Global environmental challenges
Norway’s finance minister wants to ban sales of new gasoline-powered cars from 2015.From then, Kristin Halvorsen (pictured left, in red jacket) says that new cars should be powered by alternative fuels such as electricity, biofuels or hydrogen or at least be hybrids, for instance able to use both gasoline and electricity.I went and spoke to her at the weekend about her proposal (for a story click here) — she reckons that it’s realistic even though it has little chance of becoming law even in a Nordic country that says it is a leader in fighting global warming. She says she’s the only finance minister in the world arguing for such a ban.She says people have grown too fond of cars powered by fossil fuels - treating them “like a member of the family” – and need tougher action to slow climate change.But her Socialist Left Party is only a junior partner in the three-party cabinet and Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg does not support her party’s proposal. And some opposition parties accuse her of “climate populism” – latching onto public concern about global warming ahead of elections due in September.So is the ban a good idea?
Cranky kids, mosquito bites, burnt marshmallows and soggy sleeping bags – camping in the summer is an American family ritual right up there with baseball and apple pie.
But like other aspects of American life involving big vehicles it has also been hitting the brakes in the face of sky-high gas prices.
It may be a distinct miniority opinion, but if you were to ask me, I’d say I think they’re not high enough — and I sincerely hope they keep rising. It may be the only way the world wakes up to the perils of climate change — hitting people in their pocketbooks where it hurts most.
The higher energy costs are truly a blessing in disguise for anyone concerned about climate change and worried about the inability of world leaders to take any tough measures to meaningfully reduce greenhouse gas emissions. With the growing scientific evidence that global warming has been happening, there’s no excuse for this generation’s inaction.
And with the WTO talks ending in abject failure, who could possibly be optimistic about the world ever agreeing on taking the costly, pain-inducing steps necessary to at least slow global warming in our time?
So it is the soaring energy prices are filling the void the cowardly political leaders have left. Rising prices for petrol, natural gas and electricity are causing pain and leading to conservation — and reduced emissions of carbon dioxide It’s a good thing.
I have a confession to make — I’m glad gas prices in the United States, as elsewhere, are rising. And I’m quietly hoping they’ll keep going higher because there may possibly be no more effective way to promote conservation and reduce carbon dioxide emissions.
Higher pump prices might be the only way that we Americans will ever even begin adjusting our driving habits and reducing fuel consumption — when it hits you in the pocketbook. The price of gas in the United States may be cresting at over the $4 per gallon level but it is still far lower than it many other countries where fuel taxes are much higher.
In Germany, gasoline is now up to about 6 euros ($9) per gallon. German think tanks have forecast that it would take prices of 10 euros ($15) per gallon to radically change driving habits.
Certainly there are fewer mass transit options in the United States than in Europe and elsewhere. And higher fuel prices are especially problematic for people with low or no income. What’s nevertheless disheartening in the United States is that any suggestion of alleviating the price squeeze in the United States through the conservation of fuel by driving less or by driving smaller, more fuel-efficient cars or by using public transportation seems to get drowned out by a strange political debate about temporarily suspending the federal fuel tax for a few months during the summer holiday season.