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Closet Tree-Hugging

Appendix J

Jay Chen
Dec 2, 2006
0706_sccp_1z+loosening_the_coleman_grip+jay_chen Photo 1/1   |   Closet Tree-Hugging

Several months ago, I had one of those moments of realization while watching a Discovery Channel program on global warming. It wasn't an epiphany, more a reminder of things that I've known and conveniently forgotten. And this realization brought about a sense of shame in my hypocrisy and occupation. I even contemplated quitting. Briefly.

The shame is in what we do as individuals and as a community of gearheads regarding pollution. I'm the most guilty, because I represent an industry that has almost no regard for the state of our health, natural resources or environment. Go ahead, laugh, gasp or even flip to the next page, but it's really something that we all are responsible for yet conveniently ignore. I make my living by egging readers on with our big-power, gas-guzzling project cars with hardly ever a mention of fuel economy or environmental responsibility. But just because it's never mentioned doesn't mean it's not on my mind.

I wasn't always on this side of the fence. As much as I like driving fast cars, I've also worked as an emissions engineer in a developing country, trying to clean up the air from lots of dirty cars. I've also experienced firsthand the immediate effects of mass pollution and indifference. An extreme we never witness here, even in our big cities. It's not pretty and only hits home when your shower water ends up black at the bottom of the tub.

So I've resorted to my editorial soapbox in the hope that someone out there will hear me and maybe contemplate (even briefly) the impact of their actions and how they contribute to the whole. I'm not saying everyone should go out and swap their cars for fuel-cell powered vehicles and buy products manufactured by only geothermal and solar power. Let's be realistic. I'd be satisfied if this rant is enough to make each one of us realize that, as individuals, we contribute to the problem, and to think about the little things we can do to make it better.

But first, it's important to understand the problems associated with using hydrocarbon fuels as a source of energy. There are two basic issues: poisonous emissions and global warming.

Without going into specifics, the internal combustion process of hydrocarbon fuels such as gasoline, produces water, nitrogen, carbon dioxide, plus, in most cases, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, and unburnt hydrocarbons. These last three are poisonous. Even though carbon dioxide is mostly harmless, in large quantities, leading scientists believe it traps radiant heat from the sun like a greenhouse. While photosynthesis in plants can convert some of this back to oxygen, it's just not happening fast enough. Most experts agree its long-term effect on our way of life won't be good.

But its not all doom and gloom. Without drastic changes to our lives, there are some simple things that can be done to at least reduce our contributions:

Don't use as much gas. Whether this means carpooling on occasion or just not driving like an asshole all the time. Easing up on the amount of fuel you burn means less emissions of every kind. Just because your car can make 400hp doesn't mean it has to all the time. And it will save you a buck or two at the pump.

Leave the catalytic converter on, even if your state doesn't mandate one. Modern catalysts are hugely effective at cleaning up the crap that comes out of your engine and are only mildly restrictive. If the couple of horsepower lost really makes a difference, your car wasn't that fast to start with. You'd be better off taking the 50-pound subwoofer, 10 air fresheners and the rest of the useless JDM trinkets out (which also helps with saving gas). Leaving the EGR intact doesn't hurt, either, since it only works at part throttle.

While neither of these ideas are hugely appealing, they won't ruin your reputation as a car guy. They are just simple ways to play your part.

OK, rant over. Next month: non-sissy geek stuff. I promise.

-Jay Chen
Engineering Editor

By Jay Chen
85 Articles

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