The Beginning of the End of the Combustion Engine

Posted by NYPIRG on October 2, 2017 at 10:51 am
Share on FacebookTweet about this on Twitter

Despite the nonsense that Americans hear from their national elected leaders, climate change is the single biggest policy challenge we face.  There is no doubt that the planet is heating up and that human activities are the primary driver of global warming.  The burning of fossil fuels, coal, oil and gas, are the most significant culprits in those human activities.

Scientists have known that the planet is heating up – even scientists working for oil companies have known that – for decades.  And what is increasingly clear from independent analyses is that the fossil fuel industries have done all they can to undermine the science behind climate change and to use their considerable political clout to install sympathetic lawmakers in key positions of government.

And that effort has largely succeeded in the U.S., but the science keeps building and the impacts of a rapidly warming planet become more and more obvious.  So obvious that other nations are responding with environmental and public health programs to respond to the mounting climate change crisis.

Experts are deeply concerned that we may soon hit a “tipping point” after which little can be done to minimize the accelerating damage caused by global warming.  As a result, the world’s experts are arguing that fossil fuels should be kept in the ground; not developed for burning.

That analysis is what fuels citizen efforts to stop the mining practice known as hydraulic fracturing – or fracking – and to oppose investments in new infrastructure projects to deliver fossil fuels for use, since those projects must operate for years in order to pay off the costs of such building.

Advocates have been pushing for public investments in energy efficiency programs and renewable sources of power, like solar and wind.

But what about cars?  In the United States, nearly 30 percent of greenhouse gas emissions are generated in the transportation sector (just behind generating electricity), with light duty vehicles producing 60 percent of the sectors greenhouse gases.  In New York, auto and truck emissions are almost double the climate-warming emissions of producing electricity.

Everyone knows this, and countries are starting to act.  China, the world’s largest car market, has been reported by Bloomberg News to be working on a plan to ban the production and sale of vehicles powered only by fossil fuels.  India, France, Britain and Norway have announced their intent to stop the sale of gas and diesel fueled cars.  Germany is considering a plan.  Austria, Denmark, Ireland, Japan, the Netherlands, Portugal, Korea and Spain have set official targets for electric car sales. The United States doesn’t have a federal policy, but at least eight states have set goals.

One of those states, California, is one of the largest economies in the world, sixth.  And now there are reports that California is considering joining the growing list of nations.

According to recent reports, the head of California’s Air Resources Board recently suggested the state could move to eventually replace vehicles running on combustion engines in the nation’s largest auto market with electric cars or those running on other renewable energy.  The state has long been a front-runner in setting ambitious future targets for auto makers including sale of zero-emission vehicles.

Cars and trucks represent California’s biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions by far.  In 2015, on-road transportation produced 34 percent of the state’s total emissions, according to the air board’s data.  A full ban on fossil-fuel vehicles in California, which represents 12 percent of all auto sales in the United States, particularly with similar actions in other nations like China and India, would force the auto industry to dump gas and diesel powered cars.

New York State, which prides itself on responding to the climate change crisis, and a major economic force in its own right, should act too.

Of course, it’s ridiculous that states have to act in this way.  A national government relying on the best available science and speaking truthfully to the public would have acted already.  But these are anything but normal times.

Thus, states must act.  California is under the hood looking at its plans to eliminate fossil fuels cars from its roads.  New York should follow suit.