In May, we discovered that Chinese CO2 emissions have resumed an upward trend largely because of the rapidly-growing use of cars burning gasoline.
Coal replacement technologies, such as wind, solar power and natural gas, have reduced our reliance on fossil fuels for electricity generation, leaving the automobile industry and the rest of the transportation sector to account for the lion’s share of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.
The dangers of climate change, whether sea level rise or droughts and crop failures, make it imperative that we reduce auto emissions or pay a heavy price.
I estimate that climate change, left unfettered, could impose costs of at least $4 trillion on the U.S. in this century. We can avoid some of this waste of dollars simply by moving away from fossil fuels.
Now that wind and solar power are less expensive than gas and coal, and the cost of battery storage has dropped dramatically, my calculations show that switching from fossil fuels in electricity generation would save at least $10 billion dollars a year from now to 2050, and reduce climate change in the bargain.
Governments with mandates to replace cars burning fossil fuels by electric vehicles include Norway (by 2025), India (by 2030), the UK and France (by 2040). China, the world’s largest and fastest-growing auto market, has a similar timeline.
And yet as the rest of the world marches forward, this administration is moving us in the opposite direction — downgrading not only the environment but our country’s status as the leading economic power.
There is absolutely no economic justification for impeding efforts towards greater fuel efficiency. Instead, we have the opportunity to leverage a cluster of factors including the commercialization of electric vehicles, progress in battery technology, and growing consumer interest in clean vehicles to make it possible to imagine a real solution to the climate problem.
The U.S. government needs to stop obstructing the global competitiveness of our auto industry, and start changing direction now. Automobiles of the future – the near future – will be electric because they make engineering and economic sense and because this is necessary to avoid a climate catastrophe.
Geoffrey Heal is the Donald C. Waite III Professor of Social Enterprise and a Chazen Senior Scholar at Columbia Business School. His latest book, Endangered Economies – How the Neglect of Nature Threatens Our Prosperity, sets out the economic and business case for environmental conservation.
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