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?