Arbor Update

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Local residents petition Rep. Dingell to act on CAFE standards

12. September 2007 • Murph
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Think Global: Act Dingell

After Representative John Dingell’s Town Hall meetings held a few weeks ago, a group of his constituents decided that Dingell might require a little more encouragement, particularly with regards to auto mileage standards currently under discussion. In order to balance out the auto industry’s pressure on Dingell against the increases, the group’s first action has been to set up a petition for constituents to show their support for the proposed increase. Their website, Think Global: Act Dingell includes links to relevant articles supporting their position. The petition has collected about 120 signatures in its first two weeks, though that number includes several “anonymous” signatures.



  1. Uh, if we’re really interested in slowing CO2 emissions, why aren’t we first discussing how to slow emissions from the largest source — the power utilities? If I remember correctly, CO2 emissions from power generation are about a factor of 2 greater than those from tail pipes.

    It seems to me a more effective and equitable way to reduce emissions would be through a carbon tax, which Dingell has proposed. Why not a petition to encourage him to more aggressively pursue that option?

    I was disappointed to see that John Edwards’ name was missing from the petition:
    http://www.freep.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20070902/BUSINESS01/709020592/1014

    Homer


       —Homer    Sep. 13 '07 - 03:46AM    #
  2. Homer, I can’t disagree that a full “solution” needs to be broader – I’ve said before that I believe I’m more in favor of Dingell’s proposed carbon tax than Dingell himself is.

    On the other hand, though, as one of the authors of the petition puts it, “Are there other things we could be focusing on? Sure. . . But, for the purposes of this campaign, we decided to focus on fuel economy and renewables – two areas where Dingell seemed to be reluctant to lead.”

    In my opinion, this is sound strategy – a petition for a complete fix to global warming AND an end to poverty AND world peace AND colonies on Mars is appealing, but too broad to be useful. Focusing on individual, discrete goals is more likely to mean something.


       —Murph    Sep. 13 '07 - 12:36PM    #
  3. On the other hand, though, as one of the authors of the petition puts it, “Are there other things we could be focusing on?”

    Sure there are — but CAFE standards have all kinds of nasty side effects. By forcing people into smaller, more fuel-efficient cars, they will tend to decreased the per-mile cost of driving and increase the tendency toward congestion and sprawl. We don’t want a greater number of smaller vehicles with fewer occupants driving longer distances. Wouldn’t we like to see people living closer to their workplaces? Driving solo less often? Running fewer unnecessary errands? Telecommuting more? Walking or biking more? By increasing the per-mile cost of driving, carbon taxes (or fuel taxes) would encourage these trends. By decreasing the per-mile cost of driving, raising CAFE standards would tend to do the opposite.

    And then the effects of CAFE changes are very slow. There is no impact at all on the existing fleet. And if manufacturers win phase-in provisions as a part of the deal (which is almost certain), the effect is even slower.

    And, lastly, there is the safety issue. Yes, driving smaller, lighter cars would not increase the danger as much if they weren’t sharing the roads with large vehicles. But the existing fleet is not going to disappear for many years, and commercial trucks are not going to shrink (and deer are not going to stop running across roads at night).

    We don’t want the impulse to “do something” to lead to us doing something that we know is counterproductive just because it seems politically feasible.


       —mw    Sep. 14 '07 - 11:19AM    #
  4. I’ve said before that I believe I’m more in favor of Dingell’s proposed carbon tax than Dingell himself is:

    Would increased energy taxes be so bad for Michigan’s economy, though? Considering the blame placed on “off-shoring” for the UAW’s woes, one has to wonder. Shipping auto parts and finished cars (or the entire inventory of WalMart) back and forth across the world is only possible because of artificially cheap energy – businesses can move production to wherever cheap labor is available, shipping finished products cheaply across the world. With increased energy costs, however, this math begins to change. The higher the cost of energy, for whatever reason, the more it makes sense to produce close to the destination.

    This is conventional thinking among the ‘buy local’ left (I almost said the ‘pull up the drawbridge left’ but that would have been too snarky), but it really doesn’t add up. Container (and rail) shipping uses very little energy per unit, and container shipping wouldn’t be touched by a U.S. gas or carbon tax. And if oil got expensive enough, container ships could run on wind or solar power or even go back to dirt-cheap coal. Sorry — shipping stuff from China is just not going to get expensive because of energy costs.

    And, BTW, this points to a problem with a serious carbon taxes — if we impose a unilateral carbon tax, that will tend to drive energy intensive industries offshore. So if we’re going to do something unilaterally, it probably should be a gas tax rather than a carbon tax.


       —mw    Sep. 14 '07 - 02:45PM    #
  5. How has Rep. Dingell’s office responded to your encouragement to pursue a gas tax, mw? I’d love to know and hope you’ll report back when you get off the phone with them.


