Archive for the ‘Climate Change’ Category

Post-Election Musings

November 25th, 2012 Comments off

Now that the 2012 elections are behind us, and the pundits – of both the left and right persuasions – are backwards-analyzing everything that was said and done, and how it culminated in the slate of political “leaders” that will take us forward for the next several years, it’s also an appropriate time to take a look at things from an automotive perspective. Below are a few random thoughts, including statistics which may be completely made up.

What you drive says a lot about who you voted for. And I don’t simply mean the Obama/Biden or Romney/Ryan sticker on your rear bumper. For example, in the Presidential election, more than 100% of Volvo wagon drivers voted for President Obama. Similarly, nearly every Toyota Prius driver went with the incumbent. On the other hand, Mitt Romney captured the vote of 3 out of every 4 Ford Mustang drivers. The same ratio holds true for Chevy Camaro owners – although the 25% that voted for Obama are all General Motors employees. Cadillac owners voted overwhelmingly for Romney – obviously. And Nissan Leaf owners – both of them – cast their ballot for Obama. Subaru drivers also helped keep Obama in the White House, as that brand is not only a favorite among outdoorsy hippie-types, but also lesbians. Scion drivers? Well, they didn’t vote in this election, since they’re all under the age of 18.

There is a lot of ignorance about where our energy comes from. Especially for our cars. Not long before the election, I heard conspiracy theories every time gasoline prices dipped a bit, proclaiming that the President was manipulating them in order to win the election, as if there were a knob located underneath the Resolute Desk that controls the digits you see on the sign at your local gas station. Gasoline prices are driven, for the most part, by the price of oil, which is a commodity traded in a global market, with prices dictated by supply and demand. The only way to keep gasoline prices low are to (1) increase supply (which is very short-sighted, given that petroleum is a finite resource), and/or (2) reduce demand (which we can do – with significant effort – domestically, but it will likely have little impact due to the expected exponential growth in demand from other countries like China and India, unless they follow suit). The only way the federal government can directly affect gasoline prices is via the federal gasoline tax – which hasn’t changed from the level of 18.4¢/gallon since 1993. (For an honest look at domestic oil production, check out what my smart friend Patrick Bean has to say.)

The partisan fighting extends to the automotive world. On a road trip earlier this year, I was stuck in traffic next to a Ford Mustang Shelby GT500 – an impressive piece of machinery with a supercharged 5.8L V8 making 662 horsepower. And although we were doing the stop-and-roll on I-95 South out of Washington, D.C. averaging about 15 mph, that exhaust sounded so sweet. I was impressed – until I noticed the decal which featured a fat middle finger pointing upwards, with the caption, “F*ck your Prius” in his passenger-side rear quarter window. I’m still not sure what the sentiment is there, unless it’s “I paid twice as much for my muscle-car as you did for your *overpriced* hybrid, and now I’m stuck in traffic going the same speed as you.

CAFE standards will become significantly more impactful through 2025. One of the current administration’s first-term achievements was the issuance of the joint Final Rule for fuel efficiency standards, developed by the Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Department of Transportation, which will effectively set the fuel economy target of light-duty vehicles at 54.5mpg by 2025. As with most every other signature accomplishment of the current President, from the beginning of the primaries the field of challengers nearly all promised to change course and rid the nation of such “job killing” regulations. But now that there’s more certainty that the new standards will be around for a while, the automakers will start commercializing technologies to meet them. And that’s a good thing.

Climate change, recently pushed to the back-burner, has now fallen off the stove. Four years ago, much of the political discussion was around a price for carbon – whether in the form of a carbon tax or a system of cap and trade. Climate change was becoming a mainstream topic of debate. And while a few actions have been implemented (see CAFE standards above), the topic of global warming has all but melted and flowed down the Potomac out of D.C. Perhaps this is the success of a relatively few climate change skeptics who operate at the fringe? Which would be unfortunate, given that, of the 13,926 peer-reviewed scientific journal articles that related to climate science, only 24 reject the notion of climate change. As I’ve said before, the science is proven – the only remaining question is the degree to which we’ll alter the climate system.

Maybe I should start printing bumper stickers that read, “F*ck your climate.” I expect there’ll be quite a market.

