Patient Earth & Dr. California

[hot earth]Out here on the Left Coast things are looking curiouser and curioser. Detroit is threatening to sue us for requiring cars in California to pollute less. Do they really care that much? Yes, because four other states peg their auto emission standards to California’s, and three more intend to follow suit. And why does California get to regulate its air quality instead of the feds? Because we passed a Clean Air law first.
But that’s not the main story. The reason the California Air Resources Board passed the higher emissions standard was to address the problem of global warming. With 35 million people driving two cars each (statistically) Californian’s contribute a lot of global warming gases to the world’s air. But Detroit (as well as the federal Environmental Protection Agency and the Bush Administration) is not convinced about this climate-change thing.
As reported in The New York Times the president of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers representing everybody but Nissan and Honda doubted the reality of global warming. “I come from Maine” he said “and we had one of the coldest winters on record….It was very very cold.” So, not to worry folks!
Rain in Maine doesn’t help us much out West, however. In an attempt to briefly describe what rising temperatures would mean in California, the Times reporter, Danny Hakim, fashions a poetic – if weirdly inaccurate – vision of our demise:
“Higher temperatures impede the state’s battle with smog and can worsen forest fires,” he writes. “They also contribute to the early melting of mountain snow, which can lead to winter flooding and less water runoff for crop irrigation in the spring, threatening the state’s $3.2 billion wine industry.”
I think Danny may be worried about his supply of Napa merlot. He should be more worried about where his next salad is coming from. Forget the wine industry. That “runoff” from the melting Sierra Nevada snow in the spring fills the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers which feed thousands of miles of cement aquaducts and reservoirs of the gargantuan water network irrigating California’s 6 million acres of farmland. The state’s farm industry (largely fresh fruits and vegetables and cow products) is worth at least $20 billion a year.
Then there’s the rising sea level problem which could, according to the article, “threaten coastlines and … contaminate the state’s fresh water supply.” I’m not sure how rising sea level threaten’s the water supply. I suppose it could make groundwater wells along the coast saltier. Believe me, it’s the snow pack we watch with hawk eyes.
California is just the canary in the coal mine here. The California Air Board is taking the threat of a heating planet seriously. One of its members put it like this, “The patient here is the earth and its habitants. The treatment option is here before us today.”






One response to “Patient Earth & Dr. California”

  1. Rayne Avatar

    Sorry, have to differ with you on this. It’s not the U.S. automakers that are the bottlenecks. Believe me, they’d love to be all over hybrids AND fuel cell-only cars, would revolutionize their business and restore the lead in innovation to the U.S.
    To completely redesign and retool for all-hybrid vehicles costs tens and hundreds of millions of dollars — money that might better be spent on fuel cell autos. Between now and when fuel cells are commercially viable, we can demand only so much improvement in pollution output before automakers are forced to cut into capital funding that would develop clean fuel cells (or before they run into the physical limits of internal combustion design). A staggered incremental increase would encourage automakers to improve pollution standards — but every stick needs a carrot. Automakers need substantial tax credits for research and development since they are bearing the cost of fuel cell development.
    If any parties deserve slaps along side the head with sanctions and reorganizations, it’s the petrochemical companies and the DOE. The petrochemical companies actively thwart the development of fuel cell technology and the DOE aids and abets them by giving mere lip service.
    Read the article from Business 2.0 on GM and its fuel cell development, you’ll see exactly what I mean. Exxon-Mobil gave GM the kiss-off to parnering with GM on development of fuel cells and hydrogen delivery infrastructure; GM had already sunk a couple billion into development at that time (believe that was 2002 — and 2B is a pretty good sign of commitment, don’t you think?). Exxon’s attitude was that there’d be cheap oil for a loooong time. What does GM do in the mean time with a 2B+ investment that’s going nowhere, and increasing restrictions on pollution output? In the mean time, Bush gives a couple hundred million in promises to the entire auto industry for fuel cell development — a drop in the bucket, lip service that looks good to the press.
    The other party missing in all this that also needs a firmer grip on reality: the Califonia consumer. Two cars for each driver? Get real! Californians ought to be paying a pollution surcharge for every vehicle over one per driver! No different than ciga*rettes; you should expect to pay higher taxes to compensate for the damage produced by your “habit”, and to discourage excess pollution! Some of that tax might well offset the cost of fuel cell development!
    [Article from Business 2.0:,17863,516057,00.html%5D