Get Ready for Life in the Slow Lane

Besides lower emissions from electricity generation, the Maryland Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reduction Plan puts transportation improvements at the top of the list of measures that we expect to help us achieve the mandated reductions. The principal improvements in transportation are in fuel economy and in cleaner vehicles.

The relative amount of greenhouse gases emitted by road transportation in Maryland is 28%. Yet, the amount of reduction predicted for these sources by 2020 is just 15%. Not only is the goal not proportionate to the problem, but the expectation is a bit high. The fuel economy goals are based partly on CAFE (Corporate Average Fuel Economy) projections. While the CAFE of light vehicles improved by 7 mpg to ~ 35 mpg since the turn of the century, the federal standard for 2025 would require an additional 15 mpg improvement, i.e. twice the improvement in half the time. The law of diminishing returns might have a problem with that.

In spite of CAFE's rose-colored looking glass, Maryland's projections could well turn out accurate for other reasons. Politicians could finally sell gas tax increases to their constituents while the oil price is still low for the next year or so. When oil prices and gasoline climb back to the unaffordable level, driving will fall off. Vehicle miles traveled is somewhat inelastic vs. gasoline prices, but an increasingly impoverished public is left with little choice but to economize.

Now that my wife and I have economized to the hilt by running our 2000 Honda Odyssey well past its natural lifespan (transmission hasn't worked right for the past two years), we are down to one vehicle, which is fine. We will probably trade in our 2012 Chevy Sonic for a slightly larger used car and cargo trailer. One criteria is that fuel economy will be 32 mpg or better. That limits our choices pretty quickly.

Having an economical vehicle is good for now, but a day is coming when that will be an oxymoron. The commitment to keep global temperature rise to less than 2 C will necessitate that a lot more of us rely on other means to move about and carry stuff. Let's hope that other means will be an electric vehicle.

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