Wednesday, January 21, 2009

D. Sperling and D. Gordon's "Two Billion Cars"

Daniel Sperling is Professor of Engineering and Environmental Science & Policy at the University of California, Davis, and Founding Director of University of California, Davis's Institute of Transportation Studies. Deborah Gordon is a senior transportation policy analyst who has provided consulting services to the National Commission on Energy Policy, the California Energy Commission, Hewlett Foundation, and the Chinese government to develop fiscal policies for their burgeoning auto fleet.

They applied the “Page 99 Test” to their new book, Two Billion Cars: Driving Toward Sustainability, and reported the following:
Over and over, the public interest has been overwhelmed by regional and special interests. This recurring theme is conveyed on Page 99 and elsewhere in Two Billion Cars. When it comes to cars, Detroit’s automakers and their billions in bail out funds amply prove this point. And when it comes to the fuel to power them, corn ethanol is a case where special interests have begotten bad energy policy. On Page 99 readers find out why, when made the American way from corn, ethanol is a clear example of all that’s wrong with U.S. transportation, energy, and climate policy.

Despite its energy, economic, and environmental shortcomings, corn ethanol is the current fuel du jour ordered up by policymakers. Corn ethanol has long been the recipient of massive public subsidies amounting to $10 billion in 2008. Midwest farmers have grown used to these public handouts. On the other hand, federal commitments to clean vehicle and energy R&D have been shortchanged, dwindling to nearly nothing. As a result, real fuel and vehicle solutions that could serve the public interest just cannot compete with corn.

From Page 99:

Corn ethanol is expensive and provides little or no environmental benefit. The only societal benefit is a small reduction in oil imports, but gained at a huge cost. The political success of U.S. corn ethanol demonstrates how narrow special interests can steer federal policy and trump the public interest. Surprisingly, policymakers and the public have steadfastly supported corn ethanol without first determining if this domestic fuel is in America’s best interest. Special interests—American farmers and agribusiness giants in particular—have convinced the public that corn ethanol deserves broad support. It does not.

What we need to do is dig more deeply.

More promising biofuels do exist. These are fuels made from the vast array of cellulosic plant materials: grasses, fast-growing trees, municipal trash, and crop residues. They’re abundant and they’re not crops that would otherwise nourish people. For a given plot of land, cellulosic biofuels have a far smaller carbon footprint than corn. And cellulosic material can even be grown on marginal lands not suitable to farming.

Beyond biofuels, electric vehicles, plug-in hybrids, and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles are other promising options worth investing in.

The transportation sector is in need of a transformation. It is up to policymakers, industry, and consumers to set clear goals, advance innovative products, and make wise choices so we can accommodate two billion cars on earth.
Learn more about Two Billion Cars at the Oxford University Press website. Visit Deborah Gordon's website and Daniel Sperling's faculty webapge.

--Marshal Zeringue