Monday, June 25, 2007

CAFE Kills, and Then Some: Six Reasons to Be Skeptical of Fuel Economy Standards

BACKGROUND: In 1975, Congress enacted Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) regulations to reduce gasoline consumption. Current CAFE standards require an average of 27.2 miles per gallon (mpg) for cars and 21.6 mpg for light trucks. As part of its debate over the Energy Bill (S.1419), the U.S. Senate is now considering raising CAFE standards to require all passenger cars and light trucks to average 52 mpg. Senators Carl Levin (D-MI), Christopher Bond (R-MO) and Mark Pryor (D-AR) have proposed an alternative increase, which would require a 36 mpg standard for cars by 2022 and 30 mpg for light trucks by 2025.

Auto and truck manufacturers and the United Auto Workers trade union support the Levin-Bond amendment, which would raise standards 31 percent for passenger cars and by 35 percent for light trucks. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), Senator John Kerry (D-MA) and others in the Democratic leadership, along with major environmental organizations, support the 52-mpg standard.

An expected reduction in gasoline usage is the most common reason cited for raising CAFE standards. It is not clear, however, that CAFE standards are particularly helpful in reducing gasoline use. Meanwhile, there are significant disadvantages to the standards, especially the harsh -- and very likely unattainable -- 52 mpg level for both cars and light trucks as proposed in the Energy Bill, which the auto manufacturers and the UAW say could possibly be a death knell for the domestic auto industry.

TEN SECOND RESPONSE: CAFE standards already result in the deaths of approximately 2,000 Americans every year, since smaller cars are less crashworthy. By failing to acknowledge this in their policymaking, Congress has cost thousands of Americans their lives. Now Congress is poised to compound the dangers by raising CAFE standards still further -- so much so, it may kill the domestic auto industry itself.

THIRTY SECOND RESPONSE: CAFE standards have little impact on greenhouse gas emissions, and the environmental benefits of increasing CAFE standards are frequently overstated. Their impact on human health is more certain: CAFE standards have resulted in tens of thousands of deaths since their adoption. Furthermore, raising CAFE standards at this time -- particularly to the draconian level of 52 mpg for both cars and light trucks -- would significantly harm auto manufacturing jobs in the U.S., raise vehicle prices, and reduce vehicle choices for families1 and for those who use vehicles for towing and moving goods.

DISCUSSION: Opponents of increasing CAFE standards raise the following concerns:

1) Increasing mpg reduces the per-mile cost of operating vehicles, which increases the number of miles driven, thus reducing or eliminating any CAFE benefit. Jerry Taylor and Peter Van Doren of the Cato Institute explain why this is the case:

Energy efficient appliances reduce the costs of operation. This might not be a big deal when it comes to, say, the television set (we won't watch more TV just because it costs a little less to turn on the set). But for appliances like air conditioners that make all the difference during peak demand periods, energy efficiency reduces the marginal cost of energy services and thus increases -- not decreases -- energy consumption. This is a well-known phenomenon called the 'rebound effect.' The same goes for automobile fuel efficiency. Environmentalists argue that increasing the miles per gallon of the cars we drive would save more energy than increased drilling could produce. But the data show that fuel consumption goes up whenever automobile fuel efficiency goes up. Nearly all the gains in fuel efficiency disappear once we account for the demonstrable increases in driving that such investments produce.2

James Taylor, editor of the Heartland Institute's Environment News, cites supportive data:

[USA Today columnist John] Merline noted people drive their vehicles more when increased fuel economy makes the price per mile cheaper. "The number of miles driven by passenger cars and light trucks climbed 104 percent between 1975 and 2000, according to the Department of Transportation," noted Merline.

A 2001 study conducted by the National Research Council (NRC) reached the same conclusion. According to the NRC, CAFE "reduces the fuel cost per mile of driving, thereby encouraging faster growth in vehicle travel than would otherwise be the case."

