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Idle costs and recompense

I’ve written a bit about car ownership, weighing the costs and benefits of renting vs owning for a work trip and the winter/summer difference in gasoline (that latter post being one of my most linked to on this humble blog).  But now that this year’s extended Fall is finally showing signs of winter (snow emergencies announced, wind chill advisories), another topic has popped up; the perceived need to idle/warm up your car (case in point from the Strib/Washington Post).

Now full disclosure, my car is presently sitting in underground parking.  It is wonderful.  I am bourgeois.  Further proof; I just used the word “bourgeois.”  But this wasn’t always the case.  Prior to my last move, I spent the previous 5 years parking my car on the street (and prior to that a mix of garages, parking lots, not having a car, my parents driveway, and again not having a car if we go back far enough).  But I did push my car out of a ditch and a two foot snow drift on my own after a 1am encounter with black ice last winter.  So I’ve got some cred.  I’M NOT SOFT YET!

tailpipeIn any case, I’ve never idled my car to warm it up.  Now I’m not vilifying anyone who does (maybe judging a bit).  But the carburetor was phased out of our cars around 1990, which was the original basis for the concept of warming up your car (mentioned in the article above).  And concepts about oil viscosity seem to disregard the designed operating temperatures of the oil (check the container/rating) and miss the benefit of moderate driving to circulate the oil and better warm up the car after a brief 15-30 initial idle.  So I think we should at least be able to agree that (save those with cars from 1990 or older), any idling beyond 30 seconds is for our own comfort (warm interior, easier to scrape off windows).

So do what you’ll do, but at least know the cost/impact.  Idling your car is clearly a decision you’re making, and decisions are best made based on sound information.  Fortunately, the folks at Argonne National Labs (personally one of my favorite of the national labs) did some awesome analysis (  Note their conclusion that 10 seconds of idling if the cutoff point for when it’s smart to just turn off a warmed up car.

We’ll use their data for an idling car.  One could argue that emissions would actually be higher since you’re basically prolonging how long it takes your car to warm up by letting it sit there rather than starting to moderately drive to your destination.  But we won’t, we’ll keep it simple and go off their test on a 2011 Ford Fusion.  Just note that if you compare some more generic numbers from the EPA for various vehicle types, if you’ve opted for a less “sensible” vehicle than the analyzed 2.5-L, 4-cylinder Fusion, your emissions are greater, ranging from 3-52% depending on the pollutant.

So, the data, what does it tell us.  For every second of idling, the Fusion:

  • uses 0.279 cc of gas
  • produces 0.588 g of CO2

0.279 cc of gas/second * (1 L/1000 cc)(1 gal/3.79 L)(60 sec/min) = 0.0044 gal of gas per minute

So, if you idle your car for 5 minutes to warm it up, you use 0.022 gallons of gas.  Today that’s 4.5¢.  A year ago that would have been 7.3¢.

On the pollution side, we’ll round that up to 0.59g per second to factor in CO emissions (which oxidize in the atmosphere to CO2).  So that’s 35 g per minute and 175 g for 5 minutes of warming up.  Now again I’d point out that this is just climate impacting emissions.  You’ll also be producing NOx, SOx, hydrocarbons, and particulate pollution.  These impact your health directly, the health of others around you, and the environment in different ways.  But I’m not as well versed in the impact calculations there, so we’ll call that the “added bummer” factor and you can ascribe what value you see fit for your neighbor’s kid having a higher likelihood of asthma.

But in all, these are some small numbers.  Like a lot of what we do, it’s easy to dismiss the instances.  Four cents and one third of a pound of carbon emissions, what’s that?  Aggregate it to an average MN winter (which might be hard to remember as we’re coddled this year) and we get about 70 days a year where the max temp doesn’t crack 32°F.  Let’s assume it’s those days, the below freezing days, when our average daily temp is most commonly from a low of 8°F to a high of 24°F, that folks are inclined to idle their cars to warm them up, once in the morning, once in the evening.

That habit then costs you $6.30-$10.22 and causes 54 lbs of CO2 pollution.  Warm up for longer than 5 minutes and you can see how this will escalate.  This also seems like a good time to point out that this is on top of the rest of your costs of driving.  So add it in if you’re doing a cost balance of car use/ownership versus your other options.  And if you have a less efficient car than the Fusion used in the analysis, bump those numbers up.

