The United States and global warming: a tale of two countries - and two car sizes
We are pleased to share with this forum a lively discussion that has gotten started on the Kyoto Cities Working Group forum a few days back, and which we are now switching over to the New Mobility Cafe since it is rather more general than the specific concerns of the Kyoto Forum which targets a single question: “What can you do in your city to reduce traffic and its negative impacts dramatically (say on the order of 20%) in a very short period (we propose 20 months), and within your existing transportation budget.” That’s it. Nothing else!
These comments are laid out here in the order they originally came in and were, for the record, kicked off by the Alan Meyer piece from openDemocracy that was originally reproduced in the Kyoto Blog on 30 April precisely for information and comment. I hope that these more general considerations which are of course critical to the details of what concern us primarily at Kyoto Cities will continue to be vetted usefully in the Café.
From Kyoto Blog of 30/04/05. – link to http://kyoto-compliance.blogspot.com/2005/04/300405-united-states-and-global.html
The United States and global warming: a tale of two countries
Alden Meyer, 29 - 4 - 2005
The challenge of global climate change forces the world to ask: what to do about the United States? Alden Meyer of the Union of Concerned Scientists says: ignore the Bush administration and get on with business.
To have a fighting chance to keep global warming within safe levels, industrialized countries must reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases by 80% below 2000 levels by 2050 – and we must begin to make those reductions right away. Under the Kyoto Protocol, Europe , Japan , and other industrialized countries have committed to start making modest cuts in their emissions, and have acknowledged the need for much deeper cuts in the years ahead.
In stark contrast, US emissions are projected to increase 14% over the next decade, and the administration of President George W Bush has made it crystal clear that it will not engage in negotiations – or even informal discussions – about mandatory emissions limits.
President Bush has proposed no meaningful alternative to Kyoto . His voluntary, business-as-usual approach is heavy on long-term technology research, but ignores the tremendous potential of currently available clean energy technologies to cut global warming pollution right now. His administration has consistently opposed serious policies to accelerate deployment of these technologies, such as the proposal supported by 58 senators – including 10 Republicans – to require electric utilities to increase the share of their electricity generated from renewable energy resources from the current two percent up to 10% by 2020. And when California responds to the federal leadership vacuum by putting sensible limits on global warming pollution from new vehicles, the Bush administration joins the auto companies in challenging the state’s right to take such action.
Fifty years from now, the Bush presidency will likely be remembered for two things: the war in Iraq , and the utter irresponsibility of the president’s climate policy.
And while 43 senators voted for the McCain-Lieberman Climate Stewardship Act, which would establish mandatory economy-wide emissions caps, 55 senators, including most Republicans, opposed it. One of them, who by luck would have it chairs the Senate’s Environment Committee, called global warming the “greatest hoax every perpetrated on the American people”.
Beyond the Beltway
Fortunately, all is not doom and gloom in America . In addition to California ’s path-breaking emissions limits on new vehicles, a number of states are pursuing mandatory caps on carbon dioxide emissions from power plants, and eighteen states have adopted renewable electricity generation standards. Over 150 cities and counties have signed on to the Cities for Climate Protection Campaign, setting specific emissions reduction targets and developing action plans to meet the target.
Many business leaders are also stepping up to the plate, setting emissions reduction goals for their companies. DuPont, for example, set out to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 65% from 1990 levels by 2010; by 2002, the company had exceeded this goal, achieving actual reductions of 67 percent. Others are speaking out on the need for mandatory national emissions limits. John Rowe, chairman of Exelon Corporation, one of the nation’s largest electric utilities, recently endorsed a call to regulate global warming emissions, saying “the science on climate change has become overwhelming.”
Another major utility, Cinergy Corporation, has stated that a “well-constructed policy that gradually and predictably” reduces global warming emissions can be managed “without undue disruption to the company or the economy.” Many other corporate leaders share these views, but are reluctant to speak out, afraid of retaliation if they publicly disagree with the Bush administration on this issue.
