Friday, May 10, 2013

Wonder Trailer - Helping Save the Day!

I'll start off by saying I built a trailer for my bike. Or rather, repurposed one. And it was 100% free. I'm saying this now 'cause Ima drone on about the environmental and social impact of oil and your eyes might glaze over for a bit. So stick with me and I'll wander back to how, slash why, I did it.

I've been an avid cyclist for many years. I started commuting to school and work back in 19dickity2 on a hundred dollar mountain bike. Parts would literally fall off while I was riding it. I'd be pedaling and hear something like a nut or washer tinkling along the road behind me. One time a pedal snapped off when I stood up to ascend a hill, resulting in a very impressive gainer over the handlebars and into traffic. This was long before Boise was blessed with the Boise Bicycle Project and I could have fixed it on a college student's budget.

I started riding because I was becoming quite the pantload and desperately needed exercise. Gas was south of a buckfiddy a gallon back then, so economics didn't play a part. At that price, we treated gas like it was coming out of a garden hose. But exercise and current economic impact are only 2/3 of the reason I continue to ride. The other 50% (pardon me while I mount my high horse) is because of our addiction to oil. I firmly believe the internal combustion engine is the best and worst thing that has happened to mankind. We all know it has an enormous Yang, but it's got an equal Yin to boot.

The environmental impact of oil is unconscionable. We've all seen the impact of the Exxon Valdez, and the BP oil "spill". Those atrocities and the next 8 largest spills combined are a mere drop in the bucket compared to what Saddam's henchmen did while fleeing Kuwait.

Let's not forget greenhouse gasses. Clear back in 2010, the population of the earth's automobiles surpassed one billion. Unfortunately, few of us have a billion of anything, and as a species we are not equipped to fully comprehend what the word 'billion' represents (don't believe me? Fill a trunk with sand and ask people to guess how many grains of sand it contains) or what the exhaust from an incomprehensible number of vehicles can do.

And then there's the social impact. Obesity, making billionaires multi-billionaires while the rest of us balk at how expensive our milk is, and funding both sides of a war.

Since I drive an old Chevy pickup (when did '96 become "old"?) that gets 13 mpg when it's being towed, I decided a few years ago that I needed to reduce my impact by driving it as little as necessary. Fortunately, as the years have rolled on, I've been able to whittle down my definition of "necessary." I'll ride much farther than I used to, in colder/hotter temperatures, and under more varied circumstances. Then I stumbled across this TED Talk. And I realized I had to whittle and hone that definition a great deal further.

Please watch it. It's 15 minutes of your life and at the very least I hope readers will turn their cars off in the drive-thru or better plan their trips to the grocery store so they can eliminate a trip here or there. And at the most, ride a bike whenever possible. If you don't watch it, fine. But you won't escape the gist, which is - when you drill for oil you make a small hole in the Earth and pump it from underground and, near as I can tell, as long as you don't start pumping it into an ocean or run a boat into a rock it's pretty much the best way we have of getting oil outta the ground. However, when it is mined from tar sand, it is often strip mined and everything on/in/under the Earth is
removed. To get one barrel of oil in this fashion it takes up to four tons of tar sand (which is at a depth of 130-200 feet, so that number does not even include the massive amount of Earth that has to be removed just to get down to the tar) and at least 126 gallons of water - which is polluted and pumped into unlined holding ponds that are so large they can be seen from the international space station. The smallest of these mines produces 169,000 barrels per day. No wonder there is a lake and major river smack dab in the middle of this operation (see below). And as the speaker states "let's face it, we are all downstream..." Currently, mining is taking place at ten sites making it "the world's largest, and most environmentally devastating industrial complex" and there are 40 to 50 more sites seeking approval. The current approval/request rate is 1/1.

Below is one site, viewed from 21 miles above the Earth. In the upper left quarter is Mildred Lake. There are multiple unlined tailings ponds which sit as close as ~1,500 ft from the Athabasca River. Not only have the toxins leaching into the river made the fish inedible, there has also been at least one spill that (by corporate estimates) dumped 800,000 gallons of oil into the Athabasca. Something tells me they're not estimating on the high end. And for your final piece of perspective... take a stab at guessing the size of this mine (remember the photo is from 21 miles up).

