Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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January 29, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

THE FUEL ECONOMY SHUFFLE....For reasons that escape me, Gregg Easterbrook has made it his life's work to insist that George Bush is a beacon of environmentalism who just can't catch a break from a liberal establishment that won't give him credit for his good works. I first wrote about this three years ago, and concluded that his misrepresentations and special pleadings on this subject were so egregious that nothing further he said about it should be trusted without independent verification.

Today Easterbrook is at it again, claiming that Bush's recent call for higher mileage standards has been unfairly ignored:

This should have been Page One headline material -- PRESIDENT CALLS FOR DRAMATIC MPG REGULATIONS. Instead, most news organizations pretended Bush's mpg proposal did not exist, or buried the story inside the paper, or made only cryptic references to it.

....Bush proposed that the CAFE standard grow 4 percent stricter per year....Improve on 21 mpg by 4 percent annually for 10 years, and the number rises to 31 mpg. If the actual fuel economy of new vehicles were 31 mpg, oil-consumption trends would reverse -- from more oil use to less.

Easterbrook is right: if corporate average fuel economy rose 4% a year for ten years, that would be a huge improvement and Bush would deserve enormous credit for making it happen. But as always with Bush, the devil is in the details, something that "most news organizations" are well aware of. For your edification, here are the details:

  • Bush is insisting that Congress get out of the CAFE business. Instead, the Bush administration itself will set future standards "based on cost/benefit analysis, using sound science, and without impacting safety." Pardon my cynicism, but this doesn't sound like a way of increasing CAFE standards. It sounds like a way of preempting a newly Democratic Congress from setting strict standards and instead allowing the administration to create toothless, industry-friendly rules with lots of loopholes. "Cost/benefit" and "sound science" are movement conservative buzzwords that are usually pretty reliable indicators that the con is on.

  • Bush's plan is to switch from average fuel economy standards to "attribute-based" standards. That is, instead of a firm overall target, car manufacturers will have flexible targets for different vehicle classes, along with the ability to trade "CAFE credits" if they don't feel like meeting even those.

  • That 4% per year increase in fuel economy? It's an "assumption," not a commitment. "The Secretary of Transportation will determine the actual standard and fuel savings in a flexible rulemaking process."

Look. We've been around the block on this kind of stuff before: great sounding promises from Bush followed by little in the way of serious rulemaking/funding/legislative action. I'm not sure why Easterbrook pretends not to know this, but the rest of us should keep our hands on our wallets until Bush unveils firm proposals that put some meat on these bones.

If Bush turns out to be sincere, then I'll be suitably astonished and I promise to eat a healthy helping of crow. But I'm not holding my breath. Even granting John Dingell's longtime aversion to increasing CAFE standards, I'm not willing to turn the CAFE keys over to Bush at just the time that we finally have a Democratic Congress that might turn out to show some spine on this issue. Because Easterbrook is absolutely right about one thing: "Nothing the United States can do in energy policy is more important than an mpg increase."

Kevin Drum 11:23 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (99)

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Comments

Um, yes. "Sound science" is whatever would be admired on the Wall Street Journal's editorial page.

I guess we can be relieved that John Dingell isn't quite the mighty feudal lord that he was the last time there was a Democratic majority.

Posted by: Dave Martin on January 29, 2007 at 11:31 PM | PERMALINK

you tell us asshole. the washington monthly has been publishing his nut for years.

why?

Posted by: albertchampion on January 29, 2007 at 11:32 PM | PERMALINK

Hows that colony on Mars coming along Gregg baby?

Posted by: Martin on January 29, 2007 at 11:36 PM | PERMALINK

If Bush turns out to be sincere,

Look! A flying pig!

Ol' Shrubbery is only being judged by his actions - or lack of them. Is that so deeply unfair?

Posted by: craigie on January 29, 2007 at 11:39 PM | PERMALINK

Albert: I can't speak for the editors, but he actually doesn't write for us anymore. I think he wrote one short essay for us in 2004, but that's the only only thing in the past six years.

(Of course, that essay was "W. Takes On Global Warming," his prediction that Bush would get serious about CO2 in his second term. Maybe he's just trying to prove himself right.)

Posted by: Kevin Drum on January 29, 2007 at 11:40 PM | PERMALINK

Maybe when Bush says he wants to increase our MPG, he means "miles per glacier."

That, I'll believe.

Posted by: craigie on January 29, 2007 at 11:40 PM | PERMALINK

The most effective method to increase fuel economy is to raise the gas tax. That is the only good idea that Al Gore ever had. The other part of it wa suggested by Tom Freidman. The tax should be devoted to doubling the army's (or better yet, the Marine Corps) size. Regulations are always evaded and have huge enforcement costs..

Posted by: Mike K on January 29, 2007 at 11:43 PM | PERMALINK

The tax should be devoted to doubling the army's (or better yet, the Marine Corps) size.

Look! Gregg Easterbrook's dumber brother!

Posted by: Col Bat Guano on January 29, 2007 at 11:48 PM | PERMALINK

Yes! A gas tax would work some. Look at Europe and what they drive! Giving the incentive to alternative fuels and clean energy sources would be huge.

Tom Friedman is one of the US' bigger idiots. But getting serious about climate control would be one of the world's necessities.

Posted by: notthere on January 30, 2007 at 12:02 AM | PERMALINK

Fuel economy standards are a gigantic crock and anyone who drives a car knows that the manufacturer's claims never come within a country mile of the actual. I'm happy with the approx. 48 mpg I get with my Prius, but that's 80% of the 60 mpg which appears on the outdoor display ads I see.

If we REALLY wanted to be accurate, all we'd have to do is mandate that mpg metering be placed at random on say 200 units of each and every model produced by manufacturers worldwide and that a system be set up to capture the results. The number of cars used would be large enough to get a good average which would become THE figure which would have to be used to tout the true MPG of that vehicle.

Then people could truly shop for vehicles based on their fuel economy and government could truly measure whether future efforts by the manufacturers to increase their fleet averages were working.

Chances of this happening.....probably about zero.

Posted by: dweb on January 30, 2007 at 12:08 AM | PERMALINK

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me — you can't get fooled again.

Posted by: josef on January 30, 2007 at 12:10 AM | PERMALINK

Be nice if Bush's actions match his rhetoric but yeah, good luck with that one. Maybe Easterbrook can let all of us borrow the glasses he is wearing and that thing he is smoking so we can all get a lot at an alternative reality.

Forget the environment, reduced reliance on foreign oil makes for good national security policy. That less fossil fuel consumption would help reduce global warming is just sauce for the goose but frame the debate around security and force the wingers to put up or shut up.

Posted by: Nathan64 on January 30, 2007 at 12:19 AM | PERMALINK

Fuel economy standards are a gigantic crock and anyone who drives a car knows that the manufacturer's claims never come within a country mile of the actual.

Well, yes and no. Sure mileage is over-stated, but it is measured in a standard fashion so we do have some ability to determine relative improvement. But that's not really the point here...

Posted by: NTodd on January 30, 2007 at 12:23 AM | PERMALINK

Why does Easterbrook say this? Because he's a dishonet moron. Really, have you read anything he's written, especially anything about science? He's really pretty stupid and he's clearly dishonest. Once you know that there's no more mystery.

Posted by: Matt on January 30, 2007 at 12:32 AM | PERMALINK

was anybody on ameriblog tonight it seems to me it has been shut down?

Posted by: mr maki mmmkaayyy on January 30, 2007 at 12:33 AM | PERMALINK

Christopher Caldwell, writing for the Financial Times:

The problem for Mr Bush is that, on energy as on Iraq, the public does not view his proposals in isolation. In one State of the Union after another, he has talked his credibility on the energy issue down to a level pretty near zero. In his 2003 address, on the eve of the Iraq war, the president called for a $1.2bn initiative to develop hydrogen cars. Little has been heard of that brainstorm since and one could be forgiven for suspecting the president was only trying to soften up the public by making his approach to the oil-rich Middle East look more multi-dimensional. Mr Bush's assertion last year that "America is addicted to oil" turned out to be an apercu not a strategy. Whether or not his latest energy plan is workable, he has cried wolf too often for voters to risk looking foolish by believing him.

It is unfair to say the plan does not address global warming. It is not meant to. Its goals are geo-strategic, not environmentalist. None the less, there is something bizarre, and even disturbing, about the way "conservation" is not present even as a vague background concept, as an object of lip service. Is it right that we use so much energy? Should we drive our cars less? These questions, which have traditionally framed all debate over energy policy, are missing. The plan has no moral dimension whatsoever. Why is this?

http://www.ft.com/cms/s/b39fbc88-ad78-11db-8709-0000779e2340.html

Posted by: blah on January 30, 2007 at 12:35 AM | PERMALINK

Wrong. The most important thing the United States could do on energy policy is start taxing fossil fuel emissions, and stop subsidising them.

Everything else, including the ridiculous CAFE system, is a second-order issue. CAFE is an exercise in piddling against the wind. It neither encourages people to buy fuel-efficient vehicles, nor encourages less driving, which is a much simpler way to reduce emissions.

Posted by: Robert Merkel on January 30, 2007 at 12:42 AM | PERMALINK

Forget about Bush, we've got a democratic Congress and Senate now so the Dems should propose a mandatory CAFE reduction with teeth and present it to the President. Hell, it can even match his 4% per year goal. Dare him to veto his own idea.