Meanwhile, other voices are joining the debate, such as evangelical Christian leaders motivated by the likely severe impact of global warming on the world’s poor and the Bible’s call for stewardship of God’s creation. As the Rev. Rich Cizik, vice-president of governmental affairs for the National Association of Evangelicals, recently put it: “I don’t think God is going to ask us how he created the Earth, but he will ask us what we did with what he created.” As evangelical Christians are widely seen as a core component of the Republican Party’s political base, their engagement on this issue is quite significant.
While these are all hopeful signs, there is little chance they will produce a change of heart in President Bush in his remaining years in office. It is more likely that this mounting pressure will cause the next president, whether Republican or Democrat, to reverse course and restore American leadership in the fight against global warming.
The world’s choice
With negotiations due to start later this year on emissions reductions beyond the end of Kyoto’s first commitment period in 2012, the rest of the world has three options in responding to current US intransigence.
First, try to engage the Bush administration on post-2012 climate policy. Given the administration’s posture, this would be like talking to a brick wall.
Second, wait for the next administration to take office in January 2009 to start negotiations on what comes next. Given the urgent need to minimise the impacts of climate change, the world can’t afford such a delay. Moreover, this would create uncertainty amongst the world’s businesses, just now starting to adjust to the reality of binding emissions limits under the Kyoto Protocol, as to whether those limits will in fact continue and deepen post-2012.
Third, enter into these negotiations without any expectation of meaningful participation by the United States . This can and should be done in a way that makes US re-entry into the process possible after President Bush leaves office. One suggestion is to informally consult the growing number of US governors, mayors, and business CEOs who are taking progressive action on global warming as to the shape of the future climate treaty regime. This would ensure that constructive US views are taken into account in the negotiating process, while building support within the United States for the post-2012 agreement that results from the negotiations.
This last option is far from ideal, but is the only one that holds out any prospect for progress.
The European Union must take the lead in these negotiations, by engaging major developing countries such as Brazil , China , and India , and by declaring that it will move forward with further emissions reductions post-2012 even in the face of US inaction. Implementation of its existing Kyoto commitments will also show how seriously the EU takes this issue, and will demonstrate the fallacy of President Bush’s claim that meeting the Kyoto targets can only come at the costs of the economy and jobs.
In fact, it’s the United States ’s non-participation in the emerging global climate regime that poses the real long-term threat to the US economy. Companies in Europe , Japan , and other countries that are moving ahead to cut global warming emissions are grabbing market share from US companies in renewable energy systems, fuel-efficient vehicles, and other clean technologies, not only in their own markets but also in explosively growing new markets in China, India , and other developing countries.
It may seem a paradox that the best way to ultimately draw the United States back into the international climate treaty regime is by not wasting time trying to engage the current US administration. But that is the reality the world now faces. Only by demonstrating the political will to move forward on the deeper emissions reductions needed beyond 2012 can other countries add to the mounting domestic pressure for the United States to get serious about global warming.
* * *
From: <schipper@...> Lee Schipper
Date: Sun May 1, 2005 9:10 am
It must be added to Alden Meyer's note that on Valentine’s day 2003 the
Bush Administration assembled a group of manufacturing representatives
who pledged to reduce carbon emissions per unit of out put by 1%/year,
about the rate of the previous 5 years and way under the rate 1973-1990,
i.e., when fuel prices were higher. IN other words, they pledged
Some of us called this the St Valentine's Day Massacre.
It is worth noting that the Clinton Administration had proposed
tightening the efficiency standards on new central air conditioners by
30%. After ranting and raving from the Bush Administration, court action
etc, four years later the Administration agreed to 26%.
A Nat. Acad. of Sciences Panel suggested fuel economy improvements to
cars of roughly 20% could be required by standards. That report appeared
in 2001. Four years later the President tells us there is little he can
do about high oil prices (and demand). What he could have done was much,
a few years ago.
And so it goes on.
From: Stephen Plowden [mailto:stephenplowden@...]
Sent: Sunday, May 01, 2005 12:45 PM
Subject: The United States and global warming: Schipper commentary
Reductions in fuel consumption of cars of much greater than 20% are
possible without any loss of transport function. See Amory Lovins's
work. Moreover, there is no need to accept the constraint that he
accepts that cars should have the same powers of acceleration and the
same top speeds as at present. Also, he wants his hypercar to succeed
without any compulsion, simply in virtue of its superior attraction to
motorists. But compulsion, probably in the form of construction and use
regulations, is not only legitimate but obligatory of governments are to do
their job of ensuring that manufacturers can compete for custom only in ways that
respect the environment and the rights of third
parties. No one has the right to impose unnecessary danger and pollution.
