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Friday, November 09, 2007


Here is a very silly article in the Guardian which rather wound me up. It is about how the government should put massive subsidies into getting freight off the roads onto canals because:

"Transportation by water is more environment-friendly than lorries or trains. It can also make sound business sense."

OK we are used to the economic illiteracy of greens telling us that only government subsidy can persuade businesses to go for the more economical alternative, but this article shows an ignorance even more basic than that of the laws of economics.

I commented that transport by canals is not energy saving because the laws of physics make travel through water harder work than travel through air.

"Pushing material through water inherently produces more friction than going through air (try it & see) & therefore, by the laws of physics uses much more energy.

Where water transport scores is that it is possible to transport much larger quantities & the larger the quantity the lower the proportion of surface area to volume (called the square cube law), The lower the surface area the less the friction. This is why a million ton supertanker is such a very efficient transport medium & brings up the average of energy efficiency quite a bit (bigger engines can also be more efficient).

However supertankers don't work very well on our canal system.

This is yet another bit of Luddite special pleading claiming subsidising them is "more efficient". It would be nice if some people in the "environmentalist" movement knew as much modern physics as was available to Archimedes."

Which resulted in an argument with some other commenters who claimed "Water is frictionless. If it were not, then torrents would probably boil. What the problem is, is rather the resistance of the water"

To which I replied - Look Hen that is friction (by definition)

"Physics: A force that resists the relative motion or tendency to such motion of two bodies in contact."

There were intelligent posters there, in particular Tumblehome, but the fact that the Guardian, which considers itself the home of "liberal intellectuals" could base a whole article on assertions which are clearly entirely contrary to basic physics, purely to push their "environmental" agenda & that so many apparently intelligent readers share their ignorance says nothing good about our county's decision making process. From the number of government job ads it gets the Guardian is clearly in tune with those who run our civil service.

Perhaps the time has come to change entrance & promotion requirements for the civil service so that a knowledge of physics, chemistry, engineering & accountancy might be held in higher respect than what are known as "classics". Running a modern country is a serious undertaking & the people doing it should know such basic stuff.

PS The Scottish Lib Dems also had a motion last year saying that canals are more energy efficient than roads, but then you expect that from them.

There is a complication. Other than submarines, boats occupy the interface of the water and air, and much of the energy expended goes into making waves.
Thanks - didn't know that. That explains why it was possible to design submarines which can move faster underwater than on the surface. That had always seemed improbable to me.
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