Teaching By Example

November 4th, 2009 Comments off

I have a 5-year-old son.  He’ll be six in a couple of weeks.  Recently, he told me, “Daddy, when I grow up, I want to make fast cars, but ones that don’t have exhaust pipes, so they don’t hurt the earth.” …Talk about a proud father moment… Now, I’d like to take credit for his coming up with this thought.  And, for the most part, I probably can.  I’ve spent the past 2 years focused on exactly what he’s talking about, a fact which has impacted his life as much as it has mine.  (On the other hand, he’s spent every day of his life – until recently – knowing that daddy has a race car in the garage, and that he tows it with an enormous pick-up truck.  …I’m glad he chose to focus on the positive.)  Plus, he does go to a school where being aware of the natural world is a big part of the curriculum.

But this got me thinking: there are currently over a quarter of a BILLION motor vehicles registered in the U.S. (and about a BILLION worldwide).  And if we keep the status quo, those numbers could double in the coming decades, with disastrous results for our environment, the climate, national security, the economy, and our standard of living.  Now, most in the auto industry have finally acknowledged that combustion exhaust is bad.  (And to the climate-change skeptics that remain, I ask, “My kindergartener gets it, so why can’t you?“)   And more and more folks are working on ways to transform transportation in a broader sense, and not just clean up our cars.  But we’re just getting started.  If things are going to change, it’s the kids of today who are really going to have to effect it.  If they grow up with the mindset that, “my parents drive a big SUV, so I will too one day,” then stagnation occurs.  On the other hand, if they are taught early on that the way things are isn’t the way things have to be, then change becomes all the more possible.

I can’t wait to see what our cars will look like 20 years from now.  And I can’t wait to find out if they’ll still be our primary mode of conveyance, or if we’ll just use them sparingly, for fun.  (I’d much prefer to take public transit during the week, and drive a Porsche on the weekends…)  But mostly, I can’t wait to see if my son might actually follow through on his fleeting yet poignant declaration.  ...And if the cars are fast, like he plans, then that WILL be a proud father moment indeed!

Toy Cars

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Climate Change & Jobs

June 28th, 2009 Comments off

This is not a political blog.

The Waxman-Markey bill (formally, the American Clean Energy and Security Act) passed the House Friday.  This bill effectively sets up a carbon cap-and-trade system, putting a cap on CO2 emissions, and setting up a tradeable permit system whereby those who emit must purchase allowances (and those who can more cheaply reduce their emissions are able to sell their allowances).  Though the bill narrowly passed (and may face a steeper hurdle in the Senate), it is a huge step forward in addressing climate change at the federal level.

Environmentalists (me included) criticize the bill because the limits are set too low, and initially 85% of the allowances will be given away to the biggest emitters.  However, given the narrow margin of victory for the bill, it likely would not have passed if it were any more stringent.  Others (largely, though not entirely, conservatives) criticize the bill because (they argue) it will make the U.S. less competitive, and send jobs overseas, going so far as to say it will “destroy our standard of living” (according to Republican Congressman Lucas from Oklahoma).

In the Wall-Street Journal this weekend (well, at least the online version), the article “House Passes Climate Bill” describes the passage of the bill and some of the criticism surrounding its impact on the economy.  Somewhat ironically, in the June 27 WSJ, the article, “GE Picks Michigan for R&D Center” announces General Electric’s decision to open a facility near Detroit focused on “developing information-technology, clean-energy and transportation products,” and creating 1,200 jobs in the process.  So, I guess climate legislation such as Waxman-Markey will eliminate U.S. jobs… except for those 1,200 being created in Michigan?  Now, obviously, GE’s announcement isn’t a direct result of the House passage of Waxman-Markey.  But I find it doubtful that GE would be setting up such an R&D center if oil was cheap and stable, conventional energy sources were abundant, and we weren’t about to transition to a carbon-constrained economy.

As an aside, I’m all for considering all viewpoints in a debate such as the one surrounding climate-change legislation.  Much of the debate on this bill is regarding the cost.  YES, there will be a cost to climate change mitigation.  However, the cost of doing nothing will be unfathomable – if not for us, then for subsequent generations.  Since the cost of various mitigation measures (and the benefits of those measures) is quite uncertain, it is worthwhile to argue discuss “how much” and “at what cost” we should act.  However, another voice is also (still) present in the debate: those who believe climate change is in no way connected to man’s use of fossil-fuels.  Coincidentally, there’s an opinion piece in the June 26 WSJ, entitled “The Climate Change Climate Change,” in which the author suggests that more and more legitimate scientists are becoming skeptical of global warming.  These people are the fringe, and have no place at the table.  The science is proven – the only remaining question is the degree to which we will alter the climate system.

…I’ve got to stop reading the Wall Street Journal…