If you walk through almost any city you’ll see people idling their engines at zero MPG, often fooling with their smartphones or GPS devices. They seem oblivious to their surroundings and time itself. Sometimes it goes on for 30+ minutes, including situations where someone stands outside talking with the driver. Oil-wasters are easiest to spot at night when glowing screens and headlights give them away. Unsurprisingly, they waste bulbs like they waste oil, thinking “I’ll just buy more.” When the price of fuel is modest, idle-waste tracks with general apathy more than income. It’s a way of life in America; get inside, turn the key and don’t even think about where oil comes from as long as you can “afford the gas.” Gratuitous fuel squandering isn’t new but mobile entertainment has made it notably worse. The phenomenon peaks during extreme weather but it happens in all seasons and the apathy is obvious.
These wastrels could at least limit idling on hot and cold days by parking in the shade when possible, or blasting the heater before they park, letting residual heat linger inside. Also, a big 12-volt battery won’t get drained by charging a much smaller phone without the alternator. All it takes is some forethought and a general conservation ethic.
Many large pickup trucks are bought as crass status symbols or ego-boosters (similar to pseudo-hunting pursuits). Diesel drivers are known for excessive idling despite modern engines requiring much shorter warm-ups and turbo cool-downs. A number of them are wannabe semi-truck drivers who like the sound and torque aspects. Truck-stop idling itself is a major source of waste, though APUs are helping. The worst diesel offenders “roll coal” on other drivers, cyclists and pedestrians. They’re scumbags but they’re also more honest than passive idlers in terms of environmental consequences. Overall, more fuel is wasted in cities due to sheer numbers of people. Country air is cleaner for lack of population density, not because residents put more effort into it. They take that for granted when they defy emissions controls with ego-mods, including removing catalytic converters to fight the EPA’s “back-pressure conspiracy.” Rural air would be even cleaner if fuel pumps had vapor recovery nozzles and two-stroke engines were phased out on thrillcraft. Average folk do things the cheapest, laziest way they can get away with.
Another common waste of fuel occurs at car dealerships and rental companies. An agent will walk up to a vehicle, open the door and immediately turn on the engine while describing its features. Are they trying to entice you to test drive it? With rental cars they already know you’ll be taking it, so why squander fuel you’ll have to replace anyhow? Techniques from the old days of looser engine tolerances still encourage pointless idling. In most weather you shouldn’t have to idle more than 10-30 seconds for full oil pressure. Engineering manuals suggest warming up by driving as soon as possible at moderate speeds, which warms the drivetrain along with the engine so it isn’t shocked by acceleration. Some claim that stopping and restarting a warm engine causes wear but there’s always a sheen of oil protecting the metal (otherwise, hybrid engines would fail prematurely). Remote starters are often abused as pointless gadgets rather than a warm-up method for very cold days. Cold starts have higher metal-on-metal risk but oil remains trapped in the rings overnight. Vehicles like fire trucks and ambulances have excuses for idling (to power equipment) but it can still be reduced. Chronic speeding is also a major source of waste. Efficiency plummets in top gear at speeds much over 60 MPH, and even hybrid drivers join mobs of tailgaters (Jevons paradox). Calculations vary, but Americans alone waste at least 300,000 barrels of oil per day.
The only thing that really makes average people conserve oil is a price increase, which they quickly forget if it falls again. Over-hyped reserves of oil-bearing shale and OPEC’s deliberate overproduction (to starve U.S. frackers) temporarily wiped the 2008 oil price spike from Americans’ memory, and they’ll be caught off guard when it returns. At the time of this posting, oil prices had crept back into the upper $60’s after being flat for many months. SUV and V8 sales had risen as prices dropped and placated the herd, but the world was burning upwards of 90 million barrels a day all the while. That’s oil we won’t get back (abiotic oil is a conspiracy theory). We’ll see how long this recent price increase holds, but anyone who claims oil is infinite doesn’t understand geological processes. Creationist fables are behind a lot of that thinking.
When the “official” Peak Oil finally hits, millions of people will be indignant at first. Being willfully ignorant of oil’s physical limits, they’ll try to blame scarcity on “lack of drilling,” even if rapacious EPA-haters are still in the White House. They refuse to see that the fracking of shale for oil and natural gas is not an actual increase in physical reserves. There’s less of it in the ground every second and it will cost more to extract as sources get tighter. Peak Oil deniers are invariably educated in finance, not geology. Pseudo-petroleum sources like kerogen are an ERoI fallacy, hyped into “trillions of barrels” by wild speculators. Also, renewable energy infrastructure like bloated wind turbines can’t exist without fossil fuels and “100% renewable energy” claims are deviously optimistic. Increased “production” of ancient, condensed resources just means people are getting desperate and using newer extraction methods. Horizontal drilling isn’t a major leap, just a refinement of old techniques, but it suits the “technology will save us” narrative. After a point, there’ll be no new tricks and nobody else to blame for the squandering of finite energy.
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