dingell: how to get him to take global warming more seriously

Jim posed a great note in the comments section earlier today about John Dingell, the Michigan Congressman representing the fightin’ 15th district, his evolving position on global warming, and what we, his constituents, might be able to do to get him to take the threat more seriously. Here’s Jim’s question:

Our own John Dingell will be chairing the Energy and Commerce Committee. In the past he’s been a climate change skeptic, but he now says that the Committee will be “taking a look” at climate change. He’s rightly concerned about the auto industry, but it is now apparent that aggressive action is needed. Does anyone have any insight into Dingell’s thinking on this issue? What action should we be taking to influence him?

In the way of introduction, Jim also included this clip from the Washington Post:

…”In a conference call yesterday, Dingell said he would back measures to promote new energy technologies, diesel fuel and cars, electric vehicles, and conservation in buildings. But before raising automobile fuel-efficiency standards, he said attention should be paid to the ability of the industry to absorb the economic impact of these changes”…

While I realize that, given his constituency, he may not be as gung-ho as I am to see fuel-efficiency standards substantially raised and a gas tax implemented (both which would seriously piss off his automotive industry base), I have to think that there may be some wiggle room with regard to what he can get away with. Given the growing awareness of both the true cost of our nation’s dependence on foreign oil and the environmental implications of burning fossil fuels, the cost of supporting such legislation, especially if done in concert with a multi-billion-dollar initiative to fund alternative energy research at the federal level, may not necessarily mean political suicide.

(Personally, I think our automotive industry should stop fighting the implementation of aggressive fuel-efficiency standards and embrace it. As it is, they’re losing their lunch to the Japanese, who are years ahead of them on hybrid technologies, and they’re going to continue to be beaten in the marketplace, in my opinion, as long as they stay wedded to their antiquated conceptions of what Americans want, and refuse to accept the reality of peak oil. If they were smart, they’d get off their SUV kick and give Americans smaller, more efficient cars that they want to drive. And the federal government, in my opinion, should, at the same time, do more to help change public sentiment… Ideally, we’d have the President telling people that buying efficient American vehicles – if not taking public transportation – is patriotic… It should have happened on 9/12, but I’d take it now.)

OK, I’m thinking that we should get him to Ann Arbor or Ypsi to participate in some kind of energy-related event. The University of Michigan is launching a new energy initiative, and I notice from Dingell’s website that UM has also just been designated a Tier 1 University Transportation Center by the Department of Transportation. Perhaps there are enough pieces in place, especially given Dingell’s new role, to have a high-level conference on the future of transportation in Ann Arbor, where such things could be discussed. Perhaps that’s too ambitious though… At the very least, we could initiate a letter writing campaign so that he knows some of the people he represents wish that he would look beyond the current desires of our automotive companies when considering legislation.

According to his website, he has an office in Ypsilanti at 5 South Washington Street (481-1100). Other contact information for Congressman Dingell, including his DC address and phone number, can be found here.

So, what do you think? It seems to me that we, as his constituents, probably owe it to the rest of the country and future generations to hold his feet to the fire on this issue. If you have any thoughts on the matter, leave a comment.

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  1. mark
    Posted November 12, 2006 at 12:41 am | Permalink

    And this comment from egpenet probalby belongs in this thread as well:

    The powerplant programs at GM are much further along than at Ford. Chrysler is relying on Benz.
    But the Japanese are way far ahead on hybrids. New models are coming out again from Toyota.

    During the JunkInYourTruck this Fall, sponsored by the Ruiverside Neighborhood Association, a neighbor pulled into the lot with her Prius, paid her seller’s fee, then silently (electric) pulled forward into her spot. It was really fun to watch. In excess of 40mpg city!

    Further back in time, my marketing clients included General Electric who made train engines and GM Truck & Bus Group, who made bus diesels. And I remember electric street cars and electric busses in Detroit, growing up.

    More recently, my wife boarded the train in Depot Town to commute for her teaching jobs in Detroit.

    Hopefully, Dingel, who should have the same memories and more, will get the Transportation Industry to focus on “transport” and not just individual luxury.

  2. murph
    Posted November 12, 2006 at 9:31 am | Permalink

    I think we just need to ask:

    * What’s the trend look like on the locations of auto manufacturing jobs?

    * How much energy are we burning for the privilege of shipping jobs overseas and cheaply produced cars back?

    It pained me deeply to see Granholm and DeVos arguing over which could better bring back the auto industry with tax breaks – I think that time in Michigan’s history is past, unless we want to dismantle every labor and environmental protection and every social program we’ve got. We need to work within new models.

    My answers to the above questions, “Going, going, gone,” and “Way too much.”

