Theoretically, science is science and political motivations should be set aside. In reality, it almost never works that way. Whether we accept scientific conclusions or not depends, in good part, on whether the results conform to how Americans should or should not live.
Global Warming wasn’t the imminent catastrophe when I was growing up than it is now. Yet, almost everything we’re talking about doing because of global warming, were things that we were taught to do before global warming was the primary ecological threat of our lifetime (or was framed as such). I do not consider this a coincidence.
A long while back, I was advancing my theory that increased gasoline costs might actually lead to a solidifying in the suburbs if employers end up relocating closer to employees rather than vice-versa. She exclaimed “That would defeat the purpose of global warming!”
The purpose of global warming, in her mind, being a rationale through which we should be rearranging society. I’m not arguing that’s what global warming is about for all or even most of those who are saying that we need to combat it. I do think, however, it is a lot easier to accept the science when the result is people living in a way that you think they ought to. I do not find it to be a coincidence that those who believe in the imminent disaster of global warming are also inclined to believe that Peak Oil is right around the corner. One way or another, we’re going to get them out of their SUVs dagnabbit, our of their suburbs, and living the way they ought.
Not a single word of the above has any effect on whether (a) AGW is occuring and will continue to do so or (b) whether we need to do something about it. It is or it isn’t, we should or we shouldn’t. It does, however, complicate the discussion. It prevents us from approaching global warming as a thing and outside of the political lens.
CAFE standards are not a particular effective way to combat global warming, in my view, because it focuses on one aspect at the expense of another. The mileage your car gets only matters if you hold the number of miles driven as a constant. The end result is that we punish people who have low-mileage cars who drive short distances while we let skate people who have high-mileage cars but actually burn more fuel. I went through far, far more fuel in my compact than I presently do in my crossover SUV. I say all this to say that when I say all this, it comes across as “I don’t care about the environment.” It’s a political issue that I am on the wrong side of. The goal - at least for some - is not just to get people to use less gas (though I agree that’s a big part of it) but also to drive the right kind of car.
I support carbon taxes. Or rather, I support the right carbon taxes. Ideally, comparatively revenue-neutral ones. Ones that take the money raised and disperse it back. Not put aside for grants, not going to education. Not going to health care. Not going to toxic waste clean-up. Winners and losers should be picked precisely on how much carbon they are responsible for. In one hand, out the other (more or less). From there, let people drive whatever car they want, live in whatever kind of neighborhood they want, and make choices on that basis.
This, to me, is far preferable than using global warming as a rationale to change our lives or push is in specific ways. Not only because the freedom of personal choice, but because it’s most conducive to finding a way to cut emissions while living the way we want to live, which in turn means it will more likely be successful. And in turn, I will have more confidence that it is about reducing emissions than it is about the appropriate cosmetics and living the “right way.”
Given the stakes, we simply shouldn’t care if it’s nuclear power or renewable. We shouldn’t care if people reduce emissions by getting a more fuel-efficient car or by driving less. We shouldn’t care all that much whether they drive less because they moved to the city or because their employer relocated to the suburbs. The degree to which all of these things continue to matter… it becomes apparent as a political rather than purely scientific issue.
Australia recently passed a carbon tax to go into effect. I will be interested to see how it works out. Hopefully that, rather than CAFE, Cash-for-Clunkers, and light bulb bans, will provide the most useful blueprint.