Thursday, April 28, 2011

US auto industry's fuel efficiency has stalled: it's time to restart the engine

Conflicted approaches to energy use - I want it, but I want it cheap - are rife and sit alongside a lack of joined up thinking.

Here's just one, small example, of a lack of integrated and strategic thinking at municipal level.
San Francisco prides itself on being a "green city". It adopted a plan in 2007 to commit the city to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 20% below 1990 levels by 2012.  Its recycling rate at 77%  diversion from landfill and zero emission trolley buses powered by clean electricity from the  Hetchy Hetchy dam are laudable. But claims of being a green city by world standards are far-fetched.

SF Park, which manages parking spaces in the city, has developed a fantastic new real-time data service for iPhones which will tell you where the free spaces are in the city. I spoke to the project manager at the recent Transportation Camp in San Francisco. He told me that the app scheme cost $20m of federal dollars from the Federal Highways Department. But parking will now cost from as little as 50c an hour off peak and will, as he admitted, encourage people to drive into the city centre if they can be sure of finding a parking space more easily.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Honda FIT for US roads but leaves European twin to make up mileage

Most aspects of American life - eating, heating and driving - take more energy than the same activity anywhere else in the world. That explains the carbon footprint of the average American (19 tonnes of CO2) and that of the average Briton (9 tonnes of CO2).

But I know that it doesn't have to be this way. Easily. Improved fuel efficiency standards for America's 250m passenger cars could cut US dependence on foreign oil, while cutting transport emissions and cleaning the air of pollutants that cause cancer and asthma. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that transport contributes approximately 27% of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions and is the fastest-growing source of emissions. In the EU, transport (excluding air and maritime) accounts for 19% of emissions.

After five months of enduring transport paralysis - even though we only a couple of miles from San Francisco - my partner caved in and got her own car. A Toyota Prius was out of her price range, and the Japanese earthquake interrupted supply, making deals less attractive. So she opted for a less expensive, but less economical Honda Fit. The same model is called the Jazz outside the US. But although they are the same models, they are far from identical.

Friday, April 8, 2011

US budget battles make European energy and climate policy look easy

I’m sure Barack Obama doesn’t wish he had been born a European. There is enough speculation as it is over the origins of the 44th president of the United States from ‘serious’ politicians and trashy magazines who love to cast aspersions the origins of this Kenyan/Muslim/terrorist sympathiser.

But Obama must glance towards his allies across the Atlantic from time to time and wish he could slip into David Cameron’s English Oxfords and enjoy the Westminster system. He would then have the unifying force of a three line whip or even a one line whip – even one supportive Democratic voice would help amid the Republican clamour.

He would also have the Racial and Religious Hatred Act 2006 which would defend him against racial abuse, and libel laws that would deter newspapers from publishing malicious falsehoods. Did the founding fathers really intend the first amendment to defend the indefensible by inviting bigots and racists to say anything they like, even if it's factually incorrect, ethically wrong or incites acts of horrible violence?

Obama's clean energy standards slip in budget battle with Republicans

You have to pity Barack Obama. Even before the imminent threat of today's government shutdown, he looked like a man on the wrong end of a turkey shoot. Dick Cheney isn’t holding the smoking gun this time, but other Republicans have the president in their sights from all angles. Attacks on the Environmental Protection Agency, battles over the budget, breaking the unions are all attempts to stymie the Obama administration’s progress in any policy area.

So away from Capitol Hill, it must have come as a refreshing change to announce his Blueprint for Secure Energy Future to an appreciative audience with intelligent and open minds at Georgetown University in Washington DC.

As the leader of the free world, the president is the most shackled person in American politics. So he must have enjoyed the the freedom finally of saying the words climate, pollution and quickly in the same paragraph:

“We’ve got to discover and produce cleaner, renewable sources of energy that also produce less carbon pollution, which is threatening our climate. And we’ve got to do it quickly.”