What’s The Environmental Impact Of Cash For Clunkers?

By Justin Gardner | Related entries in Cars, Energy, Environment

TIMES crunches the numbers and comes up with some encouraging data…

The initial data released by Department of Transportation, however, shows that so far cash for clunkers has been a green success. The clunkers averaged 15.8 m.p.g., compared with 25.4 m.p.g. for the new vehicles purchased, for an average fuel-economy increase of 61%.

On the whole, American drivers are trading in inefficient trucks and SUVs for much more efficient passenger cars. Car manufacturers like Nissan are already retooling some models to improve their fuel economy so they can qualify for the credits.

But they rightly points out the potential pitfall in this situation…

It’s called the efficiency paradox: as we get more efficient at using energy — through less wasteful cars and appliances — the overall cost of energy goes down, but we respond by using more of it. In the case of cars, that means driving more. Ultimately our gas bill stays the same, but we spend more time on the road and pump the same amount of greenhouse-gas emissions into the atmosphere. The earth isn’t any better off.

This is one reason why it makes sense to have gas at a fixed cost that doesn’t go below that. Car makers have long be clamoring for this because without it the CAFE standards that the government sets don’t push people to buy the more fuel efficient cars if gas is cheap.

Is raising the fuel prices to a set level next on the Dems’ agenda? If not, should it be?


This entry was posted on Wednesday, August 5th, 2009 and is filed under Cars, Energy, Environment. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

7 Responses to “What’s The Environmental Impact Of Cash For Clunkers?”

  1. Hill Staffer Says:

    Overlooked in many environmental impact analyses is the fact that the production of more fuel efficient vehicles (the GM board recently ordered increases in production of those vehicles, probably responding to the C4C program) uses far more petroleum than could ever be saved by increases in fuel efficiency of each of those cars.

    The production of the petroleum-based plastics required to make cars lighter and more fuel efficient uses more energy and releases more greenhouse gasses than the use of those cars could ever hope to account for.

  2. Tully Says:

    Hey! Quit pointing out truths!

  3. kranky kritter Says:

    Price fixing. What a great, great, idea. That always works. :-)

    As to the clunkers program, I can’t help but wonder how much it has really effected overall purchasing behavior. Many folks have already begun purchasing more efficient vehicles after the fuel price scares of the last 2 years. So do we really know whether folks bought more efficient cars only because of this program?

    By the way, there are great deals out there on allegedly undesirable “gas guzzlers” like minivans, in case you have a family of 4+. And there are great deals on pickups and suvs, in case you need, you know, utility.

    But before you buym just remember that if you think cargo space and weight capacity and crash safety might be useful for your family, work, or things you do, then you’re just part of the problem. It’s important to be patriotic and buy what people living in cities, without families, and working in offices think is appropriate.

  4. Jimmy the Dhimmi Says:

    Obama supporting an artificial, permanent raise on the gas tax? Obama promised that middle class families wouldn’t see their tax burden increase one dime. Democrats made high gas prices a campaign issue in the 2006 congressional elections. I seriously doubt this will be on their agenda, although there seems to be an expiration date on Obama’s campaign promises.

    Also, according to MSNBC, environmental activists don’t seem to be too impressed. We don’t even consider the environmental costs of shipping the dismantled engines to China where they will be smelted down in huge coal-burning furnaces.

    This is just a disaster. It is like when FDR paid farmers to burn there harvests or destroy their livestock in order to keep food prices high -you know, to promote jobs in the agricultural sector – while Americans were hungry in the streets during the depression.

  5. Nick Benjamin Says:

    The production of the petroleum-based plastics required to make cars lighter and more fuel efficient uses more energy and releases more greenhouse gasses than the use of those cars could ever hope to account for.

    Cute. But without proof that’s all it is.

    According to actual experts, who actually know stuff, all industrial processes in the entire country produce less carbon than the transportation sector. This is true globally and just in the US:
    http://www.earthpolicy.org/Indicators/CO2/2008_data.htm#table5
    http://www.eia.doe.gov/oiaf/1605/ggrpt/carbon.html

    Highway emissions are 80% of transport emissions:
    http://www.pickuptrucks.com/html/stories/wrightspeed/page1.html

  6. Brad Templeman Says:

    If they really wanted people to buy fuel efficient cars, they would get rid of CAFE, increase the gas tax and let the market handle the rest. People were furiously getting rid of SUVs at $4.00 for the first time, but then the price fell and people didn’t care about it anymore. It would be better economically and environmentally than Cap and Trade too.

  7. John Jones Says:

    Nick,

    When you question someone’s proof it would be good for you to actually have your own. None of your articles talks about the energy used to produce a car. They only talk about the percentage of energy consumption used by transportation which was not the point being made.

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