The virtue of choosing efficient transportation means.

Why should someone prefer to stay for days or weeks on a boat, to cross an ocean, if one could fly the same distance in mere hours? Why take public transportation or ride a bicycle, when the comfort of a car is available? Having been now on five continents without the use of an airplane or car, I will try to make a rational argument, that the means of transportation is not merely a question of choice but rather an obligation toward everyone else. Furthermore I will explain why it matters to care about energy efficiency and how you can adapt this to your everyday life. I would also suggest you write down the moral foundation on which you justify your use of resources and if there are any regulatory thresholds in place where you could force yourself to change. This merely as a reminder upon intellectual honesty. If there is no way to change your view toward this topic, it’s rather irrelevant to be taken into consideration.

Energy, the currency of life!

Before we get into the discussion of transportation, let’s clear the ground for the question:  Why should energy efficiency matter? Energy is the ability to do work. You can’t destroy or create energy. You can solely transform it to other forms of energy. In addition you need to know that only some forms of energy, from current scientific understanding, can be used by our technology for the required applications. Other forms are lost to us (in the form of heat or friction or other ways), as we have no understanding yet how to utilize them. Every form of life needs energy to survive, in the form of: nutrition, water, sunlight and so on. You need energy to produce these foods. You need energy to mine materials. You need energy to transform these materials into commodities. You need energy to move yourself and the commodities around. With that understanding, energy is the only real currency there is, which aligns itself with the laws of nature and therefore must be taken into account to survive long term. Different forms of energy are just useful in different applications, as you can’t eat gasoline and your car doesn’t run to well on potatoes. But as mentioned before all forms can be interchanged to a certain level and the energy content can easily be calculated. For this essay we will always talk about the energy content in kilowatt hours (kWh). To give you a little intuitive sense for that: your body needs about 2.5 kWh a day to operate. One liter of gasoline has about 9 kWh of energy. In this sense it does matter a lot how much energy you consume as the human species until today consumes more energy than we are able to make available in sustainable forms.

Pay for your choice!

“As long as I pay for my choice of transport and the resources involved, it’s my free decision to do so and I don’t need to explain myself!” Fair enough. But to clarify that statement let’s look at the semantics of it. What do you understand under the term “to pay?” For me it’s defined as: Delivering the counter value of the transaction taken. This is where you might be able to answer the paradox that puzzles me so much. What is the counter value of a resource or energy form we do not know how to replace? This seems to be a clear form of moral trespassing to me, as it is an oxymoron. But maybe you understand under the term “to pay”: The current socioeconomic, from the natural law decoupled process of, exchanging paper on which your president printed his face in further exchange for economic growth with no regard to the natural replacement of the resources and/or energy itself. If this should be the case, please declare that you feel that way.  Understanding this, combined with the moral basis of delivering the counter value, the need for sustainable and efficient transport or even energy consumption is no longer a choice. Unless you dismiss the symbiotic nature of our resources and just like to make up your independent reality!

Thinking in terms of energy!

Imagine for a moment you need cash and decide to go to an ATM. In order to get there you call a cab. The previous agreed fair to bring you to the bank machine and back is 100 dollars. Once you arrive at the ATM you withdraw 50 dollars before returning home. This obviously doesn’t make any sense if you think in terms of market efficient ways. But this is precisely what we often do when it comes to energy. You drive your car to the supermarket for grocery shopping. Now, grocery shopping is nothing else than a withdrawal of energy in form of foods. The energy you will “invest” to drive there will often outweigh the “withdrawal” itself. The same applies for your personal ability to do work, in contrast to the means of getting you to the workplace. Again, this is considered normal in the current tradition of market efficiency as its efficency is not bound to real resources. Now you might see the conflict of interest of market efficency to resource/energy efficiency.

Morals applied to current cultural tradition!

In the “real” world of today, our socioeconomic and sociocultural tradition don’t value resources and energy efficiency over market efficiency. This implies that we most likely don’t “pay” (deliver the counter-value) for our energy consumtion. Due to this fact it is an extra effort or even a conflict of interests to apply this to everyday life. I have to admit that there are some compromises to be made today, unless you strive to live complete self-sufficiently. But only because we can’t be entirely sustainable and energy-efficient, should in no way suggest that the whole topic is therefore subjective and it’s just a way of looking at opinions. With the simple understanding of the physics of movement and the real-world impact, everyone can optimize their own habits toward this. There might even be a personal value shift, not because it sounds right but rather because it’s where scientific knowledge will lead you. To end this essay, I will give you an idea on how I try to implement this knowledge within my own lifestyle as I often travel and therefore move a lot. I restrict myself from the two least energy-efficient means: I don’t fly and I don’t have a car.

  • I cycle to every place within the city and sometimes further.
    About 45x more efficient than by car.
  • I will use public transportation to go to work or travel.
    About 5x more efficient than by car.
  • I use car-pooling.
    Five persons in one car is 25x more efficient than the same five in five cars.
  • I sail or use boats to cross oceans.
    Massively more efficient.


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