Vehicle choices impact global warming

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-115212786531466.jpg’, ‘File photo by Rebecca Pierson’, ‘Energy-efficient vehicles, such as this Honda Prius displayed at last year’s Illinois Renewable Energy & Sustainable Lifestyle Fair, will again be on display at the fair Aug. 12-13 at Ogle County Fairgrounds.’);

Containing urban sprawl, rebuilding cities could break dependence on cars

Americans drive more miles in less efficient vehicles than any other nation in the world

Carbon dioxide released by burning fossil fuels first captured the attention of scientists in the 1890s. A Swedish scientist calculated that CO2 would enter the atmosphere and warm the planet. The issue had little impact as the Western world industrialized at an ever-increasing rate.

By the 1960s, scientists expressed concern that escalating fossil fuel consumption would eventually pose a serious threat to the health of the planet. Once again, the concern was ignored as the global consumption of fossil fuels continued to skyrocket. By the late 1980s, as temperatures began to rise, scientists such as James Hansen expressed alarm regarding the increases and called for federal action to curtail CO2 releases. Although the international community eventually reached an agreement to gradually limit the release of carbon dioxide, Congress and subsequent presidents of the United States did not join in the international effort known as the Kyoto Protocol.

Former Vice President Al Gore was convinced in the 1980s that the problem was real and that its solution required federal actions. In his new documentary film about global warming, An Inconvenient Truth, Gore asserts that sufficient scientific evidence exists to declare the debate regarding global warming’s existence as over. The world is getting warmer, the weather more extreme with droughts, floods, heat waves, more frequent and intense hurricanes, retreating glaciers and melting ice caps. The film is an excellent summary of the status of global warming according to scientists involved in studying it. Every citizen should see this film and reflect on its meaning for our daily lives.

James Kunstler, who refers to the twin problems of global warming and rapidly dwindling energy supplies as the long emergency, spoke at the recent Midwest Renewable Energy and Sustainable Living Fair. He is concerned that our energy debates have narrowed with emphasis primarily on how to keep our cars running with alternative fuels. According to Kunstler, there is far too little public discussion regarding the prospect of drastically curtailing our driving and rearranging every aspect of daily living, including how we inhabit the landscape, do business and get our food.

Kunstler lauds the New Urbanists and their comprehensive response to our looming environmental crisis. If urban sprawl were contained and the empty spaces within our cities rebuilt, mass transit could thrive, and car dependence would be cut back dramatically.

A new report by Environmental Defense highlights how our excessive driving and use of inefficient vehicles contributes to global warming. Although Americans own 30 percent of the world’s vehicles, we drive more miles in less efficient vehicles than any other nation in the world. Our vehicle emissions are comparable to those from coal fired power plants.

While bus and train service can be upgraded over time, more fuel-efficient and alternatively-powered vehicles are available now. This year’s Illinois Renewable Energy & Sustainable Lifestyle Fair, Aug. 12-13 at Ogle County Fairgrounds, will feature several workshops and have many fuel-efficient, alternative-fueled vehicles on display. The Fair will also offer the following speakers:

Hans Detweiler of the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Development will present biofuels policies in Illinois and America, how much the use of biofuels can be expanded over the next 20 years and what Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich is doing about it.

Wayne Stroessner will address the need to move from burning fossil fuels toward a cleaner hydrogen/fuel cell economy.

Chris Schneider will encourage audience participation in his discussion about how to recognize well-researched articles about hybrid vehicles.

Joe Schacter of the Environmental Law and Policy Center will review other states’ standards mandating cleaner cars, and how significantly similar standards would reduce air pollution in Illinois while providing economic and health benefits.

Major sponsors for this year’s fair include The Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation, The Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, and ComEd, An Exelon Company.

From the July 5-11, 2006, issue

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