How Far Behind is the US in General, and Disney in Particular?

Culture Shock

With apparently ever-increasing globalisation most of us have an expectation that we can travel to other Western countries and find facilities and a culture similar to our own – after all, a McDonald’s Big Mac bought in Paris is recognisably the same as one from New York.

Occasionally, though, we find things to be suddenly different from what we expect. The difference is marked because it is not just a different food or architecture. It is marked – a culture shock – because it arises from very different assumptions about how a culture should be. I had such a feeling twenty-five years ago when, as a member of the British armed forces, I moved into married quarters in Germany. For the first time ever I encountered a culture with sustainability as a core value – we found recycling facilities all along our street, and were given full instructions on how to recycle our waste as part of moving in.

Such an approach was entirely absent in the UK, there we were still wondering whether we should consider starting to recycle some waste, and so returning to the UK felt like going back in time. Of course, since then the UK has caught up, at least to a large extent. For example, there are weekly collections of plastic and metal/can containers, of paper and cardboard, of glass, and of food waste, plus fortnightly collections of garden waste.

I write this as I approach the end of a vacation in Disney World and Florida, having experienced another such step back in time. Things are so far behind here it has been another culture shock. We last visited twenty-five years ago and it seems that the culture in general and Disney World in particular are virtually unchanged over that time.

Conspicuous Consumption and Pollution

It began with our accommodation – a lovely rented villa in a community estate in Davenport, half an hour outside Orlando. It’s huge and well-appointed with a very nice small pool and patio. However, it feels like living in a ‘consumption machine’. I write this in the open-plan kitchen/lounge area. Behind me upstairs the air conditioning system rattles away providing welcome cooling throughout the house – but it seems to be on permanently, 24/7, set to a temperature of 76°F (24°C). The energy consumption must be enormous, but its controls are locked away so we don’t have the choice to turn it off and save energy.

Behind me just outside the wall is the monstrous pump and filter system for the pool, whirring away. In front of me is a massive fridge which almost never goes quiet. Later today we’ll have men coming round making noise along the road (strimmers, leaf blowers, etc.). This evening we’ll have the sprinklers coming on to disturb our sleep. Not just carbon pollution, but noise pollution seems to be an accepted part of life here.

Even the cars of our neighbours coming and going seem inordinately loud, and why must they beep their horns every time they lock the doors? Everything is just so noisy (in this house we even watch TV in the same large living space as the dishwasher, washing machine and tumble dryer). The whole concept of noise pollution seems alien here, as though it were something to be embraced rather than avoided. I can’t imagine how hard it would be to try and get some peace and quiet. Yet in the UK people put a premium on quietness whether it’s buying a quiet car (such as an electric) or a house in the country – here the preference seems to be for cars and houses that are as big and noisy as possible.

The big irony, of course, is that the massive carbon footprint of this house is entirely unnecessary. A big chunk of it is for air conditioning because of the powerful sunshine here, yet it is precisely that excess of solar power that could be powering the house with solar energy for free. Instead, it is using fossil fuels and their associated carbon emissions to try and offset the energy being dissipated on the roof. I’ve only seen one house in the area with solar panels, and I noticed that precisely because it was an isolated example in a sea of blank rooftops.

Part of that irony is that we have solar panels on our home in England, even though we are at a much higher latitude than Florida and so get correspondingly less solar energy. Nonetheless, even with our supposedly cloudy and rainy climate the panels produce more than half the energy used by the house over the course of a year. In Florida a similar setup could potentially power the entire house, and with some left over going into the grid to reduce its overall footprint, or used to fuel an electric car.

It was good to see that our housing estate had a weekly recycling collection, even if it was just a mixed box (and many of our neighbours’ wheelie bins were overflowing with cardboard boxes and other items that could have gone in recycling).

No Leadership From Disney

So on to Disney. Over the last two weeks we have visited Magic Kingdom, Hollywood Studio and Animal Kingdom twice each, and Epcot and the Typhoon Lagoon water park once each. We had a good time on the roller-coaster and other rides, and at the various shows. However, it felt like very little had changed in the last quarter century.