As for a gas tax, bad idea. Way too regressive when we are in need of more progressive taxation and our country has just grown up too expansively for it to work like in other Western nations. High gas prices are not who we are. We should be investing in alternative fuels and providing incentives for mass transit and better city planning. And of course, much higher CAFE standards.

Posted by: SimulatedOutrage on January 30, 2007 at 12:43 AM | PERMALINK

I really don't understand why we should care what George Bush's latest ideas are, or why Congress should defer to him. Legislation is the business of the House and Senate. The president can submit any laundry list he likes, but why we should care more about his priorities than those of Pelosi, Reid and the rest of the Congress completely eludes me.

Posted by: Mikef on January 30, 2007 at 12:43 AM | PERMALINK

MikeK: The most effective method to increase fuel economy is to raise the gas tax.

I agree in spirit, but the increase in gas prices this last year -- about $1 per gallon -- haven't decreased demand much. So as much as I'd like to agree, American demand for gasoline isn't that elastic.

Is your "most effective method" an assertion or can it be backed up?

Posted by: a on January 30, 2007 at 12:48 AM | PERMALINK

Fuel economy standards are a gigantic crock and anyone who drives a car knows that the manufacturer's claims never come within a country mile of the actual....

Posted by: dweb on January 30, 2007 at 12:08 AM | PERMALINK

Actually, this year, I believe, we finally change the gas numbers. Not to say that so far they haven't given a relative if unrealistic frame. It was based on the 55 mph limit and an unrealistic urban cycle, so now we'll get closer to the truth. Too late.

When I was growing up, "Motor" and "Autocar" magazine gave their own test fuel economy figures that came a lot closer to real life. There's no reason that "Motor Trend", "Car&Driver" and "Autoweek" could not have done the same. More the pity that they did not.

But the idea that consumers had no idea about the problem is dissembling. We've all been complaining of the same for 20 years at least.

Posted by: notthere on January 30, 2007 at 12:50 AM | PERMALINK

While the left discusses trivia:

All hail to the Party!

Who knew that after the fall of the USSR, its model of Party hacks in every nook and cranny will be emulated by the self-proclaimed anti-communists here in USA?

Posted by: gregor on January 30, 2007 at 12:51 AM | PERMALINK

Richard Merkel,

Calling improved mandatory CAFE standards ridiculous is ridiculous. It cuts our nations gas consumption and that is a good thing for many many reasons. I'm with you on taxing emissions but CAFE standards is worthwhile as well. I think that has been proven by the last two times we raised the standards.

Posted by: SimulatedOutrage on January 30, 2007 at 12:53 AM | PERMALINK

Yeah, is there a little something extra in Easterbrook's bank account? I mean if Big Oil pays for anti-global warming advise what is little pro-CAFE Bush.

And it's not like the media hasn't ever cut poor little Bushie any slack, not with all those Judith Miller wannabes out there, waiting to go to jail for dear old Bushie.

Posted by: Cheryl on January 30, 2007 at 12:54 AM | PERMALINK

Is this the same Greg Easterbrook that parades around ESPN as TMQ? If it is then...

Holy Crap! Easterbrook managed to write a column in under 10,000 words!

I had no idea he could do it. And not one gratuitous shot of cheerleaders. I thought Easterbrook was committed to being a blowhard what with his tendency to sound like an expert analysis over everything from statistics to economics to physics to astrophysics to second guessing football coaches every tuesday morning. But it looks he's not as committed as I had been led to believe based from his TMQ postings.

A while back Easterbrook wrote for espn.com as TMQ, then got fired. But this season, he's back - with a vengeance, it seems. All those words he could have written have been crammed into columns he gives us now. I always thought he was let go because he made for bad bathroom reading – too long - thus didn't fit in with what ESPN is trying to bring their readers. It seems really he was having a battle with his editor, who wanted him to write well. Looks like the editor won the battle, in having Eastbrook temporarily sidelined, but Easterbrook won the war, eventually driving his editors insane and getting them replaced by the inane.

Oh, and to albertchampion above - I'm laughing imagining all the situations where I could open a rebuttal with "you tell us asshole..."

Imagine being back in elementary school and your teacher says, "allright, class, who can tell everyone where Morrocco is on the map"
To which some kid replies: "I don’t know, You tell us asshole"

or

Imagine a girl (or guy) you've always wanted to get to know comes up to you and says, "Hi. I'm tiffany. What's your name?" And you reply out of habit: "I don't know, you tell us asshole."

There’s something really funny about out-of-context defensive responses.

Posted by: A different matt on January 30, 2007 at 1:00 AM | PERMALINK

Does Easterbrook want a pony or something?

Posted by: Ghost of Tom Joad on January 30, 2007 at 1:03 AM | PERMALINK

So just for comparison, what's the historical yearly imporvement in fuel efficiency?

Posted by: ogmb on January 30, 2007 at 1:32 AM | PERMALINK

"Nothing the United States can do in energy policy is more important than an mpg increase."

Actually if Americans stopped eating meat it would have a much bigger impact than any mpg increase. Just saying...

Posted by: Veggie Boy on January 30, 2007 at 1:43 AM | PERMALINK

ogmb --

sorry you can't do your own research.

Try www.aceee.org/energy/cafe.htm
or wikipedia under Corporate Average Fuel Economy.
Plenty of others out there!

veggie boy, you are right and it would free up land for veg-diesel, or, better, just trees.

Posted by: nottheere on January 30, 2007 at 1:53 AM | PERMALINK

SimulatedOutrage: If you want to see the effectiveness of CAFE versus fuel taxes, I suggest you compare the fuel consumption of, say, the average vehicle in the United Kingdom, or Germany, against the average fuel consumption of the average vehicle in the United States.

Vehicle manufacturers are perfectly capable of producing more fuel-efficient vehicles. What they are not capable of doing is forcing Americans to buy them in the absence of any compelling financial reason to do so.

Posted by: Robert Merkel on January 30, 2007 at 2:36 AM | PERMALINK

Robert Merkel

If your goal is to reduce American gasoline consumption, then I suspect CAFE is a useful tool.

The price elasticity of demand of gasoline is so low, that increasing the price doesn't have a huge impact on total fuel consumption. In the UK, we have more than twice the gasoline price that you do, but we still drive and drive a lot (adjusting for a much smaller country).

If one's goal is to reduce CO2 emissions, then transportation is again probably the least price sensitive part of the CO2 production. If we can generalise a carbon tax at even a low level like $10/tonne CO2 ($30/tonne carbon) then there will be very significant economies achieved in CO2 emission from the power generation and domestic and commercial heating and cooling sectors (not to mention agriculture and cement production).

But Americans will keep driving. A $1 'tax' per gallon imposed by world oil markets in the last 2 1/2 years has had a de minimis effect on US gasoline consumption.

Posted by: Valuethinker on January 30, 2007 at 3:44 AM | PERMALINK

These Republicans study their semiotics!

When Bush says

'sound science'

it is like when he says

'Dredd Scott'

He is sending a very specific signal to his base, encoded so the rest of us can't read it.

'Dredd Scott' means judges who vote for immoral policies ie abortion-- the Supreme Court taking a morally wrong position that history will overturn (Roe v. Wade).

'sound science' means the opposite of 'junk science' science that is international and peer reviewed, ie the science the rest of us think is valid. 'sound science' is science that doesn't get in the way of economic growth.

'sound science' believes there is no global warming. And that concerns about environmental issues are entirely overblown.

Remember this is the man who used concerns about US oil imports as his wedge to open the Alaska Natural Wildlife Reserve to drilling.

Posted by: Valuethinker on January 30, 2007 at 3:47 AM | PERMALINK

Kevin: "If Bush turns out to be sincere, then I'll be suitably astonished and I promise to eat a healthy helping of crow. But I'm not holding my breath."

That's good. Blue would not look good on you.

Posted by: Donald from Hawaii on January 30, 2007 at 5:29 AM | PERMALINK

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Advancement_of_Sound_Science_Coalition

further info on 'Sound Science' as a codeword.

In this case, it was a codeword for denying tobacco smoke was injurious to health.

GWB has always been good at this communication game: he talks to his base in one language which is innocuous (or meaningless) to a larger one:

- 'I am a believer' (means something different to the born again than to those of us who are born once Christians or Jews)

- 'sound science' (as opposed to 'junk science' ie science we disagree with)

- 'Dredd Scott' (in the midst of the Kerry debate) ie I know Roe v. Wade is an immoral decision by the Supreme Court

Posted by: Valuethinker on January 30, 2007 at 6:46 AM | PERMALINK

Further from Wikipedia:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Advancement_of_Sound_Science_Center

Junkscience.com

The most visible public activity of TASSC was its support for the Junk Science website run by Steven Milloy, who describes himself as the "Junkman". Milloy denounces research on environmental issues such as climate change, pollution and public health as junk science if it produced results suggesting a need for public intervention or regulation. He promoted the idea of sound science, interpreted in practice to mean science favorable to corporate interests.

