Just say NO to the fuel economy fetishists

My colleague Myron Ebell sometimes describes industry’s response to global warming and oil import alarmism as: “Circle the wagons and everybody shoot into the middle.”

What brings this to mind is the new report by the National Petroleum Council (NPC), which has attracted much praise in green circles, because now even Big Oil (the report was chaired by former ExxonMobil CEO Lee Raymond) is calling for carbon penalties and tighter fuel economy standards. Unlike the oil industry, which is flush with profits, U.S. automakers are tottering on the brink, due chiefly to labor costs two to three times those of their competitors. Imposing tougher fuel economy standards could be their ruin.

The NPC report acknowledges that “Cars and trucks sold today are more technically efficient than those sold two decades ago. However, the fuel economy improvements that could have been gained from this technology over the last two decades have been used to increase vehicle weight, horsepower, and to add amenities.”

The word “technically” is gratuitous. Cars today are more efficient, period. Think about it for a moment. Fuel economy has been “flat” for 20 years, as the NPC report says. That means no loss in fuel efficiency, even though the average U.S.-made vehicle has substantially more horsepower, acceleration, weight, and amenities. Impressive!

Beholden to consumer preferences, rather than to green lobbying groups’ agendas, automakers have plowed efficiency gains mostly into vehicle improvements that most car buyers value more highly than fuel economy. That’s the way it is in a free market, and the way it should be.

The NPC worries that global demand for petroleum is increasing faster than supply, and consequently recommends tighter fuel economy standards to moderate demand growth. Has NPC forgotten everything they learned in Econ 101? If demand grows faster than supply, the price of gasoline will rise. That will moderate demand and create incentives for people to purchase fuel efficient cars. There is simply no justification for government meddling.

If fuel economy floats your boat, fine. Go out and buy a hybrid or buy a smaller car. But what gives you the right to make your consumer preference the law of the land?

We should just say no to these fuel economy fetishists. Fuel economy uber alles is an ideology for children. Or for hypocrites. When Al Gore, Bobby Kennedy, Jr., Leonardo DiCapprio, Ariana Huffington, and now, sadly, Lee Raymond, actually shed their gas guzzling, energy-intensive, high carbon life styles, then, and then only, will I listen to their sermonizing about fuel economy.