Increasing fuel efficiency

This morning on my walk to the bus station in Pine Grove Mills, PA, I saw gas at $3.69 a gallon. It's been higher than that recently and analysts predict that in coming years it will continue to climb over $4 a gallon. No doubt, filling the tank in our Honda is now a $60 endeavor. What's it like to have a Jeep or an Escalade? It's expensive.

Expense doesn't just go to families. There's the cost of obtaining, extracting, shipping, refining, and shipping all the petroleum to do all that. Obtaining all that oil and securing it has no small part in the wars in the Middle East which are in the trillions of dollars in taxpayer expense. We have record breaking oil disasters to deal with and their years of side effects. Later, there's the cost to air quality because of particulates and fumes. And don't forget the growing and ever looming costs greenhouse gases like CO2, and CO. That's a lot of consequence from just filling up your tank to get to work, take your kids to a baseball game or piano classes, or go on vacation.

But they are there: wallet to war and gulf to greenhouse.

Short of cutting individual car use what's to be done? The Pew Environment Group is calling on President Obama to increase fuel efficiency standards. They are asking you to help by signing on and telling the President to increase fuel efficiency to 60 miles per gallon for light trucks by 2025. They say in a press release, "With a 62 MPG standard, vehicle owners could see an average net savings of $6,475 over the lifetime of the car." That's nothing to ignore for most people in today's economy. Sectors of industry and so-called "consumer choice" will and have decried these standards as draconian and unrealistic, but the interconnected realities of peak oil, increasing global oil consumption, and climate change will make oil much more expensive and the cost of using it increasingly pressing as well.

So it looks as though we might aim at fuel use reduction as a goal. Reduce is the first of the "three R's" after all: Reduce. Reuse. Recycle

But if reduction is a genuine goal, then why not push even harder for even bigger reductions through bigger changes? In the same Pew press release they write, "[R]ecent polls show that Americans want to drive farther on a tank of gas, including one survey on behalf of Go60MPG, a coalition of advocacy groups seeking higher fuel-efficiency standards, which revealed 74 percent of those surveyed supporting 60 MPG by 2025." This is confusing.

Many people want more efficient cars which would reduce environmental and personal economic woes if they drive the same amount. More than doubling fuel economy could more than halve your gas payout if you drive the same distance. But if you double your driving distance you have neither saved fuel, money, nor the effects of burning that gas. Do you smell a Jevons Paradox?

What do you think? Should we go beyond fuel efficiency standards?
Should we go beyond transportation to urban or national planning?

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