I guessed 5 miles east to west. Not even close. According to Google Earth's measuring tool, it's 23 miles across at it's widest point. It's only 10 miles from Table Rock to Eagle Road (those are Boise landmarks). The entire city of Boise and its 250,000 residents would fit in this mine... twice. It is literally the size of the Grande Ronde Valley. I have a problem with this!!! As a crow flies, 23 miles is the distance from Kona to Waikoloa Village, Table Rock to Middleton, Great Falls to Fort Shaw, Las Vegas to... uh... wow... there is nothing out there... ok. To some nondescript point 23 miles out in the desert surrounding Las Vegas.

The most effective way to end this practice is to reduce demand. If they can't sell the oil, they aren't going to spend the money to strip mine for it. As long as there is money to be made, someone will want to mine it and someone will approve it.

Here's some rough math. If we saved 3 gallons of gas each year for every man, woman and child in the US, that would eliminate the need for the mine pictured above.

Here's an easy rule of thumb that would make a massive difference if it were followed by all of the 1 billion drivers of the vehicles and it is, by far, the easiest. It requires little or no effort on the part of the driver. If you're not driving it, turn your vehicle off. You never run your blender when you're not using it. You turn off the range immediately when you're done using the burners. And yet, there are times we leave our vehicles running when we aren't driving them.

According to AAA, a good rule of thumb is that a car burns .25 gallons of gas idling for 15 minutes. If every driver cut 15 minutes of idling each year... well that's fairly easy math. It's 113 million gallons of oil each year by reducing idling time by one minute 15 seconds per month. You can hold your breath that long! Ultimately, the point I'm trying to make is if everyone does a tiny bit, even 2.5 seconds of idling per day, it makes a difference that would... well gosh... it would replace the need for more than half of the oil pumped into the Gulf of Mexico for 87 days in 2010.

Every day I run past a grade school around 3pm as the parents are lining the adjacent streets to pick up their children. While they wait for the bell, a full 2/3 of these vehicles are running. Everytime I go to the bank or grocery store there are folks sitting in their running vehicle, waiting for someone inside. For the life of me, I can't come up with a single good reason for burning that gas. Here's a fun fact from the University of Washington (I think. I couldn't refind the report, but the state of California confirms it) - fuel injected cars do not burn more gas on startup, and wear and tear from extra startups is so minimal that the cost savings of the gas more than makes up for the potential for additional maintenance costs.

So, to make a short story longer, I repurposed a bike trailer to further reduce the use of my truck. I live within two miles of four major grocery stores (and Wallyworld is building a fifth) as well as several small ones. If I needed more than a few items or needed some delicate foods, it wasn't reasonable to stuff it all in my backpack, so I'd drive.

I had been looking for a used bike trailer that I could convert for several months. But they were mostly in great condition and more than $100. So my sister put a post on and within a week someone gave me their old bike trailer.

I stripped it down to the frame, but left the sides intact for optimum aerodynamics. Also because I twisted off a bolt and now that's pretty much what's holding the top to the frame. Plus, it had pockets which converted conveniently to a wine/beer tote.

The crates came from the back of  Zacoalco Super Market and Carnicerea. They're used for produce and when sufficiently worn, they stack them next to their dumpster. So I liberated a few of them, tacking them back together here and there, and attaching them to a scrap sheet of plywood with a couple flat head bolts and wing nuts. The plywood is attached with four 1" U-bolts. If I want to haul something larger the boxes can easily be removed. As you can see the front box is slightly smaller and offset so that wine tote pocket is easily accessible, and there is a gap between the boxes for items that I don't want smashed. Like bread or fresh fruit and veggies. To finish the project I glued and bolted some old bike reflectors that my wife and I have found lying in the road.

I can haul all the groceries that we need as well as haul empty wine bottles to the recyclers, make trips to Home Depot, the in-laws, Farmer's Market, etc. I figure it'll save me an additional 7.5 gallons of gas per year.