But let’s say you’re like me and, while you recognize this impact is relatively small/manageable, you still find it annoying and would like to somehow justify it (you know, besides just stopping the bad habit of warming up your car).  I mean, less is less, and small steps are easy, with the end result being drastic change if everyone does their part.  Let’s say the 4.7 million vehicles in MN in 2000 idle once for 5 minutes to warm; that’s $211,500-343,100 wasted and almost 1,000 tons of CO2 pollution.  Why be a part of that?

Tis the season for resolutions, so here’s some ideas;

  • Start carpooling – Sure you probably have to go out of your way a bit, but if the net result is less miles driven, after about 75 miles you’ve offset a 5 minute idling habit.
  • Bike or walk somewhere – Add a layer, embrace winter and head out into it… or just do more of this the rest of the year.  It actually works out to be less miles needed than carpooling because you get a bit of a bonus since short trips are the least efficient in a car.  Rough estimate 60-70 miles walked/biked.

But really, just do something new to save energy and money.  This post is already too long and the list is extensive.  As long as you weren’t doing it before, it counts as an offset, and you’ll be starting 2015 improving your life just that much more.  Check out the EPA or Carbon Fund or countless other places for more ideas.


Ice Bucket Challenge v2.0

It’s gone viral, is wildly successful, and driving a wave of fundraising.  Here’s the top three things that need to happen with this Ice Bucket Challenge to take it to the next level:

1) Say your giving, challenge others to give, and, only then, douse yourself.  I think I’ve seen a shift in the trend and more and more videos openly talk about their giving or demonstrate it (Charlie Sheen being the, surprisingly, best example).  But initially this was a “give OR douse yourself” schtick, and we should make sure we’re shifting that to an “AND”.

2) Someplace needs to set up a location to do this, buckets and ice water ready, for passers by.  A mobile IBC site.  What venue has an ice machine and a patio?  Who could do on the fly video recording, uploading, and let participants post it to their social media properly?  A bar/restaurant in Uptown?  At the state fair?  Capitalism has failed if someplace isn’t setting up a centralized, multi-person bucketing.  It was 90°+ last weekend in the Twin Cities, a dozen places should have been doing this.

3) Diversify where the funding goes.  Give to the ALS Association, give to the ALS Association and another ALS cause, give to some other organization all together.  ALS is terrible and deserves attention, and this viral campaign should be congratulated for it’s success.  With everyone talking about ALS and the ALS Association openly admitting they are at a point of having more money coming in than they know what to do with, we’re near or at that point.  At this point, we may simply be piling money into a bank account to be spent on something ALS related on an undetermined date.  That’s not bad, but it’s not that great either.  Maybe this is an opportunity to ride this viral marketing wave through it’s completion and diversify and spread the positive impact.  Charitable contributions have some elasticity, but are often argued as a finite bucket of funds.  If dumping ice water on yourself is driving a wave of donations, possibly some extra funds that wouldn’t get donated otherwise, awesome.  Give to ALS, give to something similar, or give to something else you’re passionate about.  Or what’s the next challenge?  Suck a lemon?  Twerk for 30 seconds (are people still twerking?)?  Let’s expand the win more broadly.

What does the google car say?

Google’s self-driving car prototype has a face.  So I gave it some words this morning…

google car

google car1

Figured it was worth it to open this up to suggestions.  Top 10 by Saturday noon CST, May 31st,  (either suggested in the comments below or based on popularity here: I slap together and post in an album (giving credit for captions as I’m able).

The Great Sochi Ruse

TIL: The Winter Olympics are happening… right now… in Sochi, Krasnodar Krai, Russia.

Well, OK, I knew the next Olympics were in Sochi, and that they were going to be happening soon.  Mostly because of the massive amount of whining the media was doing just because their hotels weren’t “completed, functioning, livable buildings.”  Case in point:

[edit] plus [/edit]

So really, I just didn’t know the games actually kicked off today.

But I began wondering, after reading some of the stories about yellow water, no water, dangerous water, and non-water related vexations… could this be something more insidious.  The Russians hate Americans, Americans like laughing at the Russians.  And with a history or cold wars and spying between the two countries, why couldn’t this “unpreparedness” have another layer.

