CO2 Gulf Separates America, Europe



It’s not exactly news Americans and Europeans don’t agree on a lot of things. But the widening gulf between Americans and Europeans portends some serious difficulties for global automakers that depend on spreading the cost of new platforms and engines across different regions.

The move to regulate carbon dioxide emissions (CO2) is gaining real momentum in the European Union. Travel acrossGermany and you see signs in airports urging citizens to curb their own CO2 emissions. The German automobile industry has been left on the defensive by the rising pressure to curb emissions of the so-called greenhouse gas with talk of speed limits. Even Porsche is developing a hybrid. There is even talk about regulating the new cut-rate airlines that are transforming travel in the European Union. And Germans are reconsidering their long-standing reservations about nuclear power.

Too, there is earnest talk in the usually irreverent British press about the impact of global warming on the poorer nations of Africa, South Asia, and the South Pacific. In some elite quarters, it’s no longer considered good form to even own a car and in places such as London it’s becoming an enormous hassle. London has gone the furthest in curbing automobile use with a combination of parking restrictions, access fees, and use taxes.


And across Europe, London is now considered a model for other large cities. Paris is tightening restrictions and even in Berlin, where traffic is relatively light compared to other major cities, there is talk of new restrictions on cars.

The big change came last fall with the publication of “The Stern Review: The Economics Of Climate Change.” Critics have been trying to pick apart the Stern report ever since it appeared last October. Nevertheless, the political and social impact of the report, which painted a grim picture of the future unless firm curbs on carbon dioxide emissions are put in place, starting now, has been deep in Europe.

The terms of the scientific debate in Europe are different than in the U.S. where the focus has been on temperatures and hurricanes. In Europe, the focus is now on the level of CO2 in the atmosphere not on debates over climate cycles.

Robert May, a fellow at Merton College, Oxford and former chief science adviser to the Blair government, warned in a review of books on the subject of global warming in a recent Times Literary Supplement that, if current trends continue, by about the 2050, atmospheric CO2 levels will have reached more than 500 parts per million, roughly double pre-industrial levels.


“It is worth noting that the last time our planet settled to greenhouse gas levels as high as 500 ppm was some 20 million to 40 million years when sea levels were some 300 feet higher,” May notes. “One could disparage both the book and the film of An Inconvenient Truth as glossed-up PowerPoint presentations but the entire planet would be better off if Gore had come across like this in 2000 to help the United States to get the President the majority voted for,” he adds.


(Ed.—Gore actually received a plurality, not a majority, of votes at 48.4 percent, to Bush’s 47.9 percent and Nader’s 2.7 percent.)

The end result could be a force opposing the inexorable move toward globalization of cars. Automakers, working in a global economy, dare not ignore the demands of the increasingly powerful European Union regulators in Brussels, who seem determined to dictate the kinds of cars people drive not only in Germany and France but also in the U.S. and China . But if differing standards evolve for emissions, all of autodom’s work to rationalize vehicle engineering around the world could be abruptly halted.

Related Articles


GM Fears CO2 Regs; Delays RWDers by Jerry Flint (4/10/2007)
Big Cadillac, small Pontiac on the pause.


Have Carmakers Lost the CO2 Argument? by Joseph Szczesny (4/3/2007)
Supreme Court ruling latest turn against truck tide.


EPA Can Regulate CO2, Supremes Say by Marty Padgett (4/2/2007)
Court decides 5-4 that agency has the authority.


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