before you drive away, and make sure they're inflated to the proper pressure while cold. If the roads are icy, you're not going that fast, and the tires don't warm up they way they usually do, so the pressure inside (which depends on the temperature) stays lower than usual, keeping the tires softer. This way, if the highway is clear when you make it there, and you go at higher speeds, the tires will warm up in a safe way, at the proper pressure.

Speaking of speeds: your best friend on icy or snowy roads (apart from your properly inflated tires) is patience. The traction, or sideways force, you need to go around the corner depends quadratically on the speed at which you take that corner, so you need to slow to a crawl to take that corner without starting to slip and slide.

Making it up the hill is also best done at low speeds. If you have all-wheel drive, make sure it's turned on. AWD is very helpful for getting forward in deeper snow, and up hills. However, it is not helpful for steering per se. And the extra weight works against you in braking.

In fact, if you drive a car with AWD you would be well advised to be extra careful in snow: because the feeling of better traction on the wheels going forward may give you a false sense of security. The truth is that in wintry conditions, AWD does not give you better handling; Getting around the corners safely still requires care and slow speed. And you may need a significantly longer brake length.

In Sweden, the Volvo S60 is available in nine different versions. Only one of those nine has AWD. Because real Swedes don't need AWD to negotiate their snowy roads. But I bet they do winter tires.



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Cars News and Reviews St. Nicholas Storm- CARS NEWS AND REVIEWS

Posted by Carmella Ross on Thursday

The storm that has hit the northwestern coasts of Europe today is starting to be known in the Netherlands as St. Nicholas Storm, or sinterklaasstorm (like the Germans, the Dutch also love to string their words together. Back when telegrams were priced by the word, it was cheaper that way).

The KNMI, the Dutch equivalent of NOAA, has called code red, which means you should stay indoors unless you have real business outside. On the coast, winds up to 11 Beaufort are expected, pretty high even in wind-blown Holland. Some flights have been cancelled. Train traffic has been stopped in the northern half of the country. There are reports of cargo trucks being blown over.

This is terrible news for Dutch children, who are eagerly awaiting a visit from St. Nicholas, their patron saint who, as legend has it, makes it to the Low Lands by steam boat, and tours the country's roofs on his white horse on the eve of his saint's day to distribute sweets and oranges from Spain.

Let me put this in perspective: this is nowhere near Haiyan, the typhoon that wreaked such immense devastation in the Phillipines. This is just a storm, it doesn't even have an official name.

Still, the fact that the storm arrives together with a springtide causes many anxious eyes to look at the nation's coastline.

The springtide driven flood of 1953, which cost nearly 2000 lives and inundated half a province is alive in the nation's memory. Half the country is below the current sea level, and the rest of the place is not much higher; it's telling that the Dutch media tend to quote the highest likely sea level rise associated with global warming, rather than the possible range.

The previous time winds went up to 11 Bft was only a few weeks ago, on 28 October. But there was no springtide then. Still, this should give pause to a country whose very history has been shaped by its ambivalent relationship with the seas.

Floods feature very prominently in their list of disasters, there is a litany of them stretching back to the middle ages when storms were named after the saints on whose day they hit the land, like the catastrophic St. Felix Flood of 1530, in which up to 100,000 people died and an entire chunk of land, now called the Drowned Land of Zuid-Beveland, was lost to the waters.

Another devastating one was the Sta. Lucia Flood of 1287, which cost 50,000 - 80,000 lives, separated West-Friesland from Friesland and formed the deep marine intrusion that made the country look like a horseshoe until the twentieth century when a steady progression of poldering reclaimed the land area.

Given this history, it's no surprise that the Dutch are pouring nearly two billion euros a year into shoring up their dunes and dikes: their first line of defence against the power of the sea. (In a case of serious disconnect, they are also exploring for shale gas).

The Dutch might be allright for a while, but you can't say the same of the people of the Philippines, who now face the terrible aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan. Nor of Somalians, who in that same week were hit by a powerful cyclone. You shudder to think of what might happen if a typhoon should hit low-lying and densely populated Bangladesh.

A resident of beautiful (and low-lying) Kiribati has applied for climate refugee status in New Zealand, but his application has been rejected by immigration authorities, and now also by New Zealand's High Court.

It is quite possible that that decision was driven by a reluctance to set a precedent. Because it's only a matter of time before the world will see many more climate refugees. Since the industrialised west has so far shown itself to be unwilling to stand up to the moral challenge of effecting social justice, I suspect this issue will eventually reach the International Court of Justice, which is in The Hague. Let's hope it will still be above water by then.



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