And then my suspicions were confirmed:

Cameras in the showers.  Boom.  They’re watching the American journalists.  Bam.  They’re messing with us.

A little bit of sleuthing, a mild level of hacking, and 15 minutes later, I found the following transcript between two Russian agents in a secret room, right within one of the hotels the American journalists are staying at.

***** begin transcript *****

Boris: And so I said to her, “I’ve got something right here I’ll Putin ya…”

Ivan: Good one, good joke *laughs* Oh, quiet, that reporter is back in her room.  … She’s going to the sink.  Quick!  Switch it to kerosene.


Ivan: Good. Oh, look, she’s looking at the glass.  *laugh*  I hope she drinks it.

Boris: Shit, she’s reaching for the phone. Quick, hand it to me!


/phone rings/

Boris (using poor done Hispanic, female voice): Hola, room service. … Hmm? Oh si, the water? Oh si, it is working now, yes.  Is fine, um, but just don’t *stiffled chuckle* use it on your face.  Goodbye. /phone clicks/

Ivan & Boris: *laughing loudly*

Ivan: Ooo, look, she’s taking a picture with her phone.  I bet she’s going to tweet it. … Oh, da, she did, look, right here.  Oh man, she called it “dangerous face water.”

Ivan & Boris: *laughing*

Boris: Stupid Americans and their tweetings.

Ivan: Da.  Say, why did you pretend to be a hispanic woman on the phone.

Boris: Oh, it’s what they expect when calling room service.

Ivan: Stupid Americans.

Boris: Stupid Americans.

Ivan: Shh, quiet, that Journal of Wall Street guy is going to sleep.  I’m going to go tell Boris to “accidentally” get booked in the same room and walk in on him sleeping.

Boris: But I’m Boris.

Ivan: Nyet, not you.  Other Boris.  Creepy Boris.

Boris: Ohhhh, da, nice.  Dude is creepy.  We need more than two first names for men in this country.

Ivan: Well, there is Vladimir.

Boris: WHAT?  WHERE?!

Ivan: Nye nye, as a name.  Other than Boris or Ivan, there’s Vladimir.  Calm down, you’re paranoid with this whole spying thing.

Boris: Da, you’re right.

UNKNOWN THIRD VOICE ON INTERCOM: You two, shut up, get back to work.

Ivan & Boris: Uhuh, yes sir!

UNKNOWN THIRD VOICE ON INTERCOM: And Boris, your joke wasn’t funny.

***** end transcript *****

Top Five Reasons to Donate on Give to the Max Day

GTMD13 Logo_squareGiveMN, Give to the Max Day, #GtMD13, or whatever you want to call it.  It’s a relatively new institution in MN to drive online giving before we all get wrapped up in the holiday season.  Yet even with the rally and push behind the day (by last count, I’ve received around two dozen emails from various organizations, and it’s barely noon), as with any non-profit cause, it’s easy to feel like your donation isn’t much, you’re not sure which organization to give to, or that it’s just easier to brush it off without much thought.

Regardless of of how much you give or which organization you give to though, here’s 5 quick reasons why you definitely should give.

  1. The multiplier effect… Today of all days, many non-profits have found matching donors, which means your $10 donation becomes $20, $25 becomes $50, $50 becomes… well, you get the idea.  And GiveMN does random $1,000 matches throughout the day, plus a couple $10,000 matches at the end of it all, which means, with a little luck, your $10 could become $20… and then $1,020 or more.
  2. You’re a leader… whether you like it or not.  When you act and support a cause/organization you think is making the world a better place, there’s a ripple effect.  Someone sees you, someone is impressed.
  3. Something of substance on social media… From GiveMN’s statistics, when you give and let others know, it’s on the order of another $18 donation.  It’s similar to dropping some cash in a collection box, spurring the person next to you to do the same.
  4. It’s relatively small… $10 isn’t much, but often has a pretty big impact.  If you need to, skip a couple coffees or pints or bag lunch it a few extra times or whatever small effort necessary.  Charities just want your support today, not your kidney.*
  5. But it’s impact is large… Your donation matters.  Money means nothing except for how we use it.  Kids educated, animals rescued, meals served, etc.  These orgs specialize in what they do and are able to stretch dollars amazingly far.  A couple clicks online and you’ve done something profound today.

