January 7, 2019

MORE PHONY GREEN POLICY FAIL: The Lessons of ‘Dieselgate:’ Insane amounts of political capital were spent trying to wring meaningless CO2 reductions from cars.

The air-quality lawsuits were the work of a small group known in English as Environment Action Germany, which goes by the German acronym DUH, and is funded mainly by donations from Germany’s central and regional governments (and Toyota).

It doesn’t help that DUH was itself once a proselytizer for “clean diesel,” even pushing the technology on U.S. environmental groups as a quicker way to bring down carbon-dioxide emissions than waiting for electric cars to catch on.

Diesel does deliver a tad less CO2 per mile than gasoline but produces more smog and particulates, a detractor that turned out not to be fixable. Remember the Volkswagen scandal of 2015, when U.S. regulators ended the charade by discovering that emissions from imported VWs were 400% worse than advertised?

To this day, though, nobody in Europe is willing to acknowledge the biggest flaw in the continent’s now-defunct regulatory fetish for diesel.

However you slice it, cars just aren’t that big a part of an ostensible CO2 problem. Personal cars sit idle 95% of the time. Planes, trains, ships, trucks, buses and other commercial vehicles account for well over half the emissions associated with the transport sector globally. And the transport sector itself accounts for only 14% of all emissions.

Now for the knee-jerk response from groups like Union of Concerned Scientists: Yes, but road-vehicle emissions are a significant share of total emissions in the U.S. and Europe.

This is a perfect example of the politics of the meaningless gesture, the dominant motif in climate policy. The planet doesn’t care where the emissions happen. The U.S. and Europe could ban driving altogether and it wouldn’t make a sizable difference. For real leverage over CO2, the target has to be heavy industry, electricity generation, and home heating and cooking.

So why the car obsession? It’s a mental legacy of the air-pollution fights of the 1970s. To many voters, the car remains a sinful object. Eco groups, for purposes of self-promotion, can’t go wrong by portraying themselves as fighting against the automobile. Yet they get virtually nowhere on the alleged problem of CO2 by doing so.

Maybe controlling CO2 isn’t the goal.

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