Texas populist Jim Hightower puts out a monthly newsletter that usually contains a pearl or two of wisdom surrounded by a whole bunch of leftist shellfishness. The January 2002 issue, apart from a piece about free trade and how bad it is and a piece about John Ashcroft and how bad he is, deals mainly with oil and why we persist in using so damn much of it. And some of it makes quite a bit of sense: for one thing, the sniggering of the oil-besotted Bushniks notwithstanding, conservation is not only viable but essential, unless you like having your dollars diverted to a phalanx of post-deregulation middlemen. (Can you say "Enron"?) All it takes is a sensible ten-year plan.

If Jim had left it there, he might have performed a public service. Instead, though, he decided to get into some standard greenozoid automobile bashing, which peaks with the following bald-faced (and boldfaced in the original) platitude:

"We're in our second war in a decade to protect Persian Gulf oligarchies. Will we put our kids into a third because we lack the gumption to put them instead into 33-m.p.g. cars?"

Criminy, Jim, have you seen my kids? Daughter's pushing five-ten, son is six-four and a fraction, and you want me to wedge them (or, for that matter, me) into some scrawny HO-scale sort of car for the sake of politics? Now imagine some poor woman with three teenagers who won't sit near each other at the dinner table, let alone in an automobile. You want her doing Mom's Taxi duty in a Hyundai Elantra? Isn't there something in the Constitution about cruel and unusual punishment?

Oh, you meant an average of 33 mpg? That means that my modest (and none too speedy) sedan that gets 22 mpg has to be offset by some other car that scores 44. Jim is scornful of current vehicles, which average "no better than 20 miles per gallon". Then again, there are over two hundred million of them; at current sales rates, every car, every truck, every van sold in this country for the next ten years would have to average nearly 50 mpg to bring us to Jim's 33-mpg nirvana. And just how is this supposed to happen? "Fuel cells," says Jim, the way Mr McGuire says "Plastics" to Benjamin Braddock. After all, fuel cells burn hydrogen, and we've got hydrogen out the wazoo, don't we?

Well, yes and no. What we don't have is a lot of free hydrogen in the mood to combine with oxygen; as any first-year chemistry student knows, hydrogen avidly enters into combination with all manner of elements, which means that you don't find it just lying around ready to use, which means that the first order of business is to separate the gas from all that Other Stuff. And that dictates the second order of business, which is based on the fact that hydrogen avidly enters into combination with all manner of elements. Explosively, at times. This is not the kind of substance you can keep in a can in the garage next to the lawn mower. And since the energy available from a given quantity of hydrogen is far less than you can get from the same amount of those hated fossil fuels, you're going to have to carry a lot of it or fill up about six times as often. (Your mileage may vary.) Not that Jim Hightower is going to care about either your safety or your convenience; he's on a Mission. I say we make him walk.

The Vent

17 January 2002

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