These are specific to GtMD13, but feel free to apply variations of these rules to whenever the next time you feel an itch to spend your money on a cause, on helping others.

P.S.  Not sure where to start, here’s four orgs I’ve given to already.  Consider them vetted and worth your consideration.


*though, if you’re feeling generous, I know a guy

S is for Springbok

I have about 57 ideas for blog posts following my recent trip to Namibia.  But, while I over-think and procrastinate on those, I wanted to at least share this little bit of knowledge now.

This is a springbok:

It’s not as cute as a steenbok:

But it’s still pretty damn adorable:

It is also…

A delicious shot
Amarula cream liqueur on top of peppermint schnapps. As a bonus, this drink is free so long as you are a foreigner and say “What’s a springbok shot?”  If you are a girl, it’s both free and bottomless*.

A delicious meal tender, a knife is optional.

A less than delicious rugby team

I still prefer the All Blacks or Wallabies (or other sports)

*Of course “it” refers to the shot in this case, but, you know, double entendre and all…

Rent v Own (a car for a work trip) Addendum: The Cost of Carbon

A love of over-analysis can be cruel since, if truly embraced, it never is complete.  Analysis begets analysis begets analysis ad infinitum.  So, building off a question from a friend, I realized there were two comparable metrics from my previous post on contrasting renting a car versus driving my own for an out of town work meeting:

  • Dollars – greenbacks, bucks, USD, the most popular false idol
  • Pollution – NOx, SOx, ppm, CO2, “carbon”… that stuff that is often produced by our actions that seriously messes with the planet (where we happen to live) and everything therein and thereon

The end result of my last post was that I had an added cost of $13, which I justified by valuing the more enjoyable 10 hour drive.  However, there’s another aspect to consider.  What if, perhaps, I spent that $13 to reduce the amount of pollution my trip caused.  As I mention, the rental car got 42.5 mpg compared to the 27 mpg that my car would have achieved.  Which means I burned 7.3 fewer gallons on the trip than I would have.

While there’s a mix of pollution from driving (methane, nitrous oxide, carbon monoxide, etc.), let’s stick to the biggest component and the most publicly recongnized: carbon dioxide (CO2).  A gallon of gas burned produces 8,887 g of CO2 (which is about 8.9 kg or 19.6 lbs).  So my rental avoided 143 lbs of CO2.  Which is on the order of what an adult human weighs, so you can go ahead and compare it to the last time you stepped on the scale.  If you want a different visual, a standard basketball holds about 0.25 cubic feet of air and a pound of CO2 fills approximately 8.1 cubic feet*.  So imagine, if you can, 4633 basketballs.  That’s the volume of CO2 I avoided.

But quantities of CO2 is a hard thing to wrap your head around since from there you need to take into account it’s impact on global heat retention and try to grasp what damage all those basketballs would have done.  But let’s not do that.  Let’s stick with the 143 lbs avoided for $13 and how this compares to other things going on to offset or reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.  Another way to put it, how cost effective was it to spend $13 to avoid 143 lbs of CO2.

There’s a pretty famous (at least in certain circles) study, with subsequent updates/revisions, that prices out the cost of GHG reductions in dollars for various methods.  Some seem pretty esoteric, like “reduced slash and burn agriculture conversion,” while others are very straightforward, such as “lighting – switch incandescent to LED (residential).”  In any case, here’s the results in one chart:

Source: McKinsey & Company Global GHG Abatement Cost Curve x2.1

Euros per metric ton of carbon dioxide equivalent (€ per tCO2e)… totally helpful.  This is what we get for letting Europe get ahead of us on dealing with the issue of anthropogenic (or human caused) climate change.  Well, $13 is approximately €9.8 and 143 lbs is about 0.065 tonnes.  Which puts me at about €150 per tCO2.  Sooooooooo, kinda of pricey.

As a carbon offset cost, it looks like again I’m not truly justified in the rental car.  But my conscience is a bit cleaner.  Also, I’m talking about thirteen bucks here.  I should probably just call this reasonable and move on.


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