Wednesday, December 02, 2009

high-tech, high-speed hypocrisy


The picture is a picture of Earthrace, the current record holder for traveling around the world in a power boat. They have one of those horrible, buggy, slow-loading, active-content websites designed by someone with more enthusiasm than taste or talent, so getting the following information was painful (in fact I ended up getting most of the information elsewhere).

Before I talk about the part where he killed somebody with his hobby, let's talk about the environmentalist hypocrisy. This guy is trying to sound like Earthrace is some sort of Green Machine. He brags about three things in this regard: biodiesel fuel, a solar panel, and non-toxic bottom paint. To take them in order:

1. Biodiesel is just diesel made from plants. There is no technological innovation needed to use it. You put it your standard diesel engine and go (for some kinds of biodiesel you may have to prewarm it). Using biodiesel in an enormous high-polluting engine is just tokenism. And to add insult injury Earthrace doesn't use pure biodiesel, it adds a product of animal fat. That sort of fuel isn't even sustainable because you could not possibly build a fuel infrastructure based on animal fat.

And don't forget: this guy created a 1,000-horsepower boat with no purpose other than to go really, really fast --an enormously wasteful, expensive, hi-tech toy designed to gratify his desire to break a world record. Just to be clear, I don't have any problem with that, but this biodiesel gimmick is clearly just a bone that he is throwing to the environmentalists in an effort to keep them from vilifying him like they normally would anyone who did something like this.

And here is the final irony. With those huge biodiesel engines, they still couldn't beat the overall around-the-world record which is still held by sail boat.

2. The solar panel is just laughable. Those two 500 horsepower engines are running at cruising speed almost the entire time someone is aboard the boat, and an alternator capable of serving all of their power needs would probably make no measurable difference in fuel usage. The only purpose of a solar panel in a power boat is for when the boat is sitting idle for long periods with people living on it. This boat was never meant to be used like that so the panels provide nothing useful, but manufacturing them was expensive in terms of energy and other environmental damage.

3. Bottom paint is intended to keep barnacles and other things from attaching to the bottom of the boat and slowing it down. Some of these paints have substances like copper that are toxic to many marine species. It's really great that an organization that can afford a multi-million-dollar boat as fancy toy is willing to hire people to go and scrape the crud off the boat rather than add toxic substances to the water. I'm serious about that, not sarcastic. All rich yacht owners should do that. But it's not the sort of financial sacrifice in the name of the environment that justifies bragging how green you are with your 1,000-horsepower boat. Nor is it any sort of demonstration that non-toxic bottom paint is a viable solution for average boaters.

On their first record attempts, Earthrace collided with another boat and killed a Guatemalan fisherman. It was just an accident, right? Who ever could have thought that racing along a coast at 20 knots at night in an area where fishermen still fish in low-tech boats with a helmsman who is probably exhausted by many days at sea in a high-speed motorboat might be dangerous?

Well, if they didn't know it was dangerous the first time, they surely knew it was dangerous the second time. Fortunately, on the second attempt they didn't kill anyone, but they were willing to risk other people lives again. But I guess that's not hypocrisy if you only care about the environment and not about other human beings. It's just living your beliefs. Except, of course for all of the environmental damage you are doing in that 1000-horsepower boat.

And now this goofball is lending the boat to those Sea Shepherd goofballs who harass Japanese whalers. They are going to use a 1000-horsepower powerboat to interfere with boats pursuing whales. I see another killing in this boat's future. Accidental, of course. Who could have thought that racing around at high speed, deliberately interfering with other people who are running at high speed while trying to concentrate on a job might lead to an accident?

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