Too Expensive, or Not Expensive Enough?

As noted by Duncan who blogged on the topic in May, the New York Times ran an interesting piece this weekend about Energy Policy in the United States. It gives a good overview about the inaction that we have seen in the decades since the first oil crisis, and how America has been voting themselves better jobs building bigger cars, and then buying and driving those cars on relatively cheap gas. An interesting read whether you live in the States or not.

As in every situation with political implications (and which situation doesn’t?), discussions about the rising gas prices tend to quickly degenerate into an ugly partisan mudslinging contest. Suddenly it’s not about the price of filling up, but about jobs in Michigan vs. drilling for oil off the California coast (which was outlawed by an executive order of Bush senior) and if you’re not toeing one party line, you must be for the other guy.

However, it’s about more than that. Perhaps the shift in the market caused by the high gas prices will cause someone to start innovating again. Stop whining about how the auto industry is going down the tubes making cars that no one wants to buy, but come up with a something that makes this entire problem go away. This is America for goodness sake, we’re supposed to be smart. Is it electric cars that drink from the wall outlet? Can we engineer sufficiently efficient batteries that make them go as far as we need them to? Or will they get their power from hydrogen fuel cells and have we figured out yet how to store hydrogen without letting too many of those tiny molecules escape?

In any case, we have to stop putting gas in our cars. The dinosaurs are dead, they are not making any more oil. That stuff is too precious to keep setting on fire.

Our State is On Fire

Over the past couple of weeks, more than a thousand wildfires have burned in California. Most were set off by lightning strikes two weeks ago. The air has been really smoky, burning our throats. Sunsets have been really murky.

View from an airliner of a wildfire burning in the Lake Isabella area, above Bakersfield CA

As of this week about 400 fires remain. I got a good look at this one today from my flight, from just south of Bakersfield looking northeast.

Incentives for Cleaner Air

Matt comments on my mentioning that the State of California is sueing auto makers for emissions. He proposes that instead of the manufacturers, the individual motorists should pay for putting bad stuff into the air: ?Taxing at the pump hits the person who is causing the emissions and taxes them according to how much they put out.?

Maybe that’s what we need to do. The basic idea is to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere. The question is how to get the best results with the least effort and the greatest political viability. Where does one start? Power plants would be a good central point at which to sequester carbon dioxide emissions, much more so than individual cars. Electric cars would be great, but they haven’t really arrived despite some promising developments.

It’s really all about incentives. High gas prices and the perk of driving solo in the carpool lane have fueled (ahem) Hybrid vehicle popularity in California. Should we make gas prices even higher to drive more motorists inito hybrids? That would not be a very popular election platform. Going after auto makers may be a more viable approach. Fair? Maybe not. But it doesn’t need the popular vote.

Interesting web link: the EPA makes available fuel economy and emissions data for recent vehicles. This is another good place to check when considering buying a new or used car.

Gore: Tax Pollution

Reuters mentions a speech by Al Gore where he proposed to levy taxes on pollution caused by companies rather than on the wages they pay their employees. The full text of his speech at NYU is also available.

Meanwhile, the state of California sues the world’s six largest auto makers for damages caused by global warming.

While stuff like this may seem far-fetched, it actually makes sense in a way. It goes against the notion that you can just dump your exhaust into the atmosphere and watch it waft away to go bother someone else. We pay, sometimes a lot, to have our waste water treated, and our solid waste hauled away and neatly put all in the same place where it can someday be a golf course. Meanwhile, we are all blowing smoke into the air without any cost or personal consequences. On what planet is that OK?