Adverse publicity about Milloy's links to Phillip Morris were followed by his departure from the Cato Institute, where he had been an adjunct fellow, at the end of 2005, and the removal of links to junkscience.org from the Cato website. However, Milloy remains influential as the science columnist for Fox News and an adjunct scholar at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

[edit] 'Sound Science' Award

In 1995, TASSC awarded New York Times science reporter Gina Kolata its "Sound Science in Journalism Award." Announcing the award, TASSC Chairman Garrey Carruthers praised Kolata "who responsibly detailed in a series of stories how science has been distorted and manipulated to fuel litigation concerning silicone breast implants." [11]

Explaining their award to Gina Kolata, TASSC wrote that she "wrote several articles on how science has been distorted and manipulated to advance implant-related litigation. Why it was chosen: Everyone seemed to be afraid to talk about it — the FDA has treated the issue like a hot potato and respected scientific researchers and medical professionals were criticized and harassed when they spoke out. It would have been an easy issue to avoid, but Kolata courageously took it on. Her articles were well-balanced and presented the strong scientific case — and why it had been distorted in the first place — for silicone breast implants." [12]

It is not clear whether TASSC made similar awards in later years, but the American Council on Science and Health now offers a Sound Science Award. The winner in 2005 was Michael Crichton.

The Advancement of Sound Science Coalition (TASSC), is well documented in the Tobacco Documents entered in evidence and passed through due process of law of the largest civil suit in United States history which resulted in a Multistate Settlement Agreement of a record $240 billion dollars by the tobacco companies. Two useful sources of historical documents are Tobacco Documents Online (TDO), and The Legacy Tobacco Documents Library sponsored by the University of California San Francisco (UCSF). TDO is holding 797 documents and UCSF is holding 680 documents under the keyword TASSC

TASSC was what is commonly known as an industry front group. That term means that a corporation or group of corporations creates a mock referee, which presents an appearance as a disinterested outside party, to join in a conflict as if they were not really following the orders and instructions of one side to gang up with their employer on the other side. Over time the tobacco industry had ever more difficult time staving off legislation restricting smoking, and they responded by hiring ever more people to play the role of neutral outsiders. TASSC was only one of many such groups. [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] [8]

TASSC would be of only minor historical curiosity except that the graduates from TASSC play prominent roles in present day life. Therefore the review of deceptions and tactics which TASSC conducted has current importance in evaluating the integrity of persons still playing the role of neutral disinterested outside referees in public policy decision making, such as global warming, or environmental regulations.

The two central features of an industry front group are (1) they are on the payroll of the corporation at significantly high wages and therefor strongly influenced by money, and (2) that they publicly deny any connections to their covert employer. They may even have multiple employers whom they alternately serve stealthily and publicly deny being highly paid by all of them. Full disclosure of influences leading to bias is a standard of ethical conduct and the opposite of front group behaviors.

Philip Morris conducted an operation called Whitecoats budgetted for $17 million the year TASSC was created, and of which TASSC was an important part. TASSC's purpose was to hire scientists to make an appearance of controversy about health effects of smoking. Operation Whitecoats was actually a continuation of practices first started in 1954, after tobacco companies first learned for a certainty that there were serious health consequences from smoking, but concealed this truth by stiring up confusion through ally paid science professionals. That earlier story is told in exhausting details by evidence introduced in court in a different lawsuit. [9]

TASSC was proposed by APCO Associates to Philip Morris Tobacco Company in the fall of 1993. [10] APCO is a long established public relations firm skilled in using language, and their first use of the term "junk science" appears in a document dated March, 1993. [11] [12]

Posted by: Valuethinker on January 30, 2007 at 6:49 AM | PERMALINK

Sound science is science that sounds good.

Posted by: merkin on January 30, 2007 at 7:13 AM | PERMALINK

Bush should be impeached. We can't wait two years. As Gregor pointed out upthread, Democrats may have taken Congress, but Bushco, though beleaguered, will increase his control over" government guidelines on health, safety, privacy and other issues." Oh, jeez. Why do I feel anxious about this???

And I disagree with this: "Because Easterbrook is absolutely right about one thing: "Nothing the United States can do in energy policy is more important than an mpg increase.""

"Nothing"...??? We are funding our enemies in the WOT through our addiction to ME oil, letting American soldiers die in a pointless war, as well as watching the polar ice caps melt and the most important thing is an increase in mpg phased in over 10 years?

Here, of the top of my head...
Short-term:
1) reducing the total number of miles driven (as opposed to driving the same number of miles, but getting better fuel efficiency. Best of course is both fewer miles driven AND higher mpg.)
2) Value saving gas more than saving time: Set the national speed limit at 55 mph--an overnight fix that saves ~15-20%.
Long-term:
3) Developing viable alternate forms of energy for transportation and heating and cooling buildings
4) Developing alternate forms of energy that do not require more oil to produce that energy provided (eg, corn ethanol or hydrogen cars.)
5) Rebuilding urban environments and developing cultural norms to encourage low energy consumption--walking and biking to work or market
6) Encouraging high denisty housing patterns to permit mass transit systems other than buses
7) Limiting the size of the US population to our current 300Million
8) Encouraging zero population growth worldwide (earth's sustainable population is estimated to be around 2 Billion people, around what it was in 1928.)

Because, the bottom line is that it doesn't matter how many miles per gallon we get if we have ...a million new drivers ...and million new cars ...driving greater distances ...using gas... from a depleting supply of oil....most of which is under Middle Eastern control.

In fact, if the US is serious about restricting our use of foreign oil, we need to ration gas. Timid hearts will fear to tread a path that will make conservatives go frothing batshit crazy, but if you think about it, gas rationing is most straightforward way to reduce our dependence on foreign oil. It is easy to administer, fair to all citizens (since it isn't a regressive tax) and immediately starts reducing our consumption of oil. It also builds in incentives to conserve (if people can "sell" the gas in their ration they don't use.)

Americans drive, on average, 29 miles per day. Allocate drivers a ration of 25 miles per day. Presto. Everyone figures how he or she is going to live within that limit. Gas saved.

Posted by: PTate in FR on January 30, 2007 at 7:35 AM | PERMALINK

The first and most obvious thing to do is reduce the speed limit on The Interstates to 55. Too early to dig up a link but the evidence from '73 proves it not only works but reduces deaths. It would also have an added incentive to buy smaller (and flimsier) cars, because the horror of competing with SUV's and semis roaring down the road at 75 would be greatly reduced.

Posted by: GOboy on January 30, 2007 at 7:35 AM | PERMALINK

Alternative solutions aren´t such a viable solution. By the way, I predict that the subsidies to ethanol will destroy the american agriculture - expect to see what will happens when beef and soybeans producers from Brazil and Argentina begins to invade the american market, because most of the land that was dedicated to corn and soybean production is being used to produce ethanol...

Posted by: André Kenji on January 30, 2007 at 7:57 AM | PERMALINK

Yeah, I used to read Easterbrook's TMQ column back when it was Slate. But then I realized that it was a cheap knock-off on Peter King's MMQ column for SI. Maybe that's vice versa, but King's column has human emotion where Easterbrook's has boobs.

Posted by: Karmakin on January 30, 2007 at 8:45 AM | PERMALINK

As gregor pointed out above, thanks to the Iraq disaster, these kinds of things don't often make the front page but this one did. Welcome to Bushwhackia, where the Supreme Commander has total political control over all things.

Pace Easterbrook, I wouldn't expect any new environmental regulations to be implemented, or any old ones enforced any time soon.

Posted by: R.Porrofatto on January 30, 2007 at 8:45 AM | PERMALINK

Teresa Nielsen Hayden had Bush nailed years ago. Her point is that Bush doesn't care what he says in public. He's delivering a speech simply because it's required (e.g., State of the Union), but he doesn't care what he says and has no intention of remembering it, or feeling bound by any of it. And he doesn't care what anyone thinks about what he said.

Posted by: CN on January 30, 2007 at 8:46 AM | PERMALINK

André Kenji: "I predict that the subsidies to ethanol will destroy the american agriculture ..."

Interesting point. Krugman yesterday cited University of Minnesota researchers, who found that "corn is such a poor source of ethanol ...that converting the entire U.S. corn crop — the sum of all our ears — into ethanol would replace only 12 percent of our gasoline consumption"

And corn as a crop has its own problems--it requires irrigation in much of the US--and, as far as ethanol is concerned, it takes more energy to convert corn to ethanol than is gained in useable fuel.

If we want to cut our use of oil we would do better to dedicate our farmland to local food production. It wouldn't produce alternative fuel, but it would reduce the amount of oil spent hauling our daily bread around the US. The average food travels 12000-1500 miles before reaching your table.

Posted by: PTate in FR on January 30, 2007 at 8:54 AM | PERMALINK

For those who argue against a gas tax increase ... true, there wasn't much elasticity over the past year. I would attribute part of that to scapegoating of oil companies over gas pricess, rumblings from congressional reps to "do something" about gas prices ... basically, consumers anticipate that long-term prices will not be *that* high. Also, adjustment takes time -- people do not buy new cars that often. We require *sustained* higher gas prices imposed through a tax to shift long-term behavior.

The regressive nature of any consumption tax is a definite problem. A grand bargain involving a gas tax hike would require compensatory tax cuts that preferably target the poor and lower middle class. Use the revenue to boost the EITC and shield the first $X,000 from payroll taxes. This would have the bonus of removing barriers to hiring.

Posted by: Mark on January 30, 2007 at 9:02 AM | PERMALINK

I have a strict policy of shunning when it comes to Easterbroken and have for a long time. His wankery from the early 90' was just as bad. And now, he has a toolish ESPN football column that I'm appalled at and refuse to even consider. He should be fired and chastised for utter nobbery.