       —Dale    Sep. 14 '07 - 03:13PM    #
  6. First, thanks for the link. I appreciate it…

    As for a gas tax, I’m in favorof one. Dingell, however, has already stated that his legislation will include one. (Concensus seems to be that he first suggested it as a political ploy, but may have since come around to seeing the wisdom of it. The important thing is that, for right now, he’s in favor of one.) Just because we didn’t mention a gas tax in the body of the petition does not mean that we – or at least I – don’t believe it’s a critical component. For the purposes of this petition, however, for better or worse, we decided to focus on two areas where Dingell seemed to be slow to respond – fuel efficiency and the funding of renewables, such as wind and solar.

    As for your claim that people will drive more when cars become more fuel eficient, I don’t buy it, and I suspect that any study of drivers having made the switch from say SUVs to hybrids, would suppor that. I, for one, did not. (I drove an old Chevy Blazer for years before buying a Honda Civic hybrid.)

    And I like being called a member of “the ‘buy local’ left”. If you were selling buttons, I’d buy one. (Assuming, of course, that they were made within a five mile radius of my home.)


       —Mark Maynard    Sep. 15 '07 - 01:11PM    #
  7. Dale: How has Rep. Dingell’s office responded to your encouragement to pursue a gas tax, mw? I’d love to know and hope you’ll report back when you get off the phone with them.

    That’s the direction he’s headed already — do we need to call our representatives to tell them to do what they’re already doing?

    Mark Maynard: As for your claim that people will drive more when cars become more fuel eficient, I don’t buy it, and I suspect that any study of drivers having made the switch from say SUVs to hybrids, would suppor that. I, for one, did not.

    So your economic theory is that a gas tax, which would raise the cost of driving, would result in people driving less, but that reducing the cost of driving would not, in any way, encourage them to drive more?!?

    And I like being called a member of “the ‘buy local’ left”.

    OK, great — so which goods that cannot possibly be produced locally are you willing to do without permanently? Bananas? Orange juice? Seafood? And why limit our ‘buy local’ mania to food? Should we Michiganders swear off cotton in all forms? Drink only Michigan wines? Listen only to Michigan music and watch only Michigan-produced TV shows and films? Read only Michigan-written and printed books (on Michigan milled paper made out of Michigan grown pulp-wood)?

    I remember when the left tended toward cosmopolitanism rather than provincialism — what happened?


       —mw    Sep. 15 '07 - 02:35PM    #
  8. mw writes: “So your economic theory is that a gas tax, which would raise the cost of driving, would result in people driving less, but that reducing the cost of driving would not, in any way, encourage them to drive more?!?”

    It’s worth noting that the increased purchase price of a vehicle that meets CAFE standards will tend to erode at least some of the savings on the per-mile cost of operating such a vehicle. How much? I don’t know. On the other hand, it’s been argued that the increased purchase price of a vehicle that meets CAFE standards might keep people in their current (more polluting) cars longer, thus again undermining the intent of CAFE.

    Still, I think it’s worth trying to include in the relevant economic models that presumably policymakers are running, the possibility that increased purchase price of vehicles meeting CAFE standards causes some consumers to reject cars as transportation altogether … instead of just delaying the purchase of a newer, more expensive, but fuel-efficient vehicle.

    I think a policy meant to address global warming can’t reasonably be reduced to a single or even a couple of strategies. Given a fixed number of miles driven, cars meeting CAFE clearly will reduce emissions compared to cars not meeting CAFE. I think that’s a convincing argument that CAFE must be part of the solution. The observation that CAFE, if implemented as a sole strategy, might cause the number of miles driven to rise, should not lead policymakers to the conclusion that, Oh, well, then there’s some other one thing we should do instead of CAFE. They should instead say, Okay, we need to build, for example, a gas tax into the policy as well.


       —HD    Sep. 15 '07 - 05:01PM    #
  9. Yes, mw, we should.

    Ha, ha, cosmopolitanism! Damn, that’s brilliant. I wouldn’t want NOT to be cosmopolitan, would I? It’s why I have sworn off appreciation of Frank Lloyd Wright’s architecture and the poems, books, and novellas of Jim Harrison (don’t get me started on that rube Hemingway), as well as the furniture of Grand Rapids and the fruit of SW Michigan (not to mention the research of Liberty Hyde Bailey), plus the fish of Lake Michigan and inland streams and lakes, not to mention the whole Great Lakes ecosystem. What a bunch of provincial bullshit — there’s no WAY that being attentive to local culture and economic systems could HAVE a connection to the global, could it? Not as far as this provincial dummy sees it.

    Wait, this sarcasm might seem a bit overwrought to the more cosmopolitan among us. Well, at least I’ve still got the respect of the crumbs on my shirt. I think.


       —Dale    Sep. 15 '07 - 05:53PM    #
  10. HD: It’s worth noting that the increased purchase price of a vehicle that meets CAFE standards will tend to erode at least some of the savings on the per-mile cost of operating such a vehicle.