From: Eric Bruun <ericbruun@...>
Date: Mon May 2, 2005 11:16 am
I notice nothing in Meyer's essay about the consequences of sprawl and nothing about stopping it. It is roughly half of the fuel consumption issue together with technology. Furthermore, sprawl housing is less energy efficient and agricultural supply lines are being lengthened, so that the role of sprawl is far understated when just looking at the amount of driving it causes.
From: Simon Norton <S.Norton@...>
Date: Mon May 2, 2005 10:25 pm
1. In reply to the post of 21 April, is it asserted that increased motorization
is a cause (rather than an effect) of increased economic output ? That seems the
only hypothesis under which it would be legitimate to cast doubt on the validity
of the WHO findings that traffic pollution was reducing life expectancy in
I find it easier to believe that the effect of higher motorization is actually
to fritter away the advantages of increased economic output, which might
otherwise have gone on better healthcare etc.
Motorization will also reduce people's propensity to cycle and walk, which
reduces the health gains from exercise.
2. Like Lee Schipper I am puzzled by the idea that fuel economy and road safety
are inversely correlated -- unless this is merely an expression of the tendency
for people to drive more when the fuel cost of doing so is reduced (which is
mentioned in one of Todd Litman's papers), or just the fact that in a collision
between a large SUV and a small car the former tends to win.
3. One of Todd Litman's papers says it's wrong to try to hold fuel prices by
reducing taxes when the price of crude goes up. I would go further and say that
taxes should be increased in such situations. This is because the price of crude
is set to bring demand and supply into balance, so if one wants to reduce the
price of crude the best way is to reduce demand by increasing consumer prices.
Of course, I'm not a politician.
From: Gabriel Roth <roths@...>
Date: Tue May 3, 2005 4:44 am
Nice to hear from you again!
To meet more rigorous CAFE standards, manufacturers make their cars smaller. That smaller vehicles are less safe than larger ones is agreed by all who have studied the issue. For example, a US study (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, 'Where is Safety in the Fuel Economy Debate? Status Report, Vol. 25, No. 8, September 8, Arlington, Virginia. 1990), reported that
Overall, the death rate in the smallest cars on the road is more than double the rate in the largest cars. For every 10,000 registered cars one to three years old in 1989, 3.0 deaths occurred in the smallest cars on the road, compared with 1.3 on the largest cars. The death rate is at least twice as high in small cars, compared with large cars, in both single- and multiple vehicle crashes. ... According to a regression equation estimated by Institute researchers from the death rates and EPA fuel ratings of 47 four door cars, on average every one mile-per-gallon improvement in fuel economy translates into a 3.9 percent increase in the death rate.
And the Administrator of the US Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimated that the 1,000-lb reduction in average vehicle weight, and/or the associated reduction in size, that occurred in the US in the 1970s and 1980s, resulted in 2,000 more deaths and 20,000 more serious injuries per year (Jerry Ralph Curry, Testimony before the US House of Representatives Subcommittee on Energy and Power, April 16, 1991.)
Note that the higher safety record of large cars is found not only in collisions between large and small vehicles, but also in one-car accidents (e.g. when cars leave the road and hit obstacles) and even when accidents involving only small cars are compared with those involving only large ones.
If you drive a car, I hope you use a large one!
From: Lloyd Wright <LFWright@...>
Date: Tue May 3, 2005 2:52 pm
I do not think the safety issue based on vehicle weight is nearly as clear-cut
as the previous message asserts. The heaviest vehicles, in fact, do not have
the lowest fatality rates. Although weight is certainly one factor, so are
dimensions, materials, and design, as indicated by the Honda study. The high
roll-over rate of SUVs, due to their high ground clearance, has certainly
negated much of their weight advantages (although newer models have to an
extent mitigated this problem). Further, driver behaviour is also a major
factor. SUV owners, as well as sports car owners, tend to display higher risk
behaviour. It is possible that driving a larger vehicle can create a moral
hazard in the sense that the drivers feel safer and thus take on additional
Below are related excerpts from two articles.