Posted by: SJH on January 30, 2007 at 9:06 AM | PERMALINK

Right, and the person judging the "soundness" of the science will be some Bible thumping fundie Bush sycophant who believes the Earth was created 6,000 years ago and Noah had dinosaurs on the Ark...

Posted by: A Hermit on January 30, 2007 at 9:25 AM | PERMALINK

We're already paying a 'gas tax'. It's just that we're paying it to commodities speculators and OPEC.

http://www.thomaspalley.com/?p=65
Manipulating the Oil Reserve

"2006 was the year that oil prices came close to breaching eighty dollars per barrel. This was despite the fact that there were no significant supply interruptions and oil demand actually fell in industrialized countries. That raises the question of what caused the spike.

It turns out there is good reason to believe that record oil prices may be due to our own strategic oil reserve, which the Bush administration may have been manipulating to drive up prices for the benefit of its clients. This is something Congress must investigate, and here is some preliminary evidence.

Any finding of manipulation would go far beyond corruption and be close to economic treason. That is because when oil prices increase America must pay more for its imported oil. That increases the trade deficit and our foreign debt. Alternatively, one can think of price manipulation as the equivalent of a tax increase on American families that is paid to foreign governments, including Iran."

[snip]

Posted by: MsNThrope on January 30, 2007 at 9:32 AM | PERMALINK

Just because it's voluntary doesn't mean it won't work. Everything the United Nations does is voluntary and I bet you believe in that. Stop assuming companies are bad actors that reject the notion they have obligations do to good. The reason you don't make commitments in complex undertakings of this sort is the same reason you don't rely too finely on CBO estimates: The predicted number is always wrong.

Credit trading systems work. So people will still be able to ride in SUVs. So what? The overall mpg will go up. Why would we want to impose a categorical rule devoid of any market sensitive distinctions? Not everyone wants to drive a Prius and not everyone is in the business of making them. Let's not destroy the auto industry, folks.

Let's set the goal and meet it. But we don't have to punish industry to do it. Not all law -- certainly not all regulation -- needs to have a criminal law framework. We don't punish people for refusing to set up wills and trusts, but families write out wills and set up trusts because they see the benefit.

Posted by: Kevin Drum is a jerkish hypocrite on January 30, 2007 at 9:32 AM | PERMALINK

"Without impacting safety" means "doing nothing that would make cars and SUV's smaller and lighter."

Posted by: JR on January 30, 2007 at 9:41 AM | PERMALINK

OT: Or Allan Sloane apparently reads Dean Baker

What Bush Didn't Say About Social Security
By Allan Sloan
Tuesday, January 30, 2007

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/
2007/01/29/AR2007012901848.html

[snip]
'But if you delve into the details of Bush's health-care proposals, you discover a plan embedded in them that would effectively trim future Social Security retirement benefits for some people, while reducing their current Social Security tax payments to help pay for health insurance.'

[snip]

'It's a progressive formula under which you get a benefit of 90 percent of the first Social Security tax dollars you pay, declining to 15 percent of the final tax dollars you pay if you're high-income. If you pay Social Security tax to the max -- for 2007, it's on $97,5000 of income -- you would see your benefit shrink by way less than 15 percent if you exclude $15,000 from Social Security taxation.

But low-income people -- who get much more in benefits per dollar of Social Security tax than maxed-out folks do -- would see benefits shrink by a far higher percentage. "A family earning $30,000 a year could see its retirement benefit cut in half," says Len Burman, director of the Tax Policy Center, a joint venture of the Brookings Institution and the Urban Institute. This would be an especially serious blow, because $30,000 families tend to rely almost entirely on Social Security for retirement income, whereas high-income families rely far less on Social Security because they have retirement accounts, pensions and savings.'

Posted by: MsNThrope on January 30, 2007 at 9:45 AM | PERMALINK

As I understand it there's really no short term solution that's very palatable. Increasing CAFE standards affects new cars, but in order for that to affect the nation's fuel consumption those new cars need to trickle down to a sizable number of consumers, which takes years. Additionally, the cars which are the worst offenders for pollution, older cars, are more often driven by people who can't afford to buy a fancy new fuel efficient vehicle, meaning the cars most needing to be replaced will be the last cars replaced. Still, it's not a bad medium term tool to reduce consumption, particularly if the government offers tax incentives to purchasing fuel efficient/hybrid cars.

Increasing the gas tax would be a good short term method if fuel consumption were elastic. Because the US has such crap mass transit infrastructure ,which would give people an option other than driving if the prices got too high, fuel consumption isn't elastic. Additionally, increasing the price of a tank of gas by $5 isn't going to be prohibitively expensive to people who can afford an expensive SUV so it won't deter them from driving. People with higher incomes are also more likely to drive for nonessential trips, say, to soccer practices or on vacations. Increasing the gas tax will, however, increase costs for people who can't need to drive to work and who don't have lots of disposable income to begin with.

The other options (investing in alternate fuels and investing in mass transit systems) will take enormous investments from the government and will take years to pay off. Obviously, those are options we need to do, but it seems to me that increasing CAFE standards is the best medium term solution.

Posted by: Ben on January 30, 2007 at 9:48 AM | PERMALINK

Why would EasterBrook say this? I agree with Cheryl above - he's a shill for ExxonMobile. He's a paid spokesman.

Right now ExxonMobile is acting just like the big tobacco companies did in the 70's and 80's - stall and muddy the waters. Since they no longer have science on their side 'doubt' is their only weapon.

Posted by: Tripp on January 30, 2007 at 10:03 AM | PERMALINK

Ben

The US car 'park' turns over at between 8 and 10% pa, ie the average car life is around 9 years (but there is a long tail of cars that lives much longer).

So agreed a medium term solution at best.

There are distributional issues. Poor people will drive older, less fuel efficient cars. There is a reason those big SUVs are already showing very high depreciation expense against your Honda Civic.

If $1 a gallon over the past 2 years didn't cure Americans of the habit of gas guzzling, nothing will, in the short run. In practice, there are signs of greater enthusiasm for more efficient cars.

The real benefit of CAFE is it will slow down the 'arms race' of ever faster, more horsepower and heavier cars on the roads. The presence of those puts pressure on everyone to 'up market' and buy a faster accelerating and/or bigger car.

There's no reason why US cars can't do 35mpg-- they do in other countries. The diesel engine technology is available, and the lighter smaller cars are there. Something just has to give the system an almighty push.

Posted by: John on January 30, 2007 at 10:14 AM | PERMALINK

Whenever I see anything by Gregg Easterbrook, I'm reminded of an anecdote a law professor I had told about his brother, Judge Frank Easterbrook of the 7th Circuit, "He seems to say, 'that's the most interesting comment I've ever heard, now that i've said my piece, who else would like to contribute'"

Granted I enjoy TMQ on ESPN's pg 2 very much, both Easterbrook brothers seem overly impressed with themselves.

Posted by: David on January 30, 2007 at 10:23 AM | PERMALINK

Ben

Further to that.

Alternative fuels are mostly a con. The negative effects of intensive agriculture, and the costs of conversion into usable fuels, offset any enviromental gains.

(biodiesel is a little different than ethanol because it uses waste oil, *however* the potential biodiesel resources are not huge)

There may be future technological breakthroughs in ethanol production (cellulosic ethanol) which will make it much more energy efficient, however there is still the problem of taking biomass out of the soil, and not replenishing it.

I don't see mass transit ever again having a big role in American life. US cities are too spread out, and the culture of taking the streetcar is long gone outside of a few big cities.

(cities like Denver with bad congestion problems may adopt more public transport, but that is about congestion rather than gas use per se)

Where I can see big gains are:

- fuel efficiency - plug in hybrid electric and hybrid diesel electric vehicles offer the potential for fuel economies of over 60mpg

WalMart is committing to adding 10mpg to the fuel economy of its entire delivery fleet. Little tricks like putting auxiliary AC units in the cabs, so you don't have to run the engine to stay cool.

40% of the cars sold in Japan are sub 1 litre displacement minicars. The Japanese treat them as utility vehicles, for going shopping, commuting etc. Most American households have (at least) 2 cars, there is really no reason why the second one couldn't be smaller.

- vehicle weight - most of the energy in driving a car is wasted in moving the weight around. Carbon fibres offer some radical possibilities for lowering vehicle weight

- widespread dieselisation - half the new cars in Europe are diesels (a gain of 30% on mpg, and 20-30% on an equivalent energy basis) 4/5ths of SUVs sold in the UK are diesel engined (vs near nil in the US)

- telecommuting - an increased proportion of work does not require showing up at the office 5 days per week

- redesign of new suburbs to permit more walking and/or bicycling. This is more of a public health issue than a fuel saving issue, but for the first time, the virtues of daily exercise (as opposed to driving to your gym) are being recognised. As obesity becomes more of a public policy issue, I see this continuing.

Posted by: John on January 30, 2007 at 10:24 AM | PERMALINK

In ConservativeLand, "sound science" means "sounds like science, and it ought to because we paid good money for it." And "cost/benefit" means "costs society, benefits industry."

Has voluntary enforcement of clean-air standards EVER worked, in ANY industry? The only thing we have to show for it so far are polar bears struggling to learn the backstroke.