    And it’s not just shipping cars here from the third world that burns energy unnecessarily, but the creation of new cars in the first place. The one-way product lifespan of manufacture -> ship -> use up -> junk is hugely energy (and resource) wasteful.

    I’d like to see Dingell (and the rest of us) consider a model that egpenet will find quite familiar: repair, don’t replace.

    With a product lifespan that looks like manufacture -> ship -> use repair, we benefit twice. First, we save loads of energy on the manufacture and ship stages, even before we consider things like fuel efficiency, in the use stage. Second, repair is a strictly local phenomenon, and relies on human intelligence, skill, and labor rather than on capital and cheap energy. We will never be shipping our cars to China for mechanics.

    What would happen if we built our cars to last for 20 years, rather than 4, and hired people to repair them as needed, rather than junking and starting over? I believe it’s BMW that, years ago, started barcoding every part on the vehicles. Because some European countries require deposits on cars (while we still argue about bottled water), BMW gets their used cars back, at which point they can disassemble them and put the still-good parts back into the manufacturing or repair streams – they’re replacing capital and energy with labor! My bicycle is 20 years old; faraway capital and materials expenditure plays much less a part in this than paying for a local tune-up every once in a while and judiciously replacing worn parts. The same thing is possible with cars, if we get over our disposable attitude.

    But why limit the discussion to cars? Why not look for further opportunities to repair, rather than replace, and thereby direct our consumption dollars back towards local labor, and away from distant capital and cheap energy?

    Quick question: you all know Michigan is the number 1 cherry producer in the US. Sure, that’s easy. But how about #2 in asparagus, after Washington? How about #3 in apples? (WA, NY, MI, CA, PA) Washtenaw County is Michigan’s leading producer of sheep, no less. But when was the last time you saw Michigan asparagus, apples, or lamb chops in the grocery store? You probably have no idea.

    If you did see such a thing, it was probably asparagus that was picked in Michigan, but shipped off to some processing plant in Colorado, where it was mixed with asparagus from all over the world for processing, freezing, and showing up in anonymous supermarket bags. And, at that point, the global system will replace expensive Michigan labor with cheaper south american labor (note: even within Michigan, actually) and cheap energy. If we let our food be anonymous, then agriculture, Michigan’s second largest industry after manufacturing, will wither just as manufacturing has, victim to the mobility of capital allowed by cheap energy.

    Let’s move on to housing. Obviously, living in an old house is environmentally the best thing you can do, both in terms of material use and locationally. One neat thing that’s popped up in New Orleans, though, is a new prevalence of home deconstruction, on the other end of the lifespan. Even in a house that’s been rendered unliveable by flooding, 85% of the material can be salvaged for reuse if the house is deconstructed rather than bulldozed. Sure, yes, deconstruction takes a little longer, and requires more labor – but the increased labor requirement comes in exchange for reduced landfill space and also a chance to use materials you already have in construction or remodeling, rather than buying new ones from distant places or cutting down trees. (Note: tourism is the third of Michigan’s big three industries – preventing landfilling and intensive resource harvesting is a good thing there, too.) Here, again, is a way to spend less on distant capital and cheap Saudi energy, more on local labor.

    I don’t know if this is even readable. It’s early yet, and I’m just having my coffee. But hopefully my gist is clear – we can’t pull back manufacturing based on a model of cheap production. We have to look for ways to tip our spending, societally, towards repairing, reclaiming, and reusing – things which are more dependent on local labor, less on big business’s capital and the cheap energy model of lowest-cost labor manufacturing.

  3. Mike
    Posted November 12, 2006 at 11:31 am | Permalink

    This triggered a memory of a story I heard a few years ago about a car dealership in Australia or New Zealand. An aboriginal tribe had begun buying cars (probably with money given to them in exchange for raping their ancestral homelands) but lacked a clear understanding of how they worked. They would buy a car, which of course came with a full tank of gas. After a few days or a week, it would run out of gas, and thinking that the magic had run out, they would abandon the car. The dealership saw this, retrieved the car, refilled it, and sold it back to them. At some point someone told them about gas, and they learned that they could refill the tank and not have to keep buying new cars. The dealership thought the cash cow had died, until months later when the car got a flat tire, or the starter died, or whatever. The aborigines again abandoned the car, the dealership again retrieved it, spent $50 on a new tire, and again sold it back to them.

    Finally, the aborigines discovered what was going on, and decided on a final solution to the problem. Rather than allow the dealerships to make money hand over fist, whenever something happened to make the car unusable, they would simply light it on fire and let it burn.