A tram with its diesel exhaust just a few feet from waiting passengers (Image: T. Larkum)

After parking up we were transferred to the park entrances via vehicles referred to as ‘trams’. While in Europe that name implies electric trolley buses, and given their workload and fixed routes these vehicles could have been electric, it was immediately obvious they were not. You didn’t have to get very close to them to hear the roar and smell the nauseous and toxic fumes that gave away that they were powered by massive diesel engines. And this, in the 21st century, and with half the passengers being young children.

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ZOE Primer: First Drive

This is a quick introduction to using the ZOE. It is intended to give just the basic information required for a test drive, use of a ZOE from a hire/rental company, or to get your ZOE home the day you buy it.

Rapid Charging the ZOE (Image: T. Larkum)
Rapid Charging the ZOE (Image: T. Larkum)

Doors

  1. The ZOE is a five door car designed to look like a three door car: the rear doors are opened by pressing on the concealed black handles (marked with a thumbprint) next to the windows.
  2. ZOE uses keyless entry, i.e. it opens electronically via a key fob rather than with a physical key. There are two methods, the simplest is to lock and unlock the doors using the buttons on the key fob.

Driving

  1. The ZOE has been designed to feel like a small automatic car so it has a large gear lever beside the driver. It has the usual positions from front to back: Park (P), Reverse (R), Neutral (N) and Drive (D); these modes and the current selection are shown on the dashboard when power is on.
  2. To start the car:
    1. The gear lever must be in Park (all the way forward).
    2. The key fob must be somewhere within the car.
    3. Press and hold the brake pedal.
    4. Press the Start/Stop button to the left of the steering wheel.
    5. The car will start with an audible chime and ‘READY’ will show on the dashboard – the car is ready to move.
  3. To move away engage the Drive gear position (with foot still on brake) and release the handbrake (beside the driver’s seat).
  4. Note that the ZOE has been programmed with ‘creep’, i.e. it will move forward like an automatic even when the accelerator is not pressed.
  5. The ZOE has both conventional and electronic brakes and at low speed, below about 10mph, the brakes can feel a bit ‘grabby’ especially if you are not used to it; take care in car parks and other confined spaces.
  6. There will be an external sound for warning pedestrians when you drive forward up to about 20mph. Note, however, there is no warning sound when reversing.
  7. Once in Drive mode, since there is no gearbox, you can accelerate up to maximum speed (about 84mph) without changing gear.
  8. You can come to a complete stop in Drive If you are stopping for any length of time you should then engage the handbrake and Park mode.
  9. To turn off completely use the Start/Stop

Charging

  1. If charging from a home charge point ensure it is powered up and ready (a Chargemaster/Polar charge point shows an amber light, for example).
  2. Ensure the car is in Park mode, the handbrake is engaged and the motor is off (no ‘READY’ sign).
  3. Release the charging port door (it carries the Renault badge on the nose) using the button on the key fob.
  4. Open the charging port door (which swings to your left) and the internal charging port cover (which swings to your right) by hand.
  5. Insert the charging cable from the charge point. This should be followed by an audible click as the ZOE locks the connector into place (it cannot be pulled out by hand).
  6. If charging from a public charge point, at this point you need to initiate a charge (the method will depend on the charge point model).
  7. The ZOE dashboard will read ‘Ongoing Checks’ as it communicates with the charge point. The charge point will also likely give an indication (a Chargemaster/Polar unit will show amber and green lights, for example).
  8. When the charge begins it will be accompanied by a high pitched whine (not always audible to everyone). The dashboard will show how long the charge will take as ‘Time Remaining : ’ plus an hours:minutes display. It will also show the percentage charge complete.
  9. The car should be locked if unattended, but operating the locks and doors has no effect on the charge operation.
  10. The ZOE may sit at 99% for a long time to battery balance – it does no harm to stop charging at this or any other point occasionally if it’s convenient (e.g. when in a rush).
  11. If at a public charge point the charge should be stopped at the charge point. A home charge point can be turned off or left on and the cable simply disconnected.
  12. Release the charge cable connector using the button on the key fob, and withdraw the connector.
  13. Close the charging port cover and charging port door; charging is complete.

Source: Fuel Included Blog