Posted by: sullijan on January 30, 2007 at 10:40 AM | PERMALINK

Has voluntary enforcement of clean-air standards EVER worked, in ANY industry?

Yeah, because Kyoto isn't a voluntary system of credit trading with vague commitments that can be worked around. Hypocrite.

Posted by: You are a hypocrite and obviously ignorant of the Coase Theorem on January 30, 2007 at 10:51 AM | PERMALINK
Bush's plan is to switch from average fuel economy standards to "attribute-based" standards. That is, instead of a firm overall target, car manufacturers will have flexible targets for different vehicle classes, along with the ability to trade "CAFE credits" if they don't feel like meeting even those.

CAFE credits could be a good idea, independent of the actual Bush plan, if you drove CAFE up much more rapidly than any current proposals. It would let it be a market average fuel economy, but wouldn't restrict the ability of different manufacturers to focus on specific areas of the market.

Attribute based standards, OTOH, don't work as a replacement, as they encourage investment in marketing of inefficient vehicles that are designed to just make it into a attribute-based category with less stringent standards, and is how we got first minivans and then SUVs as heavily-marketed vehicles, evading, as I recall, in the first case some passenger car safety standards, and in the second CAFE and the safety standards, initially (the safety standards were, as I recall, later expanded to cover minivans and SUVs.)

Posted by: cmdicely on January 30, 2007 at 10:59 AM | PERMALINK

rur: "How many of those visionary ideas of yours would be voluntary?...If you want a quick and effective way to reduce emissions, do what Russia did. Have a nice, big, economic collapse."

...I wonder if there is a parallel to Godwin--how long in any conversation about the economy before someone brings up the Soviet economy and the failure of central planning.

Here is the grim truth, rur. Voluntary is not going to do it. We have been trying "voluntary" for the past 30 years. In that time, we have increased miles driven, increased the number of cars per person, increased fuel efficiency (but used it to build bigger cars), we are importing more ME oil than ever AND the free market still hasn't gotten serious about developing alternative fuels. The best idea the conservatives have had is to drill ANWAR and build nuclear power plants.

In the meantime, we are funding our enemies in the WOT, our economy and foreign policy is hostage to the ME, and global warming is going to devastate the earth's population. You think "voluntary" is sufficient given the threats we are facing? You think it okay for some people to sit on the sidelines because--gosh!--that's their choice?

It is like the "volunteer army"--we have fantastic soldiers, well-trained, committed--and we have lost Iraq, maybe Afghanistan. Those heroes are being exploited by those who have chosen to sit this one out, for whom any sacrifice is too much.

Forget gas taxes, folks. They're regressive, and they won't work. The only reason to raise gas taxes is to get a new revenue stream. CAFE standards are worth doing, sure, but slow to to implement, and long-run, don't solve the real problem.

Rationing. Gas enough for 25 miles per day per vehicle. You need more gas than that?--for shame. But you have an incentive to change your behavior. It is a sacrifice we can all make together.

Posted by: PTate in FR on January 30, 2007 at 11:01 AM | PERMALINK

Attribute based standards, OTOH, don't work as a replacement, as they encourage investment in marketing of inefficient vehicles that are designed to just make it into a attribute-based category with less stringent standards

Translation: cheaper all-purpose vehicles that families prefer. Yes, we shouldn't have any of those.

Posted by: Not everyone is rich and single on January 30, 2007 at 11:09 AM | PERMALINK

We have been trying "voluntary" for the past 30 years.

If that were true, you wouldn't have put voluntary in quotation marks. The absence of a plan is not the same as the implentation of a voluntary plan.

Posted by: No one here is stupid on January 30, 2007 at 11:12 AM | PERMALINK

Didn't take long for the truth to be out. See today's NY Times. Bush wants to take all regulation in house, so his political appointments can make all the "right", "scientifically based" (creation science anyone?) decisions.

Marc

Posted by: Marc on January 30, 2007 at 11:28 AM | PERMALINK

Veggie Boy wrote: "Actually if Americans stopped eating meat it would have a much bigger impact than any mpg increase ..."

PTate wrote: "If we want to cut our use of oil we would do better to dedicate our farmland to local food production."

Both of these statements are absolutely right.

Switching from the "standard American diet" -- a diet of factory-farmed foods, heavy in animal products, shipped long distances -- to a diet of locally-produced vegan foods (fruits, vegetables, grains and legumes) is something that each of us can do as individuals, or as families, that will not only drastically reduce the fossil fuel / greenhouse gas "footprint" of our diet, but will reduce other forms of pollution and environmental destruction, reduce our depletion of non-renewable fresh water supplies, help to address the health-care crisis in the US by ending the costly epidemics of preventable disease, and contribute to the welfare of non-human animals.

Any of you who are reading this blog can do this, today, right now, starting with your very next meal.


Posted by: SecularAnimist on January 30, 2007 at 11:46 AM | PERMALINK

Also worthy to note that his call for a 20% reduction in consumption (which isn't nearly enough) is not a 20% reduction in today's consumption, it is a 20% reduction in the projected consumption. Which is to say, simply, a call for a trivial reduction in the growth of consumption.

Its al just semantics with these idiots.

Posted by: Simp on January 30, 2007 at 12:00 PM | PERMALINK

I don't really understand the people who say that fuel taxes won't work. It's not as though we've ever had significant fuel taxes in the US. Europe has much higher taxes on gasoline than the US does, and also has a lot more efficient vehicles.

One commenter noted that consumption didn't really decrease by much even when gas prices went up due to high oil prices, suggesting that taxes wouldn't have much effect either.

That's not very useful information, though. This kind of short-term elasticity only measures how much travel people are willing to give up when prices go up. It says nothing about how people are going to weight fuel economy when buying their *next* car, or in turn, what kinds of cars the automobile manufacturers will market -- for that, you need to have an increase in prices which is sustained for years.

People argue that gasoline taxes are "regressive", but it would certainly be possible to offset this regressiveness with a progressive income tax credit of some kind -- augmenting the EITC for example. But in order for a gas tax (or in my mind, even better, a carbon tax) to be effective, it must be large enough and sustained enough to provide significant incentives for people to reduce their total consumption of fossil fuels in every way possible. If you phase the tax in over time, people would even have a chance to respond to the impending tax before having to pay it.

Working out the actual best amount would be some work, but probably a tax that tripled the after-tax price of gasoline would be pretty effective, over the long term. Sure, well-off SUV drivers may not drive much less, but they may dump their SUV sooner... The tax should be phased in over, say, a period of 5 years or so, to give the marketplace time to react. It could be combined with an income tax credit (*not* coupled to individual fuel consumption) that would make the tax revenue-neutral (on average) for families making less than $30K or $40K per year. One thing that might be tricky is the differential effect it would have on different regions of the country, due to differences in heating costs or commute distances, but if we are serious about reducing energy consumption, we should *not* compensate for those differences.

Posted by: Alex R on January 30, 2007 at 12:06 PM | PERMALINK

(It's a school day, I'm just committing a drive-by posting.) Even if you aren't willing to be a vegetarian, you can make a huge difference by making wisely considered choices (waving toward PA). Study up on the Slow Food Movement.

Posted by: Blue Girl, Red State (aka Global Citizen) on January 30, 2007 at 12:06 PM | PERMALINK

I should also tip my hat to commenter Mark, who made most of the same points, but much more succinctly...

Posted by: Alex R on January 30, 2007 at 12:11 PM | PERMALINK

From the conservative dictionary:

Sound science: Science that sounds good. See also creationism, abstinance only, global warming hoax.

Cost/benefit analysis: Anything that has a cost to business has no benefit.

Posted by: mjshep on January 30, 2007 at 12:23 PM | PERMALINK

Easterbrook: This should have been Page One headline material -- PRESIDENT CALLS FOR DRAMATIC MPG REGULATIONS.


maybe the american consumer might reduce their gasoline consumption...

if we switched from m.p.g. = miles per gallon ..

to..

m.p.s.

miles per soldier..

Posted by: mr. irony on January 30, 2007 at 12:49 PM | PERMALINK

rur wrote: "I can tell the real motivations of someone claiming to be worried about CO2 and energy when I hear their opinion of nuclear power as a solution."

OK, I'll bite.

Nuclear power is the most costly and least effective means of reducing GHG emissions from the generation of electricity (which is the only sector of GHG emissions where nuclear is applicable). Demand reduction through implementation of advanced efficiency technologies (a.k.a. "negawatts") is by far the most cost-effective, and implementation of distributed rooftop photovoltaics and wind turbine "farms" is less costly, more effective, and they can be brought online much faster.

Moreover, private investment is already flooding into photovoltaic and wind electrical generation, and both technologies are already growing very rapidly, fueled by the free market with minimal government support, and that mostly in the form of tax cuts.

According to the WorldWatch Institute, in 2005 global wind power capacity grew 24 percent to nearly 60,000 megawatts, four times the growth in nuclear power capacity, and production of photovoltaics grew 45 percent to nearly 1,730 megawatts, six times the level in 2000.

In contrast, nuclear power has been a complete failure in the free market. Nuclear power is, has always been, and will always be, a creation of massive government subsidies (in the USA alone, the Federal government has poured over $100 billion dollars into subsidies for nuclear power over the half-century of its existence, compared to around $6 billion for solar and wind). No nuclear power plant has ever been built anywhere in the world, nor does any nuclear power plant operate today anywhere in the world, without massive state support, and without the taxpayers being forced to absorb all the risk (e.g. through the Price-Anderson Act in the USA).

