maybe higher fuel efficiency isn’t the answer, but it’s part of the answer

We issued a press release last night on the “Encouraging John Dingell to Lead on Global Warming” petition, and, for the most part, the response has been overwhelmingly positive. While most of the comments we’ve been getting are supportive, a few have suggested that we might not have a firm grasp on the subject matter. In the spirit of full disclosure, I thought that I’d reprint the best non-wildly-supportive letter we’ve received thus far.

…I have actually discussed these matters with John Dingell, who is very approachable and knowledgeable about the environment. Before he became an attorney and legislator, he worked as a US Forest Service Ranger. Although he did support the CAFE standard in the 70s & 80s, he does now oppose the focus on tightening the CAFE standard, for the reason that he thinks the returns of such a policy will be marginal. The science supports him.

Our son earned his Master’s in Environmental Science at Washington State University, working with Dr. Andrew Ford on the economic and scientific problem of how to reduce automobile emissions. Automobile fuel economy and greenhouse emissions are not the same problem, but are often conflated by well-meaning folks. Simply increasing the CAFE standard will not accomplish all that much in further reducing emissions, and according to (our son’s) Master’s thesis, if you increase the cost of a new car beyond a certain point, people will simply keep their old cars longer (the ones with broken or no catalytic converters) causing the emissions problem to get worse.

Instead, we should be lobbying for federal taxes to cause an increase in the cost of gasoline, to at least $5 a gallon. Studies show that this price control is the single most effective way to influence both consumers and producers of vehicles, and has worked in Europe to also fund mass transit, which is the most dramatic way to reduce transportation-related greenhouse gases…

Here, for what it’s worth, is my response.

Thank you for your letter. I appreciate it, and I agree with it for the most part. I also think that a significant gas tax is necessary. For the purposes of this particular campaign, however, we decided to focus on renewables and fuel efficiency. In order to effectively deal with global warming, we’re going to need to take action on any number of fronts. Lower speed limits and enforcement. Better public transportation. Higher fuel costs. More efficient cars. Better biofuels. More investment in research. You name it. We weren’t intending to present this as a silver bullet that would resolve everything. It’s not. We just wanted to focus people’s attention on two very achievable things. Regardless of what else might be necessary, I think that most intelligent people would agree that we shouldn’t be making cars any longer that get twelve miles to the gallon. Will setting the fuel efficiency standard at 35 miles per gallon alone help us? No. But it’s a step in the right direction, and, for whatever reason, it’s a step that John Dingell has been unwilling to take.

The important thing is that we’re having these discussions. Agree or disagree with the specific points outlined on the Act Dingell site, it doesn’t really matter. What matters is that the people of Michigan’s 15th congressional district acknowledge that global warming is something that demands immediate and aggressive action. We can debate the specifics. The important thing is that we realize that our voices matter and that we are in a unique position to positively influence global warming legislation.

If you haven’t signed our petition yet, please consider doing so today. We’re about to break the 100 mark, and I’d love to see that happen before the weekend comes. Thanks.

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  1. Fred
    Posted September 7, 2007 at 9:14 am | Permalink

    The government should buy back old cars that are currently on the road, like some states do with firearms.

  2. Huckett
    Posted September 7, 2007 at 3:57 pm | Permalink

    I don’t see how any politician who supports a significant gas tax could ever possibly be elected/re-elected in this car-mad country.

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