    I think this is a metaphor for our current situation, but if I think about it too much, my head starts to hurt.

  4. Jim
    Posted November 12, 2006 at 6:40 pm | Permalink

    Great points all. I think we need to do several interrelated things:
    -develop new energy technologies and alternative sources of energy;
    -reduce consumption of energy (especially fossil fuels);
    -reduce CO2 emissions and other causes of global warming;
    -restructure the American auto industry; and
    -improve America

  5. mark
    Posted November 12, 2006 at 10:25 pm | Permalink

    I happen to know that an event built around next generation transportation is being planned for May in Ann Arbor. While I believe the focus is solely on single-family vehicles (as opposed to mass transportation alternatives, etc), there may still be an opportunity to work in a thread about policy. (As it’s been explained to me, it will, for the most part, be auto company execs talking about hydrogen, other forms of fuel, and their visions for the future.) I’m thinking that one could pitch the idea of a policy conference to a student group at UM’s Ford School (of policy) to happen earlier that same day, perhaps in cooperation with the College of Engineering, School of Natural Resources and/or B School. If someone could get Dingell, the rest would fall into place.

    And all of your other ideas are great. I wish I had time to comment on all of them right now

  6. mark
    Posted November 12, 2006 at 10:53 pm | Permalink

    For what it’s worth, this comes from our pal Jim Kunstler:

    …It would be nice if the Democrats put forward some concrete policy ideas for moving this society away from extreme car dependence and continued suburban sprawl-building — for instance, a federal project to repair the passenger rail system that was once the envy of the world and is now so fucked up that the Bolivians would be ashamed of it — but the Democrats have been too brain-dead, too chicken, and too distracted by sex-and-race politics to actually lead the American public. The only change they have really beat the drum for is gay marriage, which more than a few people of sound mind regard as something that will not necessarily make the USA a better place…

  7. mark
    Posted November 12, 2006 at 11:09 pm | Permalink

    And here

  8. Tony Buttons Esq.
    Posted November 13, 2006 at 10:48 am | Permalink

    Maybe start a children’s letter writing campaign. It would get press, and it may melt the old man’s heart.

    Who could think about dividends with a ten year old asking about Hurricane Katrina and the tie to global warming?

  9. egpenet
    Posted November 13, 2006 at 7:45 pm | Permalink

    Most retired GM execs I know sold their stock the moment they left the coporation and/or traded them for GMAC demand notes which pay high dividends. Dump that junk, Mrs. Dingell!

    On the other hand …

    My earlier comment comes from the thinking that GM, Ford and Chrysler should get back into the bus, trolley and railcar businesses.

    They only got out of it because some marketing guy showed they’d make more with cars and trucks … not to mention the fact that a few ranting and raving lunatics in Washington were screaming about “busting up” the Big Three for anti-trust.

    If they would simply shift the emphasis … wow!

    If you want an alternative transportation source for personal use … Google the Trabant … and the movie: “Go Trebbi Go!” The young East German woman I had dinner with the other night gigled talking about the Trebbi that was shared in her village, and how every time it needed repairs, it was so simple to do, and yet there was always one or two parts left over … and it STILL worked!

    For other so inclined to explore their neighborhood or the changing Ypsilanti downtown-scape … I suggest they look down at the ends of their legs and reacquaint themselves with their left and right feet, which, if properly insulated, fitted and weather-protected, work well as a method of personal transport known as walking.

  10. egpenet
    Posted November 13, 2006 at 8:15 pm | Permalink

    Murph reminded me that I responded on his blog to repair don’t replace concerning my Ford Aerostar Van with 209,000 miles … kept in fine repair by local mechanics at Conley’s Auto, Washtenaw @ Washington in Ypsilanti.

    I am at the same time upset with the Whirlpool appliances purchased after our house fire, which are each having their little fits … the ice marker in the fridge dowsn’t work … the clothes washer’s transmission blew … and some of the control panels are tempermental. That’s less than five years. Even our Thermador super-duper six-burner beast-cooker has had two control panel replacements! That’s taking repair, do not replace too far! Buy the warranty.