Moreover, the very nature of the nuclear fuel cycle -- with huge amounts of highly toxic materials that can easily be made into weapons of mass destruction being mined, refined, and shipped all over the country -- necessitates an oppressive government bureaucracy to police it.

Wind power, and particularly rooftop photovoltaics, should be every libertarian's preferred electrical generation technology, since they have the capacity to put energy production in the hands of individuals and families, homeowners, small businesses, and communities, rather than in the hands of big government and big corporations.

Nuclear power, on the other hand, is the poster boy for big government, a Soviet Stalinist era statist dinosaur that is completely dependent on state subsidies, state regulation and oppressive state security measures.

Now, please tell me what my "motivations" are.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on January 30, 2007 at 12:51 PM | PERMALINK

Switching from the "standard American diet" -- a diet of factory-farmed foods, heavy in animal products, shipped long distances -- to a diet of locally-produced vegan foods (fruits, vegetables, grains and legumes) is something that each of us can do as individuals, or as families, that will not only drastically reduce the fossil fuel / greenhouse gas "footprint" of our diet, but will reduce other forms of pollution and environmental destruction, reduce our depletion of non-renewable fresh water supplies, help to address the health-care crisis in the US by ending the costly epidemics of preventable disease, and contribute to the welfare of non-human animals.

I think you supremely overestimate the situation in most of America. Your statement may be true in some areas, but the majority of us do not have access to local foods that we can live on.

Besides, if we all stop eating meat and eat a vegan product instead, where will that product be produced? If you think the capacity is there to actually sustain the US population, you are sorely misinformed.

Posted by: ironocracy_now on January 30, 2007 at 1:13 PM | PERMALINK

No one here is stupid:"If that were true, you wouldn't have put voluntary in quotation marks. The absence of a plan is not the same as the implentation of a voluntary plan."

This is absolutely true. But in the 70s, we had plans, and they were canned by conservatives because conservatives felt that voluntary solutions and the free market were better approaches to solving our gas addiction. "Voluntary", it turns out, is just conservative-speak for "Let someone else sacrifice if they think this is a problem. I chose to make a buck for myself."

And plans that depend of voluntary compliance are not plans. They are shell games.

Posted by: PTate in FR on January 30, 2007 at 1:25 PM | PERMALINK

rur: "I can tell the real motivations of someone claiming to be worried about CO2 and energy when I hear their opinion of nuclear power as a solution."

Interesting! Me, too! And I can tell how little someone actually understands the problem we are facing when that someone proposes, with a straight face, that increasing our dependence on nuclear power would solve our energy problems. Or when they imagine that the threat is that elites want to exert control over them.

Have you noticed the problems we have been having with Iran recently? Their attempts to develop nuclear energy? The possibility that they might also develop, mmm, nuclear weapons? Multiply that scenario by another 200 nations, desperate for energy sources to replace oil. Tell me again how nuclear power helps our energy crisis. Are you planning to prevent the other nations of the world from solving THEIR energy problems via nuclear energy?

Posted by: PTate in FR on January 30, 2007 at 1:57 PM | PERMALINK
Translation: cheaper all-purpose vehicles that families prefer.

Er, no. That's not a valid translation: whatever category gets favorable CAFE treatment will be marketed heavily to make people prefer it, whether it is actually cheaper (minvans and SUVs weren't when they were heavily marketed to exploit other attribute-based rules) or whether it actually is "all-purpose".

Yes, we shouldn't have any of those.

Says whom? There is a vast gulf between not having any of something, and having a system which encourages vast investment in creating artificial demand in order for that thing so that manufacturers may evade safety, economy, or other rules by exploiting attribute-based categorizations.


Posted by: cmdicely on January 30, 2007 at 2:39 PM | PERMALINK

ironocracy_now wrote: "The majority of us do not have access to local foods that we can live on."

There are numerous farmers' markets selling locally-grown produce in every city in America. According to the Michigan Land Use Institute, "The number of farmers markets nationwide more than doubled between 1994 and 2004 — from 1,755 to 3,700."

Community Supported Agriculture (CSA farms or CSAs) is another way that people can obtain locally-grown food. In a CSA, participating consumers purchase shares of the CSA farm's output and receive weekly deliveries of locally-grown food throughout the growing season. According to the National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service, as of 2005, the USDA's database listed 1,144 USDA-registered CSA farms nationwide.

And then, of course, there are backyard gardens. During World War II, American families grew vast amounts of food in "Victory Gardens". With the improvements in intensive organic gardening techniques that have been developed and popularized since then by the Rodale Institute and others, the millions of American families living in the nation's suburbs today could produce a lot of their own food in their own yards, with no more expense or labor than they already invest in maintaining lawns, shrubbery and other decorative plantings.

ironocracy_now wrote: "Besides, if we all stop eating meat and eat a vegan product instead, where will that product be produced? If you think the capacity is there to actually sustain the US population, you are sorely misinformed."

Sorry, but you are the one who is "sorely misinformed". Calorie for calorie, production of a 100 percent plant based "vegan" diet requires a fraction of the resources -- land, water, energy -- than is required to produce the same amount of calories and protein from a meat-based diet. Much if not most of the agricultural land in the USA is devoted to growing soybeans and corn for animal feed -- for factory farmed chickens, pigs and cows -- with a resulting loss of protein of up to 90 percent, when the meat from the animals is consumed, compared to direct human consumption of the plant foods. Animal agriculture, besides being energy intensive and heavily polluting, is enormously wasteful.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on January 30, 2007 at 2:48 PM | PERMALINK
Besides, if we all stop eating meat and eat a vegan product instead, where will that product be produced?

The same places, largely, that food is produced now.

If you think the capacity is there to actually sustain the US population, you are sorely misinformed.

It generally takes less land and energy to produce vegan foods with a given caloric and nutritional content than to produce the same through meat, so if the capacity exists to feed America now, it exists, even moreso, to feed America on a vegan diet (locally produced, if taken as some absolute, hard limit on distance from production to consumer, may be a problem in some places, but certainly its a viable preference that can guide selection between alternatives.)

Now, I'm not a vegan, and I don't tell other people they should be vegans. But certainly there are generally social benefits involved with the choice, and capacity-based arguments against it are mostly misguided. (There may be specific cases where the local capacity strongly favors meat heavy diets, because foods that are good for humans and those good for food animals aren't always the same, and capacity for one isn't always easily fungible with capacity for the other.)


Posted by: cmdicely on January 30, 2007 at 2:54 PM | PERMALINK

I posted a fairly lengthy reply to "ironocracy_now", with a number of links to information on the availability of locally-grown food, and received a page saying that my comment was being held for review by the "blog owner". I occasionally get this page here, in recent weeks, but not always. It seems to come up when my comment is either lengthy, or contains multiple hyperlinks, or both. Then my comment will be posted some time later. Maybe it is some kind of spam filter? If so, it would be nice if Kevin would tell us something about it, and what triggers it.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on January 30, 2007 at 3:31 PM | PERMALINK
Switching from the "standard American diet" -- a diet of factory-farmed foods, heavy in animal products, shipped long distances -- to a diet of locally-produced vegan foods (fruits, vegetables, grains and legumes) is something that each of us can do as individuals, or as families, that will not only drastically reduce the fossil fuel / greenhouse gas "footprint" of our diet, but will reduce other forms of pollution and environmental destruction, reduce our depletion of non-renewable fresh water supplies, help to address the health-care crisis in the US by ending the costly epidemics of preventable disease, and contribute to the welfare of non-human animals.

-Secular Alarmist

**raises hand**

Um ... I'm from Kansas City ... and I really, really like bar-b-que ribs, usually washed down with a soda full of high-fructose corn syrup and a month's worth of sugar. And it's really, really good.

I'd love for it to be free-range, non-steroidal, all-organic, sans chemicals, super-duper uber-happy and humanely killed and/or processed. But since it cost about 3-5 times more for that stuff, we just can't do it — we're a coupon-and-generic-brand household.

Maybe if I get a raise ... ?

On a related note, if you know anyone who wants to hire a solidly-liberal and overly-caffeinated writer ...

**crawls back under rock**

Posted by: Uhholy Moses on January 30, 2007 at 4:06 PM | PERMALINK

Mark

You make a good point ie that the long term price elasticity of demand for gasoline is different from the short term one.

The estimates I have seen are c 0.1 for short term and 0.3 to 0.5 long term.

So a 100% increase in the price of gasoline has a 10% reduction in gas consumption in the short term, and a 30 to 50% reduction in the long term.

*however*

the income elasticity of demand also kicks in. When income rises, so does gas consumption.

If you raise gasoline prices, then over time, gasoline consumption will start to rise again, as incomes increase.

The US has really only managed one significant fall in gasoline consumption: during the 1980 oil crisis (when oil reached $100/bl in today's prices) and the subsequent severe recession (which meant lots of people weren't driving to work/ to shop at the mall - remember unemployment was over 10%). Gasoline consumption fell by about 10% over 18 months (from memory).

