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Thread: Kick 'em while they're down

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    Vulture of The Western World Eric's Avatar
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    Kick 'em while they're down

    The usual rule is: You don't kick 'em when they're down. So one has to wonder about the sportsmanship, at the very least, of the Obama administration. The American car industry's on the mat - yet it's about to be kicked in the ribs and maybe have a chair smashed over its head for good measure - in the form of new "emissions controls" the Obama people have announced they'll soon be imposing.

    What's most interesting about this is that the "emissions" being talked about are not the old-school type that were defined as harmful chemical compounds such as carbon monoxide or unburned hydrocarbons - the stuff that makes it hard to breath and clouds the skies with tawny-looking smog.

    Those emissions have already been controlled, you see. They are a non-problem - or very close to it. After 100 years of engineering refinement (and 40 years of work inventing and improving emissions control equipment such as catalytic onverters and electronic fuel injection) a modern passenger car engine's exhaust stream is better than 98 percent "clean." Only about two percent of what exits the pipe is other than harmless water vapor and carbon dioxide, an inert gas.

    But there's the rub.

    The old school definition of "emission" is being broadened to include that formerly inoffensive inert gas, carbon dioxide. The C02 produced as a result of operating a car (or running a factory) isn't causing breathing problems or fouling the sky with soot or smog - but it is held to be the cause of man-made global warming.

    And unlike traditional exhaust emissions - which can be and have been lowered by making engines burn fuel more efficiently and by chemically scrubbing their exhaust - the only currently known/practical way to reduce the amount of C02 produced by burning a gallon of gasoline is to burn less gasoline.

    That, in turn, will mean that new cars will become smaller - whether that's what consumers want or not.

    The automakers will be forced to junk billions of dollars in tooling as well as vehicle platforms (the basic architecture of a car) and write-off an entire class of vehicles (larger passenger cars, including family-type sedans and minivans as well as the much abused SUV and pick-up truck). Foreign competitors, who already specialize in smaller cars, will be given another government-ordered advantage over American industry. (This happened previously in the 1970s, when the federal government passed draconian fuel economy requirements that effectively outlawed the traditional mid and full-sized American car almost overnight - giving the then-new to the market Japanese a huge competitive leg up from which it can be argued the U.S. car industry never fully recovered.)

    That, in turn, could be "it" for the U.S. car industry - which is in no condition to absorb another blind-sided punch to the kidneys.

    Unfortunately, that may not be the worst of it.

    The crusade to curtail C02 emissions could lead down other roads, too - for example, a "carbon tax" on gasoline. People could, after all, simply continue to drive whatever cars they currently own rather than buy a government-mandated micro car. But a punitive gas tax would keep many of them in their garages - and their owners taking public transport. There could even be restrictions on driving itself - whether directly, by "on" and "off" days or perhaps indirectly, via a requirement that all cars be fitted with GPS transponders so that their owners can be automatically charged for every mile traveled on a pay-as-you-go basis.

    Indeed, some of the above has already been proposed.

    Some may regard all of this as a good thing, of course. There is the claim that man-made global warning is an urgent problem that requires such measures. But the truth is we (that is, science) can't say definitively or even with any real degree of certainty whether global warming is occurring and if it is, whether it's abnormal or merely another cyclical climatological event. Even less whether driving cars is exacerbating it. The former is at least scientific conjecture, to give it its due. But the latter - the claim that people driving cars is warming the globe - is political science. Or rather, politicized science.

    There is no more hard evidence for it than there is for the existence of Chupacabre or the Moth Man. Nevertheless, the auto industry - and the American driver - are to be punished mercilessly.

    But mobility is the keystone of American life, economic and otherwise. Kill the privately owned car, cram us all into busses and trains like the Soviet proletariat and what have we come to resemble? Whatever image you might conjure, it's not America. Or at least, not the America that was.

    It should not be done lightly.
    Last edited by Eric; 04-19-2009 at 08:17 AM.

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