    But the last time I checked, smaller, higher-mileage vehicles tend to be less expensive than larger, heavier vehicles. And even withing the same vehicle family, the more efficient models with 4-cylinder engines and manual transmissions are cheaper than the versions with V6s and automatics. In general, smaller, lighter and less powerful -> both a lower purchase price and a lower cost per mile.

    Dale: Ha, ha, cosmopolitanism! Damn, that’s brilliant. I wouldn’t want NOT to be cosmopolitan, would I? It’s why I have sworn off appreciation of Frank Lloyd Wright’s architecture and the poems, books, and novellas of Jim Harrison.

    ?!? Nobody’s suggesting a ‘buy remote’ philosophy as the antidote for ‘buy local’ thinking — the antidote is an openness to buy what you like regardless of the source. Which means, for example, enjoying a wonderful mug of beer brewed in town, or a great glass of wine from Provence, or a delicious mug of coffee made of beans from thousands of miles away (maybe Columbian beans today and Ethiopian beans tomorrow).

    Jim Harrison’s novels are fine, and lake perch is tasty, but I don’t want to limit myself to a diet of Harrison novels and perch dinners. (BTW—while Illinois and Wisconsin have strong claims to Wright, I think Michigan’s claims would be pretty tenuous).

    What I’m complaining about, in general, is the idea that trade with people in other places is inherently suspicious and should be avoided when possible. To my mind, that’s a provincial attitude (one with the potential to cause a lot of harm to the world’s poor — coffee growers, for example — if it ever really caught on).


       —mw    Sep. 17 '07 - 05:42PM    #
  11. The Kalamazoo area has 8 Usonian homes, the largest concentration in the US (or world, for that matter).

    I’m not worried in the LEAST about people’s overriding desire to get the goods they want at a cheap price. I don’t think that’s going to change for the vast majority of the population and good old trade is going to zip along without giving a thought to the buy local left. However, I and probably others in the BLL are concerned about people choosing to get goods through established channels that are no better and no cheaper (hell, without even any comparative advantage) than what can be and is produced locally.

    Much as The Economist and economists might rail about local food being stupid because the unnatural illogical result (but they suggest anyhow) would be winter greenhouses that are energy guzzlers, one could eat well and seasonally and with a reduced environmental impact from local sources and get a better product. Nobody who’s thought about this would suggest we grow our own coffee to bring our money back from frigging Colombia, but we might eat better and sweeter apples and peaches and (fill in the many, many blanks of cultural, manufactured and agricultural goods) by buying local.


       —Dale    Sep. 17 '07 - 09:52PM    #
  12. The Kalamazoo area has 8 Usonian homes, the largest concentration in the US (or world, for that matter).

    Well, the Art Institute in Chicago has the second greatest collection of Impressionist paintings in the world, but I don’t think that gives Illinois much of a claim on Monet …

    ...and good old trade is going to zip along without giving a thought to the buy local left

    I hope you’re right.

    Nobody who’s thought about this would suggest we grow our own coffee to bring our money back from frigging Colombia, but we might eat better and sweeter apples and peaches and (fill in the many, many blanks of cultural, manufactured and agricultural goods) by buying local.

    But many in the “eat local” movement have a much broader agenda than just eating fresher, tastier peaches — they believe eating food that has traveled long distance is inherently environmentally destructive and that one should simply do without out-of-season produce. But if you’re going to give up out-of-season produce because of ‘food miles’, why not also give up coffee, tea, chocolate, seafood, imported wines, tropical fruits, and so on? After all, these are luxuries — indulgences that are no more necessary than out-of-season strawberries.


       —mw    Sep. 17 '07 - 11:20PM    #
  13. Architecture has context, mw. Try harder.

    I’m sure you’re familiar with the idea of consumer sovereignty — if people don’t want to drink coffee or wine or mangoes, who are you to stop them with appeals to aid for the poor? Should I continue to eat chocolate, wine, french bread, and cheese despite risks to my health?

    Back to your claim about cosmopolitanism (remember that? before you tried to change the subject to pique my liberal guilt?) — how is appreciating and promoting the value of local products NOT cosmopolitan?


       —Dale    Sep. 17 '07 - 11:41PM    #
  14. I see you understood me, mw. I’m not claiming FLLW the man for Michigan (though by no means were my claims limited to the boundaries of the state of Michigan). It’s the architecture I referred to, the product.


       —Dale    Sep. 17 '07 - 11:48PM    #
  15. Back to your claim about cosmopolitanism (remember that? before you tried to change the subject to pique my liberal guilt?) — how is appreciating and promoting the value of local products NOT cosmopolitan?

    I don’t think I can improve on Kwame Appiah’s classic take on this topic:

    [Changed long URL to link. Please use "link name":url format for links.--ed.]


       —mw    Sep. 18 '07 - 02:07PM    #