Average U.S. Car Is Tipping Scales at 4,000 Pounds
By DANNY HAKIM
But Honda, which makes some of the most fuel-efficient vehicles, said
its own research found that dimensions, design and materials often made
more difference than weight. Honda cited government statistics showing
that midsize cars have lower death rates than sport utilities, and that
smaller S.U.V.'s do better than midsize S.U.V.'s.
New York Times
August 17, 2004
Safety Gap Grows Wider Between S.U.V.'s and Cars
By DANNY HAKIM
DETROIT, Aug. 16 - The gap in safety between sport utility vehicles and
passenger cars last year was the widest yet recorded, according to new
federal traffic data.
People driving or riding in a sport utility vehicle in 2003 were nearly 11
percent more likely to die in an accident than people in cars, the figures
show. The government began keeping detailed statistics on the safety of
vehicle categories in 1994.
S.U.V.'s continue to gain in popularity, despite safety concerns and the
vehicles' lagging fuel economy at a time when gasoline prices are high. For
the first seven months of 2004, S.U.V.'s accounted for 27.2 percent of all
light-duty vehicle sales, up from 26 percent in the period a year earlier,
according to Ward's AutoInfoBank. However, sales growth for the largest sport
utility vehicles has stalled lately, while small and medium-size S.U.V.'s,
engineered more like cars than pickup trucks, continue to make rapid gains.
New figures from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration shed light
on how wide the differences in safety can be from one vehicle to another in
the S.U.V. category, which now encompasses scores of models. For example, a
few newer S.U.V. models appear to have a sharply lower risk of rolling over
From: Dave Brook <dbrook@...>
Date: Tue May 3, 2005 4:57 pm
Gabriel Roth appears to be overlooking other ways to make vehicles more
fuel efficient than making them smaller (didn't you mean lighter?) -
hybrid technology is one, diesels are another; more aerodynamic is a
third. Of course, Amory Lovin's Hypercar idea, if it performs anywhere
close to what he claims, would be the lightest and safest vehicle on
the road - and the occupants would come out ahead in a crash with a
- Dave Brook
From: "Anna Cronin (PCT North West)" Anna.Cronin@...
Date: Tue May 3, 2005 11:10 am
Or to think outside of the metal box.. larger vehicles pose much more risk of serious injury or death to pedestrians, cyclists and passengers of smaller cars they hit. With the majority of the world's 1.2 million road traffic injury deaths each year being pedestrians, car design for pedestrian safety always seems to get less attention than safety for passengers..
Anna Cronin de Chavez
Health Promotion Specialist (Injury Prevention)
City-wide based at Leeds North West PCT
North West House, West Park Ring Road, Leeds, LS16 6QG, UK.
Tel 0113 3057532 anna.cronin@...
From: Sujit Patwardhan <sujit@...>
Date: Tue May 3, 2005 9:41 pm
I'm glad to see Anna's comments because they steer the discussion back to the basic question of "from whose perspective should one see the landscape?"
In the imaginary ideal scenario in my mind I see (the need for) less cars (of any kind), more possibilities for walking and cycling (made possible by good public transport system coupled with car-free kind of development) and a healthier, less poisoned environment.
From this perspective, more fuel efficient cars, safer cars, less polluting cars etc. all fall in the same category .... "undesirables" (even if unavoidable from the present dominant point of view), because the above adjectives deal with only a small part of the problem. The larger and more important part of the picture is I think:- car-dependence, auto dominated urban growth, mechanization of the human spirit and continuing along the unsustainable path.
Even zero polluting vehicles contribute to congestion, do nothing to prevent sprawl, accidents etc. and make excessive demands on land and open spaces that could be used to better purpose than to satisfying the appetite of cars/autos;
Instead of devoting greater efforts to "improving" the acceptability of cars it may be more appropriate to think about the possibilities of a lifestyle that relies less and less on this "wonderful" invention whose time is now up.
I know that I've not filled in all the details, and there are a lot of loose ends that can be seized upon but I think the general direction of my argument should be clear enough as food for thought or even some degree of introspection.
