Everyone’s abuzz about the new administration’s announcement to expedite California’s regulation of greenhouse gas emissions from motor vehicles. On my way home I listened to a debate on JL’s Newshour (available online, “Obama Orders Regulators to Revisit Fuel Standards” via PBS.org) between a representative for the regulators (Ian Bowles) and one for the automakers (Mike Dushane). The industry argued, as it has since CAFE standards were introduced in the mid-seventies, that any effort to control vehicle fuel economy will only make cars more expensive, smaller (and ostensively less safe), and therefore unattractive to buyers, further jeopardizing the financial viability of the Big 3. This continued line of reasoning suggests that nothing has changed in our environmental awareness since the first Earth Day in 1970, or to the importance of energy independence since 1973, or regarding the threats to our national security since 1979.
For more on the correlation between energy, economics, and the environment, I defer to Thomas Friedman and his latest tome Hot, Flat, and Crowded.
For more on the history of US automobile regulation, I highly recommend Taken For A Ride by Jack Doyle.
But the question of whether the government should regulate greenhouse gas emissions ultimately comes down to whether we recognize climate change as real. Given what science has shown us (reference the latest synopsis from the IPCC) it is absolutely heinous for automakers to shirk responsibility. Why not capitalize on the positive mood of the country and declare their efforts to help solve this international crisis?
Short of them actively and openly engaging the public in the importance of decreasing their product’s consumption of fossil fuels and making those changes themselves, the government has no choice but to force them to do so.
While I subscribe to the opinion that market forces are ultimately more constructive than top-down regulation, the market also happens to work slowly, and often too slowly when it comes to environmental threats. It is so refreshing to witness bona fide American leadership on climate change. The automakers’ lack of cooperation seals them to a bygone era.