Attention, Northwestern drivers! If you were planning on cruising down Sheridan in that dirt-cheap, early-’90s pickup truck you found on Craigslist, Barack Obama’s going to ask you to reconsider. When it comes to sustainability, the president is getting down to business. On Tuesday, Obama introduced new emissions standards that will go into effect in 2012, bringing much-needed government attention to environmental causes.
The new plans, according to Obama’s speech at the White House, include increasing fuel efficiency standards to an average of 35.5 miles per gallon by 2016. This translates to about a 30 percent increase in fuel economy for the average American vehicle. The process will be gradual, as the administration hopes to increase national standards by 5 percent each year until the targeted goal is reached.
For automakers, who have already been thrown life preservers by the federal government, this is a new start. The government, as a result of the stimulus package, already dropped $54 billion on energy alone, but don’t count on any more hand-holding. In his statement, Obama said, “The auto industry’s refusal to act for so long has left it mired in a predicament for which there is no easy way out.” All automakers will be required by law to meet these standards — no exceptions. While this may look like an overwhelming challenge for the car industry, some see it as a blessing in disguise.
“Industries should take this as an opportunity [...] I definitely think it’s feasible,” said McCormick junior William Fan. Fan, co-president of Engineers for a Sustainable World, believes the challenges can be faced by approaching the market differently. Essentially, this approach would involve reducing the amount of larger vehicles, such as trucks and SUVs, and focusing more on economically-minded vehicles that still meet consumers’ needs.
Hybrid and electric vehicles, the potential fleet of the future, are understandably more expensive than typical cars. The government estimates that the average vehicle will increase in price by $600. Obama, however, estimates that the average driver would save approximately $2,800 as a result of better gas mileage. Not only will money be saved, but also less of a demand in oil consumption would bring the American demand down by 1.8 billion barrels. This is an important initiative by the United States as it presently accounts for about 25 percent of the world’s oil demand.
These new vehicles sure do sound effective, but producing them could be a different story. The premise of saving energy and saving the environment should be considered, “not just when people are using the car, but manufacturing it too,” said Fan, who supports carbon caps in vehicle production. Fan raises a good point. Ever heard the rumor that the energy needed to produce a Toyota Prius battery negates the car’s actual energy savings? Yes, it’s only a rumor, but it still emphasizes that the production of such environmentally friendly cars needs to be environmentally friendly itself.
It might seem surprising that so charming a plan hasn’t already been enacted, but a quick look at the past administration provides the reason. Since 2002, for instance, California had been pushing for similar regulations, but the state was stalled by the Bush administration after the federal government refused to grant a waiver that would allow mandating emissions rules that surpass the federal standard.
With all the facts and numbers aside, it is important to realize that this is one of the boldest steps the government has taken towards seriously reducing greenhouse gas emissions instead of merely addressing them. This is a huge departure from the past administration, which enacted only a few substantial laws to change energy policy in America. Though the Bush administration had good intentions, especially seen in the Energy Policy Act of 2005, it never actually tackled the direct sources head-on to the degree that President Obama has. With this new policy, a global example is being set as other countries also struggle to find solutions to their own energy problems.
Still, there is much more to be done before Obama’s initiative can be wholly praised. For example, fuel emissions are only a fraction of the world’s energy issues that contribute to global warming, environmental deterioration and general sustainability problems. The success of Obama’s plan can only be gauged by the precedent set by its probable success. Though it’s very promising, the new plan can only be considered successful if its effects extend across the globe and influence more than just American emissions.
Whether it’s Mount Trashmore or the Green Cup, Northwestern students are given constant reminders that these new environmental initiatives are only made possible by their willingness to accommodate. The “change” that most of us voted for can only be accomplished if we’re willing to help. So if you’re still thinking about getting that jalopy because it saves you a few dollars now, reconsider, wait a little while, and invest in a vehicle that would make Sheridan proud.