This Tire Gauge Thing Depresses Me

Ken AshfordElection 2008, Energy and Conservation1 Comment

To summarize, Obama mentioned to voters in Missouri that there are things individuals can do to help conserve energy, including bringing their cars in for regular tune ups, and keeping their tires properly inflated. He added that the amount of energy to be saved by routine auto maintenance is comparable to the savings we’d get from the GOP’s coastal drilling policy.

Unhinged conservatives everywhere, including McCain himself, began to argue that keeping tires inflated was the sum total of Obama’s energy policy.  "Hahahaha, what an idiot!"  they cry.  "Obama thinks we can cure our energy problem and dependance on foreign oil merely by keeping our tires inflated?"

Well, no, morons.  What Obama said isn’t particularly difficult or nuanced.  He said there that keeping tires inflated is one of the many low-cost and easy things that we can, and should, be doing.  To say that it is the sum of his entire energy plan is, of course, insane.

Then, to a lesser extent, some on the right argued that Obama had exaggerated the potential efficiency benefits associated with tire care.  But this more reasoned argument, as it turns out, isn’t true either. Time’s Michael Grunwald sets the record straight.

[W]ho’s really out of touch? The Bush Administration estimates that expanded offshore drilling could increase oil production by 200,000 bbl. per day by 2030. We use about 20 million bbl. per day, so that would meet about 1% of our demand two decades from now. Meanwhile, efficiency experts say that keeping tires inflated can improve gas mileage 3%, and regular maintenance can add another 4%. Many drivers already follow their advice, but if everyone did, we could immediately reduce demand several percentage points. In other words: Obama is right. […]

The real problem with the attacks on his tire-gauge plan is that efforts to improve conservation and efficiency happen to be the best approaches to dealing with the energy crisis — the cheapest, cleanest, quickest and easiest ways to ease our addiction to oil, reduce our pain at the pump and address global warming. It’s a pretty simple concept: if our use of fossil fuels is increasing our reliance on Middle Eastern dictators while destroying the planet, maybe we ought to use less.

The RNC is trying to make the tire gauge a symbol of unseriousness, as if only the fatuous believed we could reduce our dependence on foreign oil without doing the bidding of Big Oil. But the tire gauge is really a symbol of a very serious piece of good news: we can use significantly less energy without significantly changing our lifestyle.

It creates an odd dynamic — conservative Republicans want Americans to believe there’s nothing individuals can do; they should just wait for the government to allow additional coastal drilling.

Grunwald added the right actually has this entire issue backwards.

[T]hings like tire gauges can reduce gas bills and carbon emissions now, with little pain and at little cost and without the ecological problems and oil-addiction problems associated with offshore drilling. These are the proverbial win-win-win solutions, reducing the pain of $100 trips to the gas station by reducing trips to the gas station.

Even if one disagrees with the numbers about keeping well-maintained cars, in the aggregate, will help, is there anyone who doubts that it will help conserve?  Anyone?  And isn’t it just plain irresponsbile for a presidential candidate to mock those ideas in a time of a national energy crisis?

So that’s why the whole tire gauge thing depresses me.  A sound, reasonable comment, which is undeniable gets turned into political fodder and makes countless thousands of Americans actually believe — incorrectly — that there is nothing we as individuals can do to help conserve energy.