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On MotorTrend.com Angus MacKenzie posted a blog that really made things clean and cut on the whole "More MPG" wars set out by the most recent Cafe talks... here's what he had to say.
What do you think is the answer to the looming perfect storm of diminishing oil supplies, increasing demand, and concern over global warming? What should we do to ensure we retain not just our freedom of mobility, but also the freedom to choose what we want to drive?
First, let's look at the 10 simple facts that largely define the debate:
Fact #1: There's not as much easily extracted -- read, cheap -- oil as there used to be, and most of the cheap oil that remains is owned by countries that don't like us much.
Fact #2: Fast-growing countries like China and India are competing with us for oil, driving up prices.
Fact #3: Expensive gas will increase consumer demand for fuel efficient vehicles in the U.S.
Fact #4: A gas tax is political suicide.
Fact #5: Bio-fuels require a lot of land, water and energy to produce, and are less efficient in the vehicle than gasoline.
Fact #6: U.S. automakers already know how to build 35mpg vehicles, but they build them in Europe and Asia, not the U.S.
Fact #7: Each gallon of gas burned produces 19.4lb of CO2.
Fact #8: All transportation accounts for 27 percent of America's total CO2 emissions; passenger vehicles less than 14 percent.
Fact #9: High-tech fuel saving powertrains -- hybrid, fuel cell, even diesel -- all cost more money to make than regular gasoline engines.
Fact #10: The laws of physics are immutable.
FlexFuel Chevrolet Tahoe
Based on these facts, we have a number of options. None of them is pleasant. Or inexpensive. Some examples:
1. We can invade the unfriendly countries with all the cheap oil (see fact #1). Uh, that hasn't worked too well so far...And it's costing us hundreds of billions of dollars of tax-payers' money each year. Besides, can you seriously ask soldiers to lay their lives on the line just because you don't want to pay a few extra bucks to fill up your truck? Also, the Chinese and Indians (see fact #2) and most of the rest of the world might have something to say about it. And it doesn't help fact #7.
2. We could follow a Soviet command-economy model and order the automakers to build more fuel efficient vehicles. That's in effect what our simple-minded politicians are suggesting with the 35mpg CAFE scenario. To them it's a no-brainer -- no need for a gas tax (see facts #3 and #4) or anything else to change consumer demand. But facts #6, #9 and #10 mean that a 35mpg CAFE will result much smaller, less powerful, more expensive vehicles. Probably less choice, too.
3. We could ramp up the production of less efficient bio-fuels (see fact #10). But there are major logistical and environmental problems (see fact #5) and farmers are notorious for holding out their hands for fat taxpayer-funded subsidies from Washington (see fact #4), which will almost certainly initially mean a greater emphasis on ethanol from corn as opposed to the not-yet-commercially-viable cellulosic ethanol. Do you really want to compete with your car for food?
4. We could let market forces do the job and impose a CO2 tax (see facts #4 and #7). A CO2 tax should also take into account fact #8, and not be restricted to personal cars and trucks, but your overall CO2 footprint. At least then, you'll be able to decide your trade-offs yourself -- in other words, elect to have a high performance car in exchange for greater energy savings in your home. The bureaucracy required to administer it is likely to be horrendous, however, and the rich can still afford to produce as much CO2 as they damn well like.
These are just four possible scenarios. One is an obvious non-starter. All cost you and me money. But, looking at the facts, I don't see an easy answer. Do you?