"NHTSA neglects the adverse effects from the increased driving induced by the proposal," agreed Randall Lutter and Troy Kravitz in a February 2003 study released by the AEI-Brookings Joint Center for Regulatory Studies. "By lowering the costs of driving, NHTSA's proposal increases vehicle miles traveled, thereby boosting traffic accidents and congestion. The increase in the costs of accidents and congestion fully offsets and probably outweighs the social benefits resulting from greater fuel economy."3

Writing in the Wall Street Journal in 2001, Kimberly A. Strassel observed, "[s]ince 1970, the United States has made cars almost 50% more efficient; in that period of time, the average number of miles a person drives has doubled."4

2) CAFE standards are dangerous. In 2002, the National Academy of Sciences released a report, "Effectiveness and Impact of CAFE Standards 2002," concluding that since CAFE standards were imposed in the U.S. in 1975, an additional 2,000 deaths per year can be attributed to the downsizing of cars required to meet CAFE standards.

In 2001, Charli E. Coon, J.D. of the Heritage Foundation wrote:

The evidence is overwhelming that CAFE standards result in more highway deaths. A 1999 USA TODAY analysis of crash data and estimates from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found that, in the years since CAFE standards were mandated under the Energy Policy and Conservation Act of 1975, about 46,000 people have died in crashes that they would have survived if they had been traveling in bigger, heavier cars. This translates into 7,700 deaths for every mile per gallon gained by the standards.5

3) CAFE increases are less likely to reduce gas consumption than are gas tax increases:

In a 2002 essay published in the Los Angeles Times, the Cato Institute's William A. Niskanen and Peter Van Doren noted, "since the CAFE standards were introduced, the average fuel economy has increased by 114% for new cars and by 56% for new light trucks, but the U.S. consumption of imported oil has increased from 35% to 52%." Niskanen and Van Doren recommended that if reducing gas consumption is the goal, an increased gasoline tax is more likely to get the job done: "In contrast to a tax on gasoline, CAFE standards are an imperfect and inefficient method of signaling drivers about the true costs of the gasoline that they consume."6

The Congressional Budget Office took a similar view:

This issue brief focuses on the economic costs of CAFE standards and compares them with the costs of a gasoline tax that would reduce gasoline consumption by the same amount. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that a 10 percent reduction in gasoline consumption could be achieved at a lower cost by an increase in the gasoline tax than by an increase in CAFE standards. Furthermore, an increase in the gasoline tax would reduce driving, leading to less traffic congestion and fewer accidents. This analysis stops short of estimating the value of less congestion and fewer accidents and, therefore, does not draw any conclusions about whether an increase in the gasoline tax would be warranted. However, CBO does find that, given current estimates of the value of decreasing dependence on oil and reducing carbon emissions, increasing CAFE standards would not pass a benefit-cost test.7

4) CAFE standard increases will harm domestic automakers and employment in the domestic auto industry.

As National Center for Public Policy Research Senior Fellow Eric Peters writes:

The legislation differs from previous fuel economy standards in that it would apply to both passenger cars and "light trucks" -- a category of vehicle that includes pick-ups, SUVs and minivans -- and which has up to now been held to a separate (and less stringent) fuel economy standard of 21.5-mpg vs. 27.5-mpg for passenger cars.

As a result, [legislation to increase CAFE standards] would disproportionately hurt American car companies, which have their profit centers in large pick-ups and SUVs -- while giving a competitive leg-up to imports, which make most of their money selling smaller, inherently more economical passenger cars.

It's much easier to tweak the design of a compact or mid-sized front-wheel-drive passenger car with a four or six-cylinder engine that already gets 32 mpg to the 35 mpg mark than it is to get a full-size, V-8 powered truck or SUV from 20-something mpg to 35 mpg. Thus, the impact of the [legislation to increase CAFE standards] will hurt American car companies most where they are especially vulnerable -- at a time when they can least afford another legislative knee-capping. GM, Ford and Chrysler have all posted alarming losses recently, even as the quality and appeal of their vehicles has been on the upswing. Hitting them with a 35-mpg fuel economy edict would have the same effect as sucker punching someone already laid low by the flu.8

Furthermore, more stringent CAFE standards will make new cars more expensive, which will depress sales generally.

