Monday, November 27, 2006

Who says we can't change?

We often hear that responding to climate change would simply cause too great a disruption to our economies, our lifestyles. The cost of inaction may be great, but, we are told, the cost of change is simply too great to expect that we can really prevent climate change.

Really? What are the major sources of carbon emissions in the West? Primarily, it's transportation. Can we imagine living without gas-powered cars? Well, why not? After reading this article, I'm more confident than ever that we could, with enough investment, create cars that don't require fossil fuels, or require only a small fraction of what we use now, and still get cars that meet our needs. Now, the uber-cool car (the electric Tesla Roadster) that the article discusses is obviously way more expensive than will be economical, but this is a small-scale operation by one small company; there's no question that economies of scale and more research would significantly reduce its cost. In the meantime, there are existing technologies that could dramatically improve fuel efficiency in traditional cars, allowing us to use much smaller engines, possibly just big enough to constantly charge a much more efficient battery-driven drivetrain.

I am an optimist about our potential: I think that if humans apply their ingenuity, there's no problem we can't solve. But we are also greedy, short-term thinkers, and we need incentives to make costly investments now to save (the planet) in the future. With global warming, I think it's increasinly clear we can't afford to wait and let the market do its work. The government should regulate extremely aggressive 10-year targets that would aim to force dramatic increases in fuel efficiency and emissions. All cars should, in terms of emissions, at least meet California's Super-Ultra Low-Emission Vehicle Standard. There should be much more dramatic steps in terms of fuel efficiency that would force manufacturers to employ hybrid technologies. (If this means we can't buy 500-horsepower cars anymore, well boo-hoo.) Beyond that, we should force car companies to make large portions of their fleet zero-emission within 10-15 years. This should include minivans and sport-utility vehicles, though not necessarily pickup trucks. (Though given the performance of that electric car, it's not immediately clear to me that we couldn't move all our vehicles to electic motors eventually.)

We should also force oil-sands companies to dramatically reduce their carbon emissions, probably by carbon sequestration. And environmentalists need to get over their reflexive distrust of nuclear power and realize that it's the only realistic alternative to fossil fuels for reliable, large-scale power production.

There. Global warming problem solved. That was easy, wasn't it?


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