Fuel Efficiency Now!

Editorial by Staff of Cornell Daily Sun

Published: 20-Feb-2003

President Bush urged Congress last week to approve a $1.5 billion program to develop hydrogen cells as a viable clean fuel source. While this grant would be an invaluable boom to hydrogen research, it is not enough to ensure the continued safety of the environment or solve the nation's looming energy crisis. For the good of the country, Bush and his supporters must risk becoming unpopular with auto and oil industry executives and call for more stringent fuel emissions and efficiency standards for vehicles produced in the United States.

Mass producing and marketing vehicles powered purely by hydrogen cells would drastically reduce our nation's reliance on crude oil and lower air pollution levels by eliminating the gas-burning combustion engines used today. The problem with this scenario is that it is potentially decades away from becoming reality. Increasing fuel efficiency in American automobiles, on the other hand, would produce almost immediate results.

Current laws require passenger cars to travel 27.5 miles per gallon, while light trucks and sports utility vehicles (SUVs) is only 20.7 miles per gallon. While fuel efficiency standards doubled between 1975 and 1985, they have remained unchanged for the past 13 years. With crude oil consumption rising and the number of cars traveling American roads increasing every year, this stagnation is both inconceivable and inexcusable.

There are numerous benefits to raising fuel efficiency standards. According to a recent Congressionally sponsored study, increasing fuel efficiency standards for light trucks and sports utility vehicles to the current level for cars would save close to one million barrels of oil a day and prevent the release of 187 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

A United Nations sponsored panel of scientists recently provided evidence that global warming due to greenhouse gasses, such as carbon dioxide, is a real and present threat. The panels findings indicate that the Earth's average temperature could rise by 10.4 degrees in the next century. This is the most rapid change in 10,000 years and more than 60 percent higher than predicted six years ago.

This massive temperature increase could result in cataclysmic flooding in coastal areas, extreme weather, droughts and famine worldwide. While the Bush administration's recent foreign policies indicate a willingness to operate apart from the rest of the global community, opponents of proposals such as the Kyoto Accords need to realize that these effects will not discriminate between national boundaries.

Reasons for embracing fuel efficiency extend beyond protecting the environment. The aforementioned report also stated that increasing light truck and SUV efficiency standards would decrease importation of foreign oil by 10 percent. A few more decades of fuel-hungry SUVs means a few more decades of pumping money into nations we accuse of harboring and supplying resources to terrorists like al-Qaeda.

Bush stated in a recent speech to hydrogen industry leaders that the decisions we make today will be a legacy for future generations. We must ensure that this legacy includes an environment that humans can survive, let alone thrive in.

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