5) Some individuals, families and businesses need the large vehicles a CAFE standard increase will tend to drive out of the market for towing or storage capacity or simply to transport their families. Laws requiring parents to transport children -- in some states, children up to eight years of age -- in approved child safety seats effectively reduces available seating in the back seat of most small (and many mid-sized) sedans to two persons. For safety reasons, transporting a third child in the front seat is inappropriate in most vehicles, and is illegal in some areas, making larger vehicles all but mandatory for many families with children.

6) The argument that increasing CAFE standards will reduce global warming is grossly overstated. Even if greenhouse gas emissions due to human activities are significantly, and harmfully, raising global temperatures, which remains a subject of debate, increasing CAFE standards would have scant impact. As Charli E. Coon, J.D., of the Heritage Foundation wrote in 2001:

Nor will increasing CAFE standards halt the alleged problem of "global warming." Cars and light trucks subject to fuel economy standards make up only 1.5 percent of all global man-made greenhouse gas emissions. According to data published in 1991 by the Office of Technology Assessment, a 40 percent increase in fuel economy standards would reduce greenhouse emissions by only about 0.5 percent, even under the most optimistic assumptions.


Pesky that China is now the biggest CO2 emitter. It's their OWN countries that Greenies want to harass. So we read:

The words of Andrew Pendleton, Senior climate analyst, Christian Aid:

Rich countries cannot blame China for climate change when the primary reason for the expansion in its greenhouse gas emissions is producing cheap goods for western markets (China passes US as worlds biggest CO2 emitter, June 20). As most of the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere were emitted by rich countries in industrialising, we can hardly lecture China as it tries to develop. Tragically, these finger-pointing politics are being played out while the impact of climate change on the world's poorest is becoming ever more apparent. The new UN figures showing that the number of refugees rose last year by 14% is backed up by recent research from Christian Aid indicating that by 2050, 1 billion people will have been forced to leave their homes.

What we must do with great urgency is share the burden of reducing both rich and developing world emissions in a way that reflects historical and current responsibility and capability.

The words of Dr Victoria Johnson, Climate change researcher, New Economics Foundation:

Carbon footprint data from the Global Footprint Network, which also includes levels of consumption, shows that the per capita carbon footprint of people living in China is still almost one-tenth that of the average person living in the US, and a quarter that of someone living in the UK. The US and other developed nations are increasingly consuming goods produced by other countries, a process driven by globalisation. This has resulted in the geographical displacement of the emissions resulting from the goods we consume, usually to countries with higher carbon intensities.

By ignoring the driver of demand, the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency's misleading conclusions simply take us further away from an international climate change agreement based on responsibility. And a recognition that, as consumers, we must not only do things differently, but also do less.


The pitter-patter of tiny 'footprints'

Women in Britain are having more children. And for some green miserabilists that can only mean more mouths to feed and more carbon to clean up. The old misanthropic Zero Population Growth attitudes are still alive and well among Greenies and their fellow-travellers

Last week, the UK Office for National Statistics released the latest figures for live births, revealing that the fertility rate - the number of live births per 1,000 women - is at its highest level for 26 years.

The number of babies born rose from 1.8 babies per woman in 2005 to 1.87 in 2006, the fifth annual rise in a row (1). While young, British-born women are having fewer children, older women and immigrant women are more than making up for it. The `mini-baby boom' is perhaps all the more remarkable given the relentless dire warnings about the `risks' for women in having children (2). And yet, the fact that most women are still choosing to have babies is, for some commentators and professionals, problematic and even `irresponsible'.

