OT: Green Science and Bogus Mathematics

With the climate summit in Copenhagen now finished, I wanted to make a few comments about a trend that really annoys me. I'm fairly "green oriented" in my outlook but amongst "green" scientists and advocates, there is an endless desire to make each cause sound much stronger than the facts permit. I think this does their support more harm than good. The recent expose on modified emails bore that out only too well but I want to show a few simpler examples.

Solar Heating

In Australia, we're encouraged to reduce our power consumption. This seems a great goal. One way of doing this is to install solar power heating. For a country like Australia that's not short on sunshine, you'd think that's a no-brainer. What annoys me though is how the message is pushed. We're endlessly told it will "save us money". This is based on logic like:

1. You buy a solar hot water system

2. You use \$30 less electricity every quarter

3. Therefore the unit pays for itself

This logic can only appeal to people that don't get that money costs money. If I pay \$3000 to have a unit installed, I've lost an opportunity of more than \$30 every quarter. Worse, if I borrow money to purchase it (on a credit card), I'll be paying at least \$150 per quarter in interest on that \$3000.

I'm keen to see solar units installed across the country. But please don't apply bogus mathematics to justify it. Much better to just tell us: "it'll cost you money but you'll be doing your part to help".

Water Saving Devices

Another annoying one is water-saving shower heads. The logic works something like:

1. Four people in the house take a 10 minute shower each day.

2. A 5 star shower head reduces water flow to 54%

3. Fitting one will save 46% of the water used for showers.

Seems simple logic???

What is completely ignored is that showers with water-saving shower heads are often longer than with standard shower heads. I did some testing at my house. I actually use *less* water with a zero-star shower head than with a five-star one. Why? Because the ultra-green heating unit feeding it doesn't get working properly until the water has been flowing for some time, so I have to turn it on for a while before I can get into it. Then, the low flow makes it harder to use for cleaning (most people have experienced the need to run around in a five star shower just to get wet). Washing hair, etc. takes much longer with a "green" shower head and so on.

All the five star shower head does is cause me to use more water, to have a lousy shower and waste a bunch of time. It's not as simple as the bogus mathematics used to support it.

5 thoughts on “OT: Green Science and Bogus Mathematics”

1. Jonathan Kehayias says:

Greg,
Maybe off topic, but a good discussion nonetheless.  We've slowly made changes in our own house to try and be slightly more "green", and as you point out, some of them pay dividends, while some of them don't.  We contemplated the solar water heaters since Florida, much like Australia is sunny year round.  It is December, and while other parts of the US have 18-24" of snow forecast, we have 60 degree weather, which makes it hard to get into the holiday spirit sometimes.
We tried the water saving shower heads and found the same issues you did; we spent longer in the shower and consumed on average the same or more water.  One place we saw savings, was changing out the toilets in our house from the original 1.5 GPF (gallon per flush) toilet to a newer .75 GPF unit which is still effective but saves money.  This is actually a realized savings since the cost of the newer unit is fairly low (< \$300 for a high end unit most places).
Our biggest savings was swapping out our older A/C and Heating unit for a more modern one.  The old unit was original to our house which is 21 years old and rated a 6 SEER.  The newer unit was rated 14 SEER, and has already paid for itself 2 years later in energy costs.  Our average power bill in the summer went from \$600 a month to approximately \$260 a month with this change alone.  Coupled with this, for the two months we used heat in the winter our first year owning this house, we pad \$500-600 a month in power versus \$180 with the new unit that includes a heat pump instead of electric heat strips only which is much more efficient.
You definitely have to pay attention to the actual facts rather than just listening to the marketing blab alone.

2. AK says:

That's right. Also many one-gallon-per-flush toilets need several flushes. Also hybrid cars do not quite deliver as promised.

3. Paul Cahill says:

Hi Greg
The bottom line is that there are just too many humans for the planet to support. Everything else is just window dressing although I grant that letting good water go down the plug hole is plain stupid.
My hero David Attenborough is a patron of this organisation.
http://www.optimumpopulation.org/

4. Jon Crawford says:

The hybrid cars will do better once they become less of a novelty item, or in the more gas-guzzling type of cars like SUVs. I thought about buying a hybrid Civic, but ended up buying a regular LX because by the time the cost differential would have been made up in gas savings, I'd already have paid the car off anyway.

5. WIle says:

I think you are spot on Greg.  Even your quoted facts can be found contradicted if you look hard enough.
Looking at "Green" and what we are up to and what can be done is SUCH A MUDDY POND.   Also…  as happens in software,  developments in tech are not shared until the developer has made his fortune…   even then it is sometimes suppressed.
http://wile1one.spaces.live.com/blog/cns!45E5B24B1DAF822E!308.entry  will illustrate the absurdness and the irony for those who agree.
So we look to our leaders to light the path…  and find a bunch of squabbling nutcases.  The Greens dont even have a defined plan for us. I dont know that an answer has presented Greg…  But I will certainly keep my ear to the ground