Green Update: The Year in Energy and Emissions

December 27th, 2011

Methane Bubbles from Alaska Lakes

There are two articles in particular I want to point you to regarding the State of the Air. Then we’ll get to the car industry.

First is a Washington Post piece on the five biggest stories in energy and environment, and what a terrible year we’ve been through on that score. Second is a New York Times report on melting of the permafrost that underlies about a quarter of the Northern Hemisphere. This is probably the scariest piece I’ve read all year.

If you still don’t believe in global warming after reading these, put your head back in the tar sands and tell us about the wonders of fracking.

As CO2 emissions from fossil fuels took a record jump of 5.9 percent in 2010—“the largest absolute increase since the start of the Industrial Revolution and the greatest percentage increase since 2003”—Republicans united in their animus toward the EPA, and the Obama administration called off its tough new standards on ozone pollution.

The fight over the Keystone XL pipeline, TransCanada’s proposal to carry oil from Alberta to the Gulf of Mexico, immediately became political and forced Obama again to backwater. The Greens come out in force against such projects but never seem to rally for positive policies like cap-and-trade.

On the other hand, with the campaign looming, maybe the President is getting a bit tougher. A few days ago, the administration set new rules on the emission of mercury and other highly toxic pollutants from coal plants. If you think mercury in fish is a red herring, read this.

In the car world, the NTSB called for a sweeping ban on all cellphone use in cars. A week later DOT Secretary Ray LaHood said hands-free calls shouldn’t apply, even though studies show hands-free calls are just as distracting.

Mr. Obama and the Democrats can’t seem to get their environmental act together. In 2011, they kept sending contradictory messages about energy even after the new 54.5 mpg CAFE rules were revealed in July.

With both parties in disarray and the political system essentially dysfunctional, the outlook for 2012 regarding energy and emissions isn’t good. The auto industry is hedging its bets, still, with small hybrids that don’t make sense, EVs that are too expensive, trucks designed for another era, and big problems ahead for the car market in China.

Whether the industry can muster its technical skills to make clean, fuel-efficient cars in the face of increasing U.S. demand depends on many variables, many unknowns. There is too much overcapacity in the global auto industry, and a shakeout is due. If that happens next year, all bets on cleaner cars will be off, and the government may just have to pull back on subsidies for an industry that is too big for its own good.

The push for clean cars will likely come from the states, I think. A few enlightened states like California may lead the way, as in its recent proposal of Clean Car Rules. But unless the public at large buys in substantially, any progress will be spotty at best.

Do you think clean cars can be produced through political means? What kind of political means?

—jgoods

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  1. panayoti
    | #1

    I don’t think so. Thinking that environmental issues can be solved by political means, especially on a global scale is being pollyannish. You and I have been poles apart on our respective views of the environment so I won’t belabor or repeat our disagreements here. The first issue that must be addressed is agreement that there is a problem in the first place.

    There is simply no consensus on the the “clean” issue despite the overwhelming rhetoric on both sides. Those who are in your camp claim that there is concrete evidence, based on science that there is a direct correlation to carbon dioxide and “global warming”. Those on the other side claim that the “science” has been “doctored” to support a thesis that they find anathema to their business models. Obama, once considered a “friend” to the greenies, is playing politics with both sides, not willing to compromise another term with what makes sense for the rest of us.

    Politicizing the issue is the worst possible way to deal with a clean environment, but ultimately is really the only way to ever get anything done. Another classic example of the dog chasing his tail. Having lived in the heart of the coal, chemical and steel industry, I have lived through the worst pollution period in the history of man. Its not a time that I would wish on my worst enemy. Because it was so bad, common people demanded change and because of the politicizing of the issue, something was finally done.

    But, Senor, it was a case of ALL the people demanding something be done.
    Today, that is not the case. It is a majority of a tiny slice of people who are raising hell about the environmental issue. The economic pie is simply too small to garner a majority of people who are now more concerned about jobs and security than in our time where the economy was booming and everyone seemed to have a piece of the pie. Global competition has ensured that America will NEVER be in the position of economic dominance that it had following WW II. If we ever get in that position again, then and only then will we get to the point of demanding something be done. For now, this is just a tempest in a teapot.

  2. Randy
    | #2

    Well, of all the major polluters, US industry has done well (I remember seeing TV coverage from when the Cuyahoga River “caught fire” in Cleveland and drove through the steaming, smoky, stinking cloud of Ford’s Rouge industrial complex and the attending chemical plants back in the 1960′s. My own home town would gas you depending on the direction of the wind. If it came in over the Pontiac Motor foundry, you had to breath foundry crud, which coated the cars and I’m sure, the inside of your lungs.
    The other place we’ve done very well is cars, which are virtually pollution-free compared to pre-emissions cars. Truly one of the worst aspects of the Woodward Dream Cruise is getting stuck behind one of these rolling stink bombs, which also reminding me of driving in Colorado, which apparently contains 90% of the sh-tbox pickup trucks in the world.

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