I say again, the way to energy conservation is price in the marketplace…

Sometimes I just repeat myself, so here I go again:

In order to promote energy conservation, let the free market work.

Really that is the only thing that seems to do it.

People, Americans in particular, don’t seem to like to conserve merely for conservation’s sake, but when the price of gas or diesel begins to hurt them in the pocketbook they cut back or go to more efficient means of using energy.

I’m a long-haul truck driver, not so much in spirit as in actual fact. I mean that is how I have been making my living for about a decade and a half. When I began most of the owner operators (people who are kind of like one-man or one-woman businesses) and other drivers would swear up and down (I would hear this primarily over the CB radio) that driving at slower speeds, say 55, on the freeway did not save fuel. They said such things as their engines ran more efficiently at higher speeds, maybe 65 or more. Besides, it was not worth their while to drive slower and get fewer miles in per day (since miles traveled translates into more dollars in this business, generally speaking).

But since diesel hit $5 and more per gallon at one point, and is still sky high, higher than gasoline, which it used to be cheaper than, I have heard a different tune or more accurately, I have witnessed a different behavior.

I was away from over-the-road trucking for awhile a couple of years ago or so when I had a bout with cancer. When I came back I witnessed two things: fewer trucks on the road and many trucks going somewhat slower than I remember (many, not all).

I am a company driver — I don’t own my truck. My truck, designed primarily for the West Coast where the speed limit is 55 in California and Oregon and 60 in Washington, has its speed electronically governed down to about 63 tops when I’m using my cruise control. So when I am in, say Arizona, where the speed limit may be up to 75, I cannot even go up to the speed limit. In fact, sometimes when there is a warning sign to slow down I can’t even get up to the suggested slow-down rate. Well anyway, that would usually mean a lot of trucks come whizzing by me. But in recent years I have noticed that I pass a lot of trucks.

The other day I was in Arizona at a truck stop and a driver told me that he felt 65 was plenty fast enough. “You save fuel”,  by going slower, he noted.

Also, my company promotes fuel conservation by handing out fuel mileage bonuses. I am chagrinned when I don’t get them. But I got to thinking the other day that maybe part of that is my own fault. I have a computer that gives me constant information on what my fuel consumption average is to the minute. This is not news to me, but it might be something I put aside in my memory some time ago. By easing off of the throttle, one can see the fuel mileage jump up rather startlingly. What I cannot say for a certainty is what the optimum speed should be on the freeway. It may well depend upon the specs for a particular truck’s engine. But I would venture to say, in general it is probably 55. The old saying or line from a song is “I can’t drive fifty five”. Driving at exactly 55 seems dreadfully slow. Law enforcement by their own toleration has put the de facto speed limit at 60 where the posted limit is 55. Most of those drivers who claim they got a ticket for going 56 were probably going 66 and the cop dropped the alleged speed to 56 to give the driver a break on the fine and to save the argument or court challenge.

I also noticed that a neighbor of mine who had been driving an SUV is now driving a smaller car, at least temporarily. She said she swapped with a  relative because she was having to make trips out of town and it is cheaper.

Back to the trucking. Since diesel prices spiked so steeply a few years ago, all kinds of efficiencies have been implemented. Trucks are going slower — again not all. And generators have been installed on lots of trucks (mine included, thankfully) that can be switched on when the trucks are not moving so the driver does not have to idle the engine to run heating and cooling and other necessities — we drivers live in these things for much of our time, you have to understand. The generators use far less fuel per hour than the truck engine and are less polluting. Shippers have done a lot of things in scheduling and dispatching to make runs more efficient. The main thing I have both read about and noticed first hand is that many companies that haul their own product are now backhauling outside freight, thus reducing expensive deadheads (empty miles). While that is more competition for the common carriers (who haul other people’s freight) it does theoretically reduce the amount of trucks on the road. I’ve even read that shippers are cooperating with one another in sharing freight space on trucks.

The bottom line is you can mandate things through government, thus creating a confusing set of rules and another tier of expensive bureaucracy for enforcement and an increase in over all expense and confusion in the marketplace or you can let the pressure of the cost of fuel create its own innovations or new behaviors.

(And government cannot run business practices efficiently. A college professor I had asserted that in the old Soviet Union they always had trouble with their grain harvests. One problem was a shortage of spare parts for combines. In the Soviet state-run industrial style, manufacturers of parts simply churned out what some bureaucratic system told them to, without regard to the real needs out in the field. In the capitalist free market, in order to stay in business parts makers and suppliers have to supply what is needed at any one time.)

There is a lot more going on in non-government coerced and market driven conservation than what I have set forth here, but I think I made my key point, and I am not even a natural free market advocate. And that is not because I am against the free market, it is because it seems to me there is seldom an actual free market. But sometimes the model or system does work.

I do think the public as a whole has been wrong is assuming that we must have all the oil we can use and do anything to make that happen. It has resulted in a vast destruction of the environment and costly wars. But the free market seems to be having more of an effect on conservation so far than anything else.

I suspect that the free market will eventually produce viable alternatives.

Government research grants and other incentives might help, but I think the ethanol boondoggle where farmers are encouraged to grow tons of corn for fuel and thus jack up the cost of food all to produce ethanol which I understand does little to nothing to conserve natural resources or reduce pollution (it may increase pollution, in fact) shows how corn state politics got in the way of good science.


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