Are We Actually THAT Shortsighted and Selfish?

Our choices for transportation don’t say much for us

American automotive firms are pretty much getting out of the car business. They are going almost exclusively to trucks and SUVs. They are leaving the automobile market to foreign companies.

One cannot blame them for this – they are going where the market tells them. You and I pretty much determine what General Motors, et al manufacture.

People have gone in this direction on a large scale because gasoline is a bit cheaper these days. Gas is not costly; so, gas mileage is not much of a factor for many of us anymore. The fleet gets larger and less efficient (although still better than years ago).

A sub set of this process is the demise of an important category of what I refer to as transitional vehicles. These are electric/hybrid combinations. Two of these, the Ford CMax and the Chevrolet Volt stop production in 2019, and others are likely to follow. (Disclaimer: I own two such vehicles, one a car, the other a small SUV. Love ‘em both. Great vehicles, averaging in the range of 50-60 MPH equivalents).

So why is this shift towards trucks and SUV’s a problem? This is a problem on two counts.

First, burning carbon remains a setback for the environment and for global warming. Continuing to do this does measurable damage to the environment. It slows our progress in moving away from carbon fuels. There is an economic side to this aspect as well. The future is clearly electric. The longer we linger in gasoline land, the further behind we get in a transition we should be leading. This is where the future lies, where jobs will be, where innovation will lead. But we as a nation delay the transition at the first shiny bobble that distracts us, like cheaper gas.

Second, while the US is now a leader in energy production, we still import a lot of oil. By the way, our role as a leading producer may be going away also. Much current and projected production depends on fracking and oil sands conversation. Both of these sources are as bad as it gets environmentally. They are also proving economically unfeasible at current prices. Many such sites have or soon will shut down. The Trump administration is trying to increase production by drilling in national parks and offshore, but they will be thwarted in some of this and in any case, it will not be enough to make a difference.

As long as we import large quantities of oil, we are at risk for economic blackmail and disruptions. By supporting the oil market, we lose leverage over countries like Saudi Arabia. We provide an economic gift to Vladimir Putin. How does any of that make sense for the US?

No doubt many people think their decision about a car is so small a cog in the various systems that it makes no difference. Not so. Much of what we talked about here is driven by market forces. The decisions we make tell producers what is economically viable for them. Simply focusing on gas prices is a shallow approach that should be unacceptable for us.

Let’s keep our eye on the long term. Recognize that we do personally affect environmental and security outcomes. Looking to buy a car? Look hard for electric or transitional. At the very least, insist on excellent gas mileage.

The rest of us are counting on you to do your part.

    Bill Clontz

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2 replies to Are We Actually THAT Shortsighted and Selfish?

  1. Judy bought a Honda Clarity last June. It’s a plug-in hybrid and based on costs so far we estimate her annual energy cost to be less than $200. Great little car.

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