The virtue of CAFE is that it reduces that 'rebound' effect, in that the consumer literally cannot buy those lower mileage cars (except at a punitive price) even when their income is higher. You are 'locking in' improvements in energy efficiency into the economy.

If you really think the US would politically stomache $6/gal gasoline, then great. I must admit I can't see it, on any basis. And indeed in the UK, where we have such a price (and lower incomes), the miles driven and number of cars rises steadily, year on year.

Posted by: Valuethinker on January 30, 2007 at 5:06 PM | PERMALINK

whatever category gets favorable CAFE treatment will be marketed heavily to make people prefer it

Because people don't know what they want when they make purchases; they are captive to control by evil corporations.

Posted by: The Media Brainwashes Soccer-Moms!!! on January 30, 2007 at 5:25 PM | PERMALINK

When Bush took the Governorship of Texas in 1994, one of his first actions was to derail the Legislature from passing clean air regulations that applied to older industries which had been "grandgfathered in" to the previous set of regulations (and as a result had done nothing to clean up.)

Bush instead arranged for a set of voluntary standards to go into effect so that the grandfathered industries could avoid being pressured into spending a lot of money on air scrubbers and such. The result?

After Bush was appointed President in 2000 Texas went back to look at those industries that had been given voluntary rather than mandatory clear air standards and found no progress at all. Nothing had changed to improve anything in the six years except that the State of Texas hadn't had to bother to spend all that money conducting pesky clear air audits.

That's a Republican Win-win. Dirty companies didn't have to spend money to clean up dirty air, and the state was able to avoid spending money to demonstrate that the voluntary standards weren't working.

As we all know, it is a Republican assumption that if there is no measurement of how dirty air or water is, then it is automatically clean and pure, Right?

Posted by: Skeptic on January 30, 2007 at 5:33 PM | PERMALINK

Okay, as I am living in France for the time being, a quick comment on food.

First, while a vegan diet may be super for health, spiritual purity and energy consumption, I hope that solutions to our energy crisis will not require radical dietary changes. I will never willingly choose a vegan diet: I enjoy eggs, I enjoy cheese, I enjoy milk. The problem in the US is not the fact that people eat meat, it is that we eat so much meat, raise animals in unnatural conditions, process our food heavily, adding way more sugar than we need, and ship meat, milk and foods across the country.

But here in France, it is almost impossible to be a vegetarian, at least if you go out to eat. The French enjoy meat, but eat less of it. But the French grow almost all their food locally--and the quality is amazing. We buy our food at the market, often from the farmer, and what we purchase is fresh, flavorful, varied, less processed. Food is seasonal. Also, at least in this region, I see less red meat, more duck and chicken. More sausages and terrines. What I am experiencing, spontaneously, is that I eat smaller portions, I eat only twice a day (plus a breakfast of bread, confiture and a latte), I am enjoying food more, and I am less hungry.

Now France is blessed with abundant soil and a fantastic climate --there is a reason people have been living here for 40,000 years--but it provides a model of locally grown food. It strikes me as a model that would be acceptable in the US--because the food is so tasty! It would reduce the amount of energy we spend on transporting food. However, it would require changing long-standing corporate agricultural practices and re-evaluating agricultural subsidies that encourage large scale corporate farming practices.

Posted by: PTate in FR on January 30, 2007 at 5:51 PM | PERMALINK

As we all know, it is a Republican assumption that if there is no measurement of how dirty air or water is, then it is automatically clean and pure, Right?

No, the assumption is rather that with regulatory costs on corporations lower and government spending on enforcing regulation lower, taxpayers are likelier to be employed and wealthier (i.e., less taxed). The marginal decrease in air quality may be offset by the marginal increase in wealth and job security. That is, living poorer with infinitesimally cleaner air is worse than living richer with infinitesimally dirtier air. I don't necessarily buy the argument, but it isn't, well, EVIL.

Posted by: Philosophical differences should be respected on January 30, 2007 at 5:55 PM | PERMALINK
If you raise gasoline prices, then over time, gasoline consumption will start to rise again, as incomes increase.

Of course, you can avoid this by chaining gasoline taxes so that the final cost increases proportionately with, say, median household surplus income (where "surplus income" is simply income minus the poverty line).

Or you could adopt “market-based rationing”—in order to buy gasoline, you have to buy non-transferable allowances which have a price per gallon which varies based on your income. (Of course, as a practical matter, enforcing the non-transferability of gasoline becomes a problem, but the natural black-market that springs up is richer people paying poorer people to buy gas for them, which in and of itself isn't a bad thing.)

N.B.—I'm not saying these are good policies, just a couple of random thoughts on the issue of how one might address the income side of that equation.

Posted by: cmdicely on January 30, 2007 at 7:41 PM | PERMALINK
Because people don't know what they want when they make purchases; they are captive to control by evil corporations.

People certainly know what they want when they make purchases. And just as certainly, what they want when they make purchases is subject to influence from messages they are exposed to in the media and elsewhere before they make the purchase. Otherwise, the huge stacks of billions of dollars spent globally on advertising and marketing would all be wasted, and I really don't think everyone in business paying for that is that stupid.

Clearly, your opinion may vary.

Posted by: cmdicely on January 30, 2007 at 7:44 PM | PERMALINK

Easterbrook is right: if corporate average fuel economy rose 4% a year for ten years, that would be a huge improvement and Bush would deserve enormous credit for making it happen.

What Bush proposed is different from what you want, but it makes an excellent position from which to encourage the Democrats to work on their own proposal and negotiate a compromise. Requiring improved fuel efficiency within each vehicle type and size is a good step in the right direction, and 4% per year in each vehicle class is achievable. If it should happen that people buy larger vehicles as those vehicles become more fuel efficient, so total fuel use does not decline, then that can be addressed later. It isn't guaranteed to happen, and in the meantime more fuel-efficient SUVs and pickup-trucks would be a good idea.

Posted by: MatthewRMarler on January 30, 2007 at 8:08 PM | PERMALINK

MatthewRMarler: Requiring improved fuel efficiency within each vehicle type and size is a good step in the right direction

No, it's a step backwards. The original CAFE lumped all cars together (light trucks were an insignificant loophole until years later).

Posted by: alex on January 30, 2007 at 9:02 PM | PERMALINK

mrm: Requiring improved fuel efficiency within each vehicle type and size is a good step in the right direction, and 4% per year in each vehicle class is achievable.

alex: No, it's a step backwards. The original CAFE lumped all cars together

mrm: If it should happen that people buy larger vehicles as those vehicles become more fuel efficient, so total fuel use does not decline, then that can be addressed later.

The problem with lumping them all together was that it did not require increased fuel efficiency in the pickup trucks. Had such fuel efficiency increases in pickup trucks been required, we would have better fuel economy overall now than what we in fact have. I think it best not to repeat that mistake.

Posted by: MatthewRMarler on January 30, 2007 at 9:36 PM | PERMALINK

SecularAnimist,

Have you actually done your sums on switching to solar or wind power?

It's not only the cost of the generator, it's the cost of storing the energy when the sun isn't shining and the wind isn't blowing, and it's very, very expensive.

Posted by: Robert Merkel on January 30, 2007 at 11:46 PM | PERMALINK

PTate in France, do you have any idea just how subsidised those French farmers are?


As an illustration, the average European cow is paid a subsidy of $2.20 per day.

I know the beef is terribly tasty, but you're not paying anything like the real market price for it.

Posted by: Robert Merkel on January 31, 2007 at 12:43 AM | PERMALINK

cmdicely

I think there are 2 effects there:

- gasoline tax price rise each year would have to offset the rise in incomes

- as incomes increase, other products become less expensive as a fraction of income. There is therefore more income left over for 'luxury' goods like eating out, holidays *or* buying gasoline (driving more, in nicer cars)

You can see you get some very big pa price rises, then, to stop the consumption of gasoline rising.

The UK government tried something like this, a fuel 'escalator' that raised petrol duties by 5% real pa.

In 2000, there was a 'petrol strike' where independent truckers and motorists blockaded all the fuel depots. The country was quickly frozen-- the roads emptied, and food distribution was interrupted.

The government has frozen petrol duty since then (of course world oil prices have risen).

So I think in practice such a scheme is not practicable.

I'm all for carbon taxes, but at the gross level (basically, the handful of industries: gas, oil refining, coal, that actually *produce* carbon emitting fuels). The result will be higher gasoline prices, to be sure, but the effect on CO2 emissions will be much greater in the electric power supply sector, the commercial and domestic heating sector, etc. (because you don't have to give much up to stop emitting CO2 in those areas-- you just become more efficient).

I don't think an individual tradeable permits system is workable, except in conditions of wartime, etc.

The advantage of CAFE is simply this, and similar to the advantage of tightening building codes. You are requiring the buyer of the asset *and all future users* to buy an efficient asset. So even if, in the future, gasoline prices go down, or incomes rise, the vehicles are still efficient.

Posted by: Valuethinker on January 31, 2007 at 3:42 AM | PERMALINK

Robert Merkel: "I know the beef is terribly tasty, but you're not paying anything like the real market price for it."

I want to giggle. Unlike in America, where the government does not subsidize agriculture?

Please, do tell me, how is it a problem that I am not paying the real market price for superior quality and variety of food? The food is fantastic. There is enough for all. Small family farmers can make a living. The food industry does not need to heavily process foods or breed flavorless varieties with long shelf life. Foods are not shipped across continents. Because the food is delicious and fresh, one eats less. Obesity is not a problem here.