We can look upon the increased fertility rate as positive for a number of reasons. For one thing, the fact that women are choosing to have children later in life reflects the improved position of women in British society. The postwar peaks in the fertility rate depended on keeping women at home. But as society's attitudes have changed, women have been able to carry on into higher education, establish careers and gain economic independence, too. Of course, even today, women will still be expected to shoulder the burden of childcare, reflecting the market's inability to provide collective assistance in child rearing. But the fact women now plan to have children around their careers, rather than motherhood being the only `career' going, is a development surely worth celebrating.

Not everyone is of the same opinion. Allan Pacey of the British Fertility Society said that although `it's reassuring that more people are getting pregnant and starting to reverse the population decline. I wouldn't want these figures to send the message that it's okay to have babies much later in life' (3). Why not? What happened to choice? Although it's true that it is more difficult for women to conceive in their late thirties and early forties than in their twenties, and there is a small increase in the possibility of birth defects, there have been massive advances in reproductive technologies. When 63-year-old Patricia Rashbrook gave birth in April 2006, it was clear that age is not the barrier to reproduction it once was. Limitations on motherhood seem to have more to do with the views of health professionals than any scientific barrier.

The increase in the UK's fertility rate is positive for another reason: it means the misanthropic overpopulation lobby hasn't won all the arguments just yet. Most adults still see taking on responsibility for raising the next generation as both important and worthwhile, a reflection that maybe the human race isn't such a `lost cause' after all. The rising fertility rate also refutes priggish suggestions that the entire British population are far too addled by drink and drugs to bother with children.

Ironically, though perhaps not surprisingly, there are those who can only read grim negativity into the increased fertility rate. David Nicholson-Lord of the Optimum Population Trust said: `We advocate that people should stop at two or have one fewer child than they planned for environmental reasons. The current population is unsustainable. The closer we get to two births per woman, the more concerned we get.' (3)

Fears about `rising population' are nothing new, of course. Thomas Malthus saw population increases as problematic because he reckoned, wrongly, that agricultural productivity wouldn't be able to cope with greater numbers. `The power of population', he wrote, `is so superior to the power of the earth to produce subsistence for man, that premature death must in some shape or other visit the human race.' Without checks on population growth, whether human or natural, there would be famine, he argued.

While Malthus was proved wrong by events, other population worries surfaced. From the late nineteenth century until the 1940s, elitist thinkers constantly fretted that the `wrong' type of people were breeding in greater numbers and thus threatened the `moral fibre' of Western nations (4). Eugenics and forced sterilisation of `inferior people' were championed by elite thinkers, until such ideas and practices were well and truly discredited by the Nazi experience.

The revival of population `concern' by organisations like the Optimum Population Trust is in some ways worse than the old elite's contempt for the masses. At least bourgeois intellectuals in the early twentieth century believed that some humans had distinguishable and worthwhile attributes that needed to be preserved. By contrast, today's environmentalists see all humans as parasites on nature, a uniquely destructive force on the planet whose presence shouldn't be welcomed, let alone encouraged. So David Nicholson-Lord sees no difference between `good' or `bad' people, as previous elite thinkers would have done; rather he thinks that any population increase is necessarily bad because it causes environmental damage. Becoming a parent is reprehensible because it increases the number of `carbon footprints' on the earth.

Environmental policies are often demanded because of the urgent need to tackle climate change and to safeguard future generations. Campaigners insist that reducing carbon emissions is about ensuring the survival of the human race, not just saving endangered species or rainforest trees. This is why critics of environmental orthodoxies are sometimes painted as being `selfish', `short-sighted' and even `anti-human'; apparently to ignore climate change is to be blas‚ about humanity's future. In truth, if environmentalists had their way, there wouldn't be any future generations to `save' - or certainly there would be generations vastly shrunken in number. For Nicholson-Lord, if there's a choice between the environment and humanity, the former must and should take priority. As he tetchily puts it: `people aren't considering the environment when they are planning their family' (5). Want to do `your bit' to stop climate change? Don't have any children!

