Even while man’s effect on global warming is unresolved, most analysts – from Nobel economist Gary Becker to Canadian environmental scientist David Suzuki to Charles Maxwell, the “dean of energy analysts” – contend individual transportation must be addressed for North America to reduce foreign trade and policy issues, curtail congestion and decrease the emission of C02 and other greenhouse gases.
At the same time, although editorialists at, for example, The New York Times have called for significant increases in gasoline and diesel taxes to tackle these problems while funding growth in transit and other environmentally-friendly transportation, North American voters and politicians still fail to understand the effects of our “love affair with the automobile.” And with the mainstream media – dependent upon automobile advertising – reluctant to connect the dots, North Americans rarely understand that individual transportation, not industry or commerce, is the prime factor in greenhouse emissions. Many, indeed, still demand additional highways, rather than substantive increases in transit service, to mitigate congestion.
Transportation, however, emitting 1,959 million metric tons of C02 annually, produces the most greenhouse emissions of any of the economy’s four sectors, the U.S. Energy Information Agency reported in November 2006 while noting that the primary income-producing sectors of the economy – industry and commerce – have decreased C02 emissions relative to GDP by 25 percent over the past 20 years.
More than eight in 10 tons in transportation emissions come from auto fuels but in the two years following “An Inconvenient Truth,” U.S. car mileage and gasoline demand has increased two percent annually. The two North American countries contain one in 20 world citizens but provide half of the entire planet’s automotive carbon dioxide emissions. Politicians in both countries, however, are terrified of offending drivers, most of whom are voters. The Suburban Soccer Mom in her SUV today dominates politics because she is a consistent voter enticed by both the “compassion” message of liberal politicians and the “protection” message of conservatives. No candidate can see any political future in angering her by saying what the data is loudly proclaiming: “You need to get out of your car and still get your kids to school and still get to work. Oh, by the way, still go shopping a lot.”
The bottom line is that North Americans use too much carbon per capita – double what the European uses, six times what individual Chinese use, according to the U.S. Department of Energy – and much of the American burn comes in driving 2.9 trillion miles annually in 211 billion car trips, by far the highest numbers in the world. The 12 most transportation inefficient cities in the world are all in North America.
The political issue is so daunting, meanwhile, that even Al Gore barely mentions personal vehicle usage in “An Inconvenient Truth” and failed to mention autos in his Nobel acceptance speech. And he’s not presently a politician. When he was, during the 2000 campaign when gasoline prices spiked at $1.81 a gallon, the fear of Suburban Soccer Moms in SUVs caused him to demand that President Clinton release petroleum from the Strategic Oil Reserve, undermining the sole success in America’s continual quest for “energy independence.”
With America’s auto fleet turning over about eight percent a year, future Corporate Average Fuel Economy increases, plus any hydrogen or fuel cell cars which require huge investments in infrastructure, can be only a drop in any solution. In the seven years the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change now predicts the world has to stabilize CO2 emissions before losing a quarter of plant and animal species, only half of America’s 226 million vehicles would be replaced – and most replacements would still pollute if, perhaps, not as much.