Danger of saving the planet with homespun wisdom

I am staring at a “viral” image of a car plastered with cow-dung and a caption “Everyone should do this and save the environment”.

There is little doubt that the idea has come from someone with best intentions, who has put two plus two of insulating quality of cow-dung and environmental impact of fuel used when running a car AC together. 

It is a great example of homespun wisdom being applied to a huge problem and making a lot of sense to the man on the street.

If we look at most really nice people wanting to save the planet, ranging from Sadhguru going around in 4000 CC Mercedes planting trees on the riverbanks to the lady plastering cow-dung on the car, there is one thing common. These solutions are oh-so-simple that most people now on a guilt trip of “we are destroying nature” are instantly moved by the logic and support their implementation.

Unfortunately, if you feel why no car designer had seen the simple solution of pasting cow dung (or to make it secular, any other insulating material on a car), or why no one thought of planting trees on the river banks till Sadhguru had his Eureka moment, there is actually one really simple and extremely likely reason, and that is such ideas don’t work.

The main job of a car is to cut through air with least resistance as air-drag takes up almost half the energy consumed by a car. So, finding the most efficient aerodynamic shape is key to making a car that is less fuel consuming and thus more “green”.

As air-drag also depends of the finish of the external surface, car designers are not able to put insulators on outer surface, as it would increase the drag and increase fuel consumption. So, normal cars are loaded with insulators inside instead of outside. 

You may like to argue that city-driving is slower and hence drag would play lesser role making outer cow-dung insulation workable. But, unfortunately for you, nature always enlists a lot of devils in the detail. The cow-dung car would not only be heavier, the coating will also alter the shape of the car and increase the drag and thus will end up consuming more fuel.

In short, while not doubting the good intent, for a car designer who understands role of aerodynamics in making environmentally-friendly car, a person going gaga over cow-dung coated car is like someone telling a doctor that acute septicaemia can be cured just by drinking a lot of water as water would wash out the toxins.

I do appreciate that someone has looked at need of reducing environmental pollution caused by fuel-guzzling air-conditioned car and tried an innovative idea, but I have one humble suggestion to all the planet saviours, i.e. if a solution makes immediate sense to you, it is highly unlikely to work.

You may wonder what harm is there in spreading an idea that may not be working but at least has a good intention.

The problem is, the entire save-the-planet space is now cluttered with these pseudo-solutions that are full of cow-dung but have captured public attention because they are easy to digest for the masses. 

They have now created an almost Jehadi brigade, especially of young minds who are keen to jump to conclusions without understanding that we don’t know the planet enough for saving it so easily. 

It is actually not the planet but us humans who need saving, and it will be possible only and only if we really do a lot of research instead of falling for homespun wisdom. 

I am happy to admit that I have managed surviving till now with minimum effort as all my intellect has be used to avoid doing anything meaningful. As I needed to while all the free time I generated in course of being lazy, science has been my favorite muse that I have enjoyed company of. As an effort to kill time (in a way, to get even with it) one fine day I decided to write a science column, more for my personal amusement than to attract readers. After getting educated about the attention span of modern readers from my editor, it became more like a challenge to tackle esoteric subjects in 600 words that I have managed to remain interested in for more than a year now. I do not want to add my worldly profile here as these are ideas that need to be considered only on the merits they carry and not as an opinion of a certain human being.

5 comments on “Danger of saving the planet with homespun wisdom

  1. Dr.Samiksha Trivedi

    Agree totally with you, Samirbhai


  2. Anonymous

    And why planting doesn’t help?


  3. Anonymous

    Agreed on cow dung shit, it’s a bad solution. Whats wrong with planting tree ?


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