Unfortunately, these sorts of foul outbursts also reveal the extraordinary political consensus around environmentalism and, by proxy, anti-humanism. So instead of counter-debates and discussions on the gloomy prognosis of climate change alarmists, we merely get various shades of green. As a consequence, `the environment' has gone beyond an `objective reality' to become a subjective moral absolute. Mentioning the magic words `the environment' has become a way of imposing an unquestionable `good' over any issue in human society, whether it is on expanding airport runways, building new homes, improving infrastructure for transport or starting a family.

At root lies a sentiment that humans no longer have a place on the planet. The fewer of us, the better. The increased fertility rate in Britain is something worth celebrating. But safeguarding the prosperity and future of the next generation will require fewer measures to `save the environment' and more arguments to counter environmentalists. Honestly, humanity's survival depends on it.


Greenie politics of empty gesture from the Australian Left

Comment by Christopher Pearson

KEVIN Rudd calls climate change "the great moral challenge of our times". His guru, German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, certainly wouldn't have agreed, given his old-fashioned preoccupations with abortion and eugenics. But it's the kind of rhetorical flourish that probably tells us all there is to know about the Opposition Leader's moral compass. As he sees it, a hypothetical threat - which has got a lot of people vaguely worried about something that may well never materialise - trumps poverty and preventable disease in the developing world, international peacekeeping initiatives and winning the long war against terrorism.

If Rudd wants to paint himself as a moral crusader, with curbing greenhouse gas as his great cause, he should at least be prepared to demonstrate that he means business. So far all the Opposition has had to offer is gesture politics and desperate attempts to shirk debating the economic and social costs of bizarre prescriptions advanced by various climate change fanatics, including Labor's environment spokesman Peter Garrett.

Labor holds it as an article of faith that there can be no serious response to climate change unless and until Australia ratifies the Kyoto Protocol. That is the beginning and the end of what the Australian Labor Party is pleased to call its comprehensive approach to climate change. It's no more than a shibboleth, as group-defining as a Masonic handshake and almost as much of an anachronism.

Ratifying the Kyoto Protocol is a hand-me-down policy bequeathed to Rudd by Kim Beazley and to Beazley by Simon Crean before him. As a policy, it is intellectually threadbare because most of what it has delivered is the illusion of making a difference rather than the reality. For people looking for some sort of insurance against the risks climate change is said to pose, the debate moved beyond Kyoto years ago. Australian diplomatic initiatives culminating in the foreshadowed Sydney Declaration at the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation forum summit, and bringing the Group of Eight nations into post-Kyoto undertakings, are much more pragmatic, but Labor has tended to trivialise them because it didn't think of them first.

The existing Kyoto targets cover barely one-third of global emissions. The agreement does not cover the US, India or China, leading emitters now and for the foreseeable future. Even in the most unlikely event that all the signatories to Kyoto meet their targets, emissions are set to rise 41 per cent in 2010. Without Kyoto, the increase would be 42 per cent. It's a case of much ado about not much.

China and India are perfectly reasonable in seeing economic development as their main priority if they are to lift many hundreds of millions more of their people out of poverty. They simply won't sign up for emissions targets that shackle their capacity for growth, notwithstanding the moral hectoring of affluent advanced economies, which historically were the main emitters. India and China sought and won exemptions that they are unlikely readily to surrender.

As for the chief proponents of the protocol, most have proved unable to meet their Kyoto aspirations. From the outset it has been obvious to all but the zealots that the Kyoto system was designed by Europeans, adopting European prescriptions that suited European interests, with precious little regard for highly fossil-fuel-reliant economies such as Australia's. Yet even in the countries where the protocol is defended most fervently, performance on carbon emission cuts is abysmal.

As the latest report of the European Union Environment Agency makes clear, the 15 EU economies of western Europe taken together have succeeded in achieving only a 1.5 per cent reduction in emissions since the 1990s, against a Kyoto target of 8 per cent. It is only when you count the eastern Europeans, whose decrepit smokestack industries crumbled after the collapse of the Soviet empire, that the EU begins to get close to meeting its commitments.