Perhaps the problem is that am I underpaying for the food I buy at the market? Someone else--say, citizens in the UK--are paying the taxes that subsidize French farmers? So the problem is not that the French farmers are subsidized, per se, or that I am not paying market prices for this quality food and good life, per se. The problem is that someone else is paying for the benefits that I am enjoying.

When you say "you're not paying anything like the real market price for it" in that dour, cautionary way, what you must mean is that I, as a consumer, should also pay for the subsidies that support this superior quality of life. That seems fair to me.

Posted by: PTate in FR on January 31, 2007 at 4:49 AM | PERMALINK

Valuethinker: your point on rising incomes and increasing gas consumption is well taken. I would respond that the current work on alternative fuels (ethanol, biodiesel, or electric cars) may now allow a possibility of substitution effects. In the past (and still today), gas has been the only choice -- reducing gas consumption required lifestyle changes of varying sizes depending on where you lived.

Now, if we can substantially raise the cost of gas, we can encourage alternatives rather than make people drive less until their incomes rise. By taxing gas, we no longer need to design subsidy programs that hope to choose the eventual winners among various alternatives. (I'm not thrilled by the idea of subsidizing corn-based ethanol plants when Brazil is doing pretty well with sugar.)

Increasing CAFE standards can also encourage alternatives by making cars more expensive in general, thus encouraging similar although indirect substitution (more cars, fewer SUVs). My concern about CAFE is that the auto industry continually finds (or makes) loopholes -- it is harder for them to avoid the effects of a simple, broadly applied tax as consumers demand fuel efficiency as a product characteristic.

Regarding political viability of expensive gas -- I think that if more people talk about it and discuss it, we can determine a way to sell it as a policy (revenue neutral, phased-in, etc.) Short-term, CAFE is the only realistic option ... but we need to start developing other policy options.

Posted by: Mark on January 31, 2007 at 8:54 AM | PERMALINK

PTate: You're either paying the full cost in taxes plus purchase price, or somebody making more money than you is paying part of the cost for you in their taxes. In which case, why not just have the guy making more money than you transfer the extra cash straight to you, and let you choose to spend it however you want.

If you want to eat super-premium quality beef that costs $50 per pound to produce, knock yourself out. But I'm puzzled as to why others shouldn't be able to choose the $10 per pound stuff and spend the $40 they save on a lovely bottle of Burgandy. At the moment, they don't have the choice.

I'm not defending US farm subsidies, by the way. American farm subsidies don't even have the quality case going for them. You (that's right, I'm not American) pay your farmers $20 billion a year in subsidies, and the end result doesn't come within a bull's roar of the French (if you'll excuse the pun).

Posted by: Robert Merkel on January 31, 2007 at 10:11 AM | PERMALINK

http://www.lifeaftertheoilcrash.net/ After finding this website, I feel like somebody hit me over the head with a shovel. I thought I knew about Peak Oil, but I wasn't aware just how dire the situation was for all of human civilization.

Posted by: Speed on January 31, 2007 at 11:25 AM | PERMALINK

Robert Merkel wrote: "Have you actually done your sums on switching to solar or wind power? It's not only the cost of the generator, it's the cost of storing the energy when the sun isn't shining and the wind isn't blowing, and it's very, very expensive."

Properly sited wind turbine farms will have variable output but rarely if ever will they have zero output.

Distributed rooftop photovoltaics will have maximum output when it is most needed -- during summer daytime peak demand for cooling periods -- thus they dramatically reduce the need for overbuilding baseline generation to be able to handle peak loads.

We need to redesign and rebuild the USA's electrical grid anyway -- this has been the urgent conclusion of everyone who has looked at it in the aftermath of the recent large scale, regional power outages. Given that necessity, we should rebuild it into a new generation smart grid -- an electric power Internet -- that is redesigned from the ground up to handle electricity generation from a variety of centralized or distributed, baseline or intermittent, large or small scale producers. Al Gore has recently called for a DARPAnet type project to develop such a new generation smart grid and he's got the right idea.

As to storage, there are a variety of storage technologies in existence and under development, from batteries to fuel cells to solid hydrogen storage to flywheels, which need not be excessively expensive. One attractive storage option is to phase out our fleet of fossil-fueled automobiles with battery-powered electric cars that would charge from the grid or from rooftop PV and then feed stored electricity back into your home when needed. So rather than equipping your house with a fixed battery system to store electricity from your rooftop PV system, you would use the batteries in your electric car for this purpose.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on January 31, 2007 at 11:42 AM | PERMALINK
The problem with lumping them all together was that it did not require increased fuel efficiency in the pickup trucks.

Um, it didn't require increased fuel efficiency in pickup trucks because they were in the light truck exemption (i.e., because of an attribute-based split), not because they were all lumped together. This was not particularly significant (pickups being mostly used for commercial use or particular niches for which passenger cars were less suitable) until manufacturers figured out that exploiting the light truck exemption by creating vehicles that could be marketed as passenger cars but fit in the light truck exemption (SUVs) would be a good way to game the CAFE system. Any system of attribute-based qualifiers is going to be subject to being gamed that way.

Had such fuel efficiency increases in pickup trucks been required, we would have better fuel economy overall now than what we in fact have. I think it best not to repeat that mistake.

This much I agree with, which is why I support proposals which minimize, rather than increasing, the opportunity for gaming attribute-based categories to evade the need to actually improve economy.

(OTOH, a supplemental attribute-based classification system that required each manufacturer, in addition to meeting CAFE requirements, to improve average economy within each attribute based classification year-over-year, would be desirable, as well.)

Posted by: cmdicely on January 31, 2007 at 12:06 PM | PERMALINK

I have an off-the-grid weekend place that is powered by wind and solar. Battery storage is initially expensive, but not over the long run. Check out these ordinary folks living off the grid full time.

Posted by: Blue Girl, Red State (aka Global Citizen) on January 31, 2007 at 12:15 PM | PERMALINK

Robert Merkel: "If you want to eat super-premium quality beef that costs $50 per pound to produce, knock yourself out. But I'm puzzled as to why others shouldn't be able to choose the $10 per pound stuff and spend the $40 they save on a lovely bottle of Burgandy. At the moment, they don't have the choice."

This comment is probably not going to be read, since this thread has drifted into February, but still...I want to write my thoughts down. This will be long because I'm not going to take the time to edit. A few comments back Robert Merkel asserted the conservative orthodoxy that government subsidies (in this case to food producers) take away freedom of choice from the individual. The assumption is that government subsidies distort the market from what it would be if individuals could spend their own money rather than give it to the government to spend "in their interest". The conservative thesis is that if individuals can choose for themselves, the best possible and most efficient outcomes will be produced. Happiness, the best possible world, will be maximized.

This ideology has direct bearing on the question at hand, how important is an mpg increase in CAFE standards? The energy market, like the food market, is something that everyone has to participate in. Conservative ideology has never figured out the "tragedy of the commons" situation--those situtations in which many individuals, each making choices that maximize their self interest, collectively destroy a resource that is shared and essential for all. Global warming is one example of this. I would argue that food production and diet are others--the consequences that follow when many individuals choose to eat 16 oz of beef rather than 3 oz or when nations overfish the ocean. Energy and transportation are others...

Take SUVs...the first people who bought SUVs thought, heh! they were getting away with something--they had cool vehicles and didn't have to pay for all those CAFE standards. They were the biggest vehicles on the road. Gas was cheap.

Other people made the same choice. Now 25% of the people on the road were driving some kind of SUV, and they thought they were cool, and they liked the size advantage. They liked the visibility provided by the height.

The drivers of smaller cars started reading the statistics about what happened to drivers of smaller cars in a crash with an SUV. They started feeling defensive and some of them also began to buy SUVs though they might have preferred something else, if they felt safer on the road.

Soon 40% of the vehicles on the road were SUVs. The size advantage conferred by SUVs was gone, so car manufacturers began producing larger, "suburban subdivision" vehicles. Roads began to suffer, air quality began to suffer, traffic congestion increased, gas consumption was escalating as average mpg dropped from 26 to 18 mpg. Gas prices began to rise.

In the end, everyone is a little worse off. The many individual decisions by a minority to maximize their self-interest resulted in a net loss for everyone. The 60% who didn't want those big gas polluters on the roads in the first place are affected equally with the 40% who were trying to max out their individual pleasure at the expense of the 60%. They wanted a size advantage, and they could keep that only so long as most people choose smaller vehicles. They liked cheap gas--which they could have only as long as most people chose more fuel efficient vehicles. They liked clean air and good road surfaces--which again was possible only when most people chose smaller, cleaner vehicles.

Meanwhile, if car manufacturers had looked at why people were buying SUVs, they could have produced smaller, safer cars with higher mpg and better visibility, but why would they do that? The free market was telling them, invest in SUVs.

If the government--defending the interests of the majority--had, at any point, insisted on higher CAFE mpg standards for SUVs or given incentives to car manufacturers to produce alternative vehicles, much of this could have been avoided.

The challenge to conservative orthodoxy is to answer why cultures and societies should be held hostage to a minority who, making choices that maximize their individual advantage, cause a deterioration of the culture and environment for all.

Posted by: PTate in FR on February 1, 2007 at 4:15 AM | PERMALINK




 

 

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