Climate Change Rules Could Be the Death of You

February 4th, 2015 by Leave a Comment

This op-ed by Heartland Institute Research Fellow H. Sterling Burnett appeared in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution at http://www.ajc.com/news/news/opinion/choose-the-vehicle-you-want/nj3TR/

Climate or Crash Risk in Your Vehicle Choice

By H. Sterling Burnett, Ph.D. 

Environmentalists are coming after your car — again. And what they don’t want you to know is their crusade, if successful, would result in a multitude of unnecessary deaths. 

With the false promise of reduced dependence on foreign oil, environmental radicals convinced Congress to establish Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards beginning in 1975. CAFE standards required cars to meet federally mandated fuel economy targets or pay a hefty tax, a tax on gas guzzling sedans. The results? Many people switched to smaller, more fuel-efficient cars. Others, however, started driving trucks, and a new category of vehicles was born: SUVs and minivans. 

That’s right, the popularity of trucks, SUVs, and minivans is a direct result of environmentalists’ efforts to force people out of the large, comfortable, powerful cars they liked. Trucks, SUVs, and minivans didn’t have to meet the most stringent fuel economy standards, so to keep the features they liked, millions of people replaced the family sedan with a hulking SUV or truck. Talk about your unintended consequences! 

As a result, CAFE standards did not reduce our dependence on foreign oil. But for those who switched to the smaller, more fuel-efficient cars, they did cost lives. 

The fastest way to increase fuel economy was to shed vehicle weight. In the process, cars were made less safe. Research has shown the size and weight reductions of passenger vehicles undertaken to meet CAFE standards resulted in tens of thousands of unnecessary deaths, a tragedy beyond comprehension. 

Whereas before CAFE small cars were a pretty small portion of the total car market, thus when cars crashed, they were commonly of equal size and weight. A disparity grew between vehicles, however, as some former sedan drivers switched to compacts and subcompacts while others shifted to trucks, minivans and SUVs. 

The laws of physics don’t change: In a crash; larger and heavier is better than lighter and smaller. With comparable safety equipment, occupants of small cars do worse than people in larger sedans, minivans, or SUVs in every kind of accident, insurance data show. Naturally, environmentalists don’t like to talk about this. 

In the late 2000s, in response to high gas prices, some drivers abandoned their trucks and SUVs  for smaller vehicles with greater fuel efficiency. Environmentalists were thrilled. 

Now with gas prices falling, drivers cheer, but environmentalists are up in arms. 

The activists now argue people should drive small vehicles, not to defund Middle East tyrants, but to prevent global warming. Problem is, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and National Academy of Sciences (NAS) have found shifting to more fuel-efficient cars will not prevent or even slow purported global warming. 

EPA estimates U.S. car and light truck emissions make up at most 1.5 percent of all human-caused greenhouse gas emissions. Thus, if everyone bought 40-mpg cars, greenhouse gases would decline by less than a negligible 0.5 percent. 

An NAS study found higher CAFE standards would only shift greenhouse gas emissions from the tailpipe to the factory, because vehicles using lighter-weight materials (e.g., aluminum, plastics, or composites) require increased indirect energy consumption from the production of substitute materials, thus offsetting any decreases of greenhouse gas emissions achieved through fuel efficiency. 

If social conscience is the driving force in your purchasing decisions, and high fuel economy floats your boat, you are free to buy electric, hybrid, or clean diesel vehicles. If comfort, power, and the ability to haul a boat or ferry a soccer team is your goal, you should be free to get the large, powerful vehicle that fits your needs. 

The moral of the story: Choose the car you want. The life you save may be your own, and the planet won’t care! 

Sterling Burnett, Ph.D. (hsburnett@heartland.org) is a research fellow with The Heartland Institute.

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