Were Rudd's Labor as serious as it claims to be about climate change, there is another crucial policy it would have to reconsider. Of those countries in western Europe that have achieved significant emission reductions, almost all have nuclear power generation or access to nuclear-powered electricity grids. For example, Sweden gets 46 per cent of its electricity supply from nuclear power, Belgium 54 per cent, Finland 28 per cent, Germany 27 per cent, Britain 15 per cent and France a hefty 78 per cent.

The ALP remains obsessed with a shambolic and unworkable Kyoto system. Yet at the same time, as John Howard never tires of pointing out, it remains an unwavering ideological opponent of the one energy source capable of providing an alternative baseload electricity supply with negligible carbon emissions. This is less of a climate change policy than a climate change posture.

For all I know, at heart Rudd may be as sceptical about greenhouse gas-induced global warming as Michael Costa, the Labor Treasurer of NSW, who openly dismisses it as a bad joke. But no matter what the Opposition Leader thinks, caucus would insist on ratifying the Kyoto Protocol if he wins the election. Julia Gillard and Greg Combet, to name but two, are feudal chieftains who just wouldn't take no for an answer.

As the last rounds of preselections are finalised, a clearer picture is emerging of what a Rudd government would look like. A lot more union officials will be entering parliament and demanding frontbench positions at the expense of younger and more politically savvy people who presently occupy them, especially the women. It would not be a ministry of all the talents, comparable with the first Hawke cabinet.

It's unlikely that many would aspire to be change-managers with a commitment to economic reform, like the best of the class of 1983. Nor are they technocrats in Tony Blair's New Labour mould. The main emphasis would be on re-entrenching the union movement's anachronistic privileges as far as possible and otherwise playing it safe and keeping faith with party pieties. The mind-set that gave us the no-new-mines policy on uranium and steadfastly resisted the sale of Telstra for the past 11 years on some elusive principle, after selling off far more strategic assets in public ownership, would be much in evidence. In so far as we can judge from its platform, it would be a government that seldom allowed the high cost of implementing bad policy to deter it from doing so.

As most readers will know, I am a greenhouse sceptic and bitterly regret that the Howard Government didn't use the advantages of incumbency to stimulate a far better informed debate on climate change than we have seen so far. I have repeatedly urged the Prime Minister to sack or move sideways the string of environment ministers who so often became the hopeless captives of their advisers, only to see the Government en masse follow suit.

Watching the federal Government poised to spend billions of dollars on a notional problem when there's no shortage of real problems that need fixing, is wormwood and gall to me. The only crumb of comfort is that some of the projects funded under the greenhouse rubric can be defended on other grounds. For example, coal is a dirty fuel as well as a source of carbon dioxide. Burning it, and any other type of fossil fuel, as cleanly and efficiently as possible makes sense. Again, there are other reasons Australia may choose to pay the developing world to stop deforestation apart from carbon storage, including protecting the diversity of species and the earth's supply of oxygen.

Apart from those considerations, I suppose if there's going to be any kind of government intervention on greenhouse gas emissions, it would be better to leave it to the Coalition's relatively cautious style of management rather than entrust it to green enthusiasts. It is, after all, only by virtue of a hard-nosed approach to bargaining and pleading a special case for fossil fuels in our domestic economy that Australia got an achievable Kyoto target in the first place and became one of the few countries on track to meet it. In any event, as we are reckoned to be responsible for only 1.5per cent of global emissions, our contribution to curbing them should also be commensurately modest.



Many people would like to be kind to others so Leftists exploit that with their nonsense about equality. Most people want a clean, green environment so Greenies exploit that by inventing all sorts of far-fetched threats to the environment. But for both, the real motive is generally to promote themselves as wiser and better than everyone else, truth regardless.

Global warming has taken the place of Communism as an absurdity that "liberals" will defend to the death regardless of the evidence showing its folly. Evidence never has mattered to real Leftists

For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, SOCIALIZED MEDICINE, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here. For times when is playing up, there are mirrors of this site here and here.


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