From: Eric Bruun <ericbruun@...>
Date: Tue May 3, 2005 8:35 pm
Also, car design has changed in the last two decades. All cars subject to the
Motor Vehicle Code in the US absorb energy better than old cars, and for many,
the engine drops out the bottom in a severe crash. Meanwhile, SUVs are exempt.
They are very rigid and unforgiving in a collision-- but they survive against
small cars because of much more momentum and, on occasion, they climb over the
top of them, crushing the people in the smaller car. This brings up another way
in which SUVs have eroded safety -- they don't have to comply with matching
bumper height requirements either.
In a nutshell, the car manufacturers are selling safety in SUVs through an arms
race type of argument. You better
get an SUV to protect yourself from the momentum and high bumpers of an SUV.
From: Stephen Plowden <stephenplowden@...>
Date: Tue May 3, 2005 11:09 am Hi all
Here is a recent analysis of GB data which does not seem to support
Gabriel. We are about to embark on a more detailed analysis of what
happens when a crash occurs. Because of inadequate data, it is much
harder to estimate how the likelihood that a crash will occur varies
with type of car. Class of road is a very important variable. Heavy cars
probably drive a larger proportion of their travel on motorways than
light cars do and motorways of course have much lower crash rates.
This analysis refers to crashes occurring in Great Britain in the
three-year period 2001-3. It is based on the car models in the TRL’s
crash data bank, other than those classified by the TRL as sports cars,
that also appear in the New Car Data section of the March 2005 edition
of the magazine Test Drive. The TRL’s data bank gives information on all
the cars, new or old, that become involved in crashes. The model of the
car is given in the great majority of cases, but cars’ weights are not
recorded. The New Car Data section of Test Drive is concerned only with
models still on the new-car market. It gives the kerb weight, and other
items of information, for each sub-model of all the models listed. Each
model can have a number of sub-models, whose kerb weight and other
characteristics can vary considerably.
We have grouped the models into classes as follows:
Class A consists of models all the sub-models of which weigh less than
1108 kg plus the Renault Clio. The Renault Clio has thirty sub-models.
Twenty of them weigh less than a tonne and all the others, with one
exception, weighing 1400 kg, weigh less than 1100 kg.
Class B consists of models all the sub-models of which weigh more than
1500 kg but less than two tonnes.
Class C consists of models all the sub-models of which weigh more than
two tonnes plus the Chrysler Voyager. The Chrysler Voyager has ten
sub-models. One weighs 1925 kg, another 1955 kg, and the rest all weigh
more than two tonnes.
Class D consists of models all the sub-models of which weigh more than
1500kg. It is made up of all the models in classes B and C plus the Land
Rover Defender. The kerb weights of the sub-models of the Land Rover
Defender range from 1600kg to 2300kg.
*MODEL CRASHES * *SEVERITY INDICES*
*CLASS Fatal Serious All Fatal/All (Fatal+Serious)/All*
*A *862 9,071 83,902 0.010 0.118**
*B *149 1,195 9,595 0.016 0.140* *
*C *132 817 6,045 0.022 0.157
*D *311 2,181 16,820 0.0184 0.148
* RATIOS OF SEVERITY INDICES *
* Fatal Fatal+Serious*
*B/A * 1.51 1.18
*C/A *2.13 1.33
*D/A *1.80 1.25
*C/B* 1.41 1.12
*Weight or 4x4?*
The following analysis suggests that the current campaign against 4x4s
would be better directed against heavy cars. Bentleys and Rolls Royces
each weigh about 2.5 tonnes. Three 4x4s, the Daihatsu Terios, the Honda
HR-V and the Suzuki Jimny weigh between one tonne and 1200 kg. The crash
data for these cars in the three years 2001 to 2003 were as follows
* MODEL CRASHES * *SEVERITY INDICES*
*Fatal Serious All Fatal/All (Fatal+Serious)/All*
*RR & Bentley *5 26 146 0.034 0.212
*Three light 4x4s * 6 71 583 0.010 0.132* *
Campaigners are concerned about pollution as well as safety, but here
too weight seems to be more important.
*MPG (combined test) *
*RR & Bentley *13.7 to 17.8
*Three light 4x4s * 32.8 to 37.7
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