  11. Ted Glass
    Posted November 14, 2006 at 11:30 am | Permalink

    From Think PRogress today:

    ECONOMY — AUTOMAKERS URGED TO SPEAK TRUTH TO POWER IN MEETING WITH BUSH: Today at the White House, President Bush will meet with the leaders of America’s Big Three automakers — General Motors Corp., Ford Motor Co., and DaimlerChrysler AG’s Chrysler Group. “Detroit’s biggest automakers visit Washington in the midst of huge restructuring programs — including massive job cuts and plant closures — aimed at staying competitive with their overseas rivals.” Approximately three million manufacturing jobs have been lost since 2000, hitting the automaking industry particularly hard. Key members of the Michigan congressional delegation urged the automakers to forcefully lay out their concerns to Bush. “The auto leaders need to speak truth to power,” Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) said. “There have been no steps taken by this administration to support manufacturing.” In the past, Bush has suggested that automakers should assume fault for the downslide, claiming they need to build “relevant” cars. That comment raised the ire of GM’s sales chief Mark LaNeve, who told The Detroit News last May, “Five million who bought our cars last year think they’re relevant.” The automakers are expected to focus on three major issues in today’s meeting: 1) energy security: the need to improve access to alternative fuels and create more research and development incentives; 2) health care costs: all three automakers spend more on health care per vehicle than on steel; and 3) fair trade and currency: the automakers argue Asian countries like China, South Korea, and Japan are depressing their currencies to make their products cheaper.

    ENVIRONMENT — UNITED STATES RANKED 53RD IN CLIMATE CHANGE PERFORMANCE: The United States comes in 53rd — edging out only China, Saudi Arabia, and Malaysia — in a new study ranking the climate change performance of the 56 top carbon dioxide-emitting nations. The study, released by Climate Action Network Europe at the U.N. Climate Conference in Nairobi this week, based its rankings on current emissions, emissions trends, and emissions policy. The Bush administration has consistently shirked serious action to reduce U.S. emissions, announcing a climate change plan without penalties or restrictions for polluters, refusing to sign the Kyoto Protocol, and covering up scientific research revealing the dangers and costs of global warming. The study points out that merely having high emissions, as the United States does, does not assure a low ranking. “If the USA, currently among the bottom five, were to exercise an international climate policy stance as progressive as the UK, it would move up more than 30 places,” says the study, “but because of their adverse position in national and international climate policies the United States blows this chance.”

  12. Jim
    Posted November 14, 2006 at 5:24 pm | Permalink

    One more Dingell link (this one with video):

  13. egpenet
    Posted November 14, 2006 at 7:15 pm | Permalink

    Why hasn’t Ypsilanti signed the Kyoto Protocol. We should know how to calculate our individual, family, neighborhood, and city “carbon footprint.” And we should take steps to reducee our impact in the county and state and region.

  14. ol' e cross
    Posted November 15, 2006 at 9:52 am | Permalink

    If Michigan’s #2 in asparagus, does that mean we’re the #2 producer of stinky urine?

    (BTW, if that’s how a pre-coffee Murph thinks then caffienated Murph scares me a little.)

  15. ol' e cross
    Posted November 15, 2006 at 9:52 am | Permalink

    If Michigan’s #2 in asparagus, does that mean we’re the #2 producer of stinky urine?

    (BTW, if that’s how a pre-coffee Murph thinks then caffienated Murph scares me a little.)

  16. Tony Buttons Esq.
    Posted November 15, 2006 at 11:19 am | Permalink

    That last link of Jim’s contains the following:

    Dingell, whose home district includes Detroit

  17. Tony Buttons Esq.
    Posted November 15, 2006 at 11:22 am | Permalink

    As you mention Kyoto, I read somewhere recently that several countries are considering the adoption of a punitive tax against imports from countries that have not signed-on. I believe that France is leading the charge.

  18. Ted Glass
    Posted November 15, 2006 at 11:44 am | Permalink

    From today’s Environment and Energy Daily:

    In the House, Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) is poised to direct climate and air pollution policy as chairman of the powerful Energy and Commerce Committee. The veteran lawmaker is expected to hold a series of hearings on global warming specifically, as well as direct oversight of U.S. EPA’s most controversial air emission regulations, before spelling out what steps he may take to address these issues.

    Yet Dingell is widely seen as strongly sympathetic to his home state’s auto industry, leaving open the question of exactly what regulations he would be willing to accept for one of the key sources of heat-trapping emissions that scientists say are causing global warming. Dingell is scheduled to speak with reporters this afternoon to discuss his plans.

    I’m curious to hear what he has to say.

  19. edweird
    Posted November 17, 2006 at 11:20 am | Permalink

    After fuel efficiency, I think the number two problem with the US automakers is quality. As the son and grandson of autoworkers, I’m saying to you I won’t buy another American car. My Taurus wagon has had more problems than any car I’ve ever owned and it has less than 70,000 miles on it. It’s been stable lately and I’m still planning on driving it until it won’t run anymore, but that’s more a matter of saving money and not taking on more debt.

    Oh and Dingell’s not the only one who needs to be putting the screws to the automakers. I heard Granholm earlier in the summer all but falate them on Michigan Public Radio.

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