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Culture Change print magazine issues: 20  19  18  17  16  15  14  13  12  11  10  9  8  index

Pedal Power solutions to petroleum dependence and polluting vehicles: Arcata Library Bikes, Pedal Power Produce, and more!

CAOE - Committee Against Oil Exploration - stop offshore oil drilling to protect sensitive habitats and cut petroleum dependence.

Culture Change through music! The Depavers eco-rock!

Take our Pledge for Climate Protection and learn about the Global Warming Crisis Council.

SEI hometown action!
Arcata city council's proclamation against war on Iraq and Kyoto Protocol proclamation.

Overpopulation has become a reality.  Overpopulation Resources and News Tidbits

Sail Transport Network

Fact Sheets
Press Releases

Long Distance


Efficiency = Growth = Pollution
Fuel-Economy Standards Encourage Driving

by Wilbur Thomas, JD, MBA

About 85 percent of all transportation between cities is by car. Autos also comprise the majority of urban trips in most cities. Forty-three percent of the 17 million barrels of oil America uses daily is burned by automobiles. And U.S. gasoline consumption has risen about 20 percent since the early 1970s.

Americans are the world's biggest gasoline consumers. We consume 484 gallons per capita per year and pay some of the world's cheapest gasoline prices. Our nearest rival, Sweden, consumes less than half as much gasoline per capita as we do.

Have the stringent government mileage standards for cars sold in the United States, known as CAFE (Corporate Average Fuel Economy) helped? Just the opposite. The smaller, lighter cars produced by CAFE have cut the marginal cost of driving. These smaller cars get more miles to the gallon, so the cost of driving each mile has actually gone down. For example, at a price of $1.30 per gallon, it costs a driver whose car gets 15 m.p.g. about nine cents in gasoline cost to drive one mile. But assume that under CAFE the mileage efficiency of the car doubles to 30 m.p.g. Now it only costs the driver about 4 cents to drive one mile. The increased, government-mandated efficiency of the car has radically lowered the direct cost of driving.

The result is predictable. Americans have bought more cars, driven more miles, and burned more gasoline than before CAFE. For example, in 1988 there were 51 million more cars in the U.S. than in 1970. And in 1988 Americans drove their cars 450 billion more miles than in 1970. From the point of view of auto overpopulation, road use, square miles of pavement, and gasoline consumption, we were actually better off in the days of the gas guzzler than today under CAFE.

By radically lowering the direct cost of driving, government policy, as embodied by CAFE, has increased our addiction to the auto-highway lifestyle, encouraged the paving of our cities, and served as a justification to enter the Persian Gulf conflict.

Thus, those "environmentalists" who find a kind of moral superiority in driving a small, light car, as opposed to a "gas guzzler" and who support the imposition of ever higher mileage requirements on Detroit are actually playing right into the hands of the auto-highway lobby. Government policy should be directed at raising the cost of driving one mile, not lowering it.

As for safety, today's smaller, lighter cars are far more dangerous than their larger, heavier forebears. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety recently studied 11 types of General Motors cars downsized since 1977. The findings? There were 23 percent more deaths per registered car than for their earlier, larger predecessors of the same make and model.

Similarly, the recent, successful populist campaign in California to lower car insurance costs by imposing price controls on the auto insurers was equally misguided and counterproductive. The aim must always be to burden the auto-highway lifestyle with as high a set of costs as possible, regardless of the source or beneficiary of the costs.

Wilbur Thomas is a professor of finance and law in the Business and Economics program at Concordia College in St. Paul, Minn. He is an avid cyclist and train rider.


Articles of interest:
Anti-globalization protest grows, with tangible results.  WTO protests page

Tax fossil-fuel energy easily
by Peter Salonius

UK leader calls War on Terror "bogus"

Argentina bleeds toward healing by Raul Riutor

The oil industry has plans for you: blow-back by Jan Lundberg

It's not a war for oil? by Adam Khan

How to create a pedestrian mall by Michelle Wallar

The Cuban bike revolution

How GM destroyed the U.S. rail system excerpts from the film "Taken for a Ride".

"Iraqi oil not enough for US: Last days of America?"

Depaving the world by Richard Register

Roadkill: Driving animals to their graves by Mark Matthew Braunstein

The Hydrogen fuel cell technofix: Spencer Abraham's hydrogen dream.

Ancient Forest Protection in Northern California . Forest defenders climb trees to save them.

Daniel Quinn's thoughts on this website.

A case study in unsustainable development is the ongoing crisis in Palestine and Israel.

Renewable and alternative energy information.

Conserving energy at home (Calif. Title 24)



Culture Change/Sustainable Energy Institute mailing address: P.O. Box 3387 , Santa Cruz , California 95063 USA
  Telephone 1-215-243-3144 (and fax)

Culture Change (Trademarked) is published by Sustainable Energy Institute (formerly Fossil Fuels Policy Action), a nonprofit, 501(c)(3) California non-stock corporation. Contributions are tax-deductible.