EarthTalk: I don’t understand why there
are many European diesel cars with very high mileage ratings
that are not available in the U.S. Can you enlighten?
-- John Healy, Fairfield, CT
car proponents would like to see the fuel taxation
field leveled -– so that gasoline and diesel
(which is currently taxed higher) could compete fairly
at the pump. But another hurdle still is the relative
lack of filling stations across the U.S. with diesel
© cafemama, courtesy Flickr
countries do have differing standards in regard to how much
pollution gasoline and diesel automobile engines are allowed
to emit, but the reason you see so fewer diesel cars in
the U.S. is more of a choice by automakers than the product
of a decree by regulators on either side of the Atlantic.
the advent of the automobile age in the U.S., gasoline has
been king of the road; today upwards of 95 percent of passenger
cars and light trucks on American roads are gas-powered.
And the federal government has done its part to keep it
that way, taxing diesel at a rate about 25 percent higher
than gasoline. A recent assessment by the American Petroleum
Institute, an oil industry trade group, found that federal
taxes accounted for 24.4 cents per gallon of diesel but
only 18.4 cents per gallon of gasoline.
Europe, where in many regions about half of the cars on
the road run on diesel, these tax incentives are flip-flopped,
with diesel drivers reaping the economic benefits accordingly.
according to Jonathan Welsh, who writes the “Me and
My Car” Q&A column for The Wall Street Journal,
interest in diesels—which typically offer better fuel
efficiency than gas-powered cars—has gained significant
momentum in the U.S. in recent years given the uptick in
gasoline prices. The popularity of diesels also surged,
albeit briefly, in the mid-1970s after the U.S. suffered
its first “oil shock” that sent gas prices through
the roof. But gas prices settled down and so did American
fervor for diesels at that point.
though, with so much emphasis on going green, diesel cars—some
of which boast similar fuel efficiency numbers as hybrids—are
on the comeback trail in the U.S. Recently passed regulations
require diesel fuel sold in the U.S. today to have ultra
low emissions, which appeals to those concerned about their
carbon footprints and other environmental impacts. Also,
the increased availability of carbon-neutral biodiesel—a
form of diesel fuel made from agricultural wastes that can
be used in place of regular diesel fuel without any engine
modifications—is convincing a whole new generation
of American drivers to consider diesel-powered cars. Right
now only Volkswagen, Mercedes and Jeep sell diesel-powered
cars in the U.S., but Ford, Nissan and others plan to launch
American versions of diesel models already successful in
Europe within the next year.
the U.S. Coalition for Advanced Diesel Cars, a trade group
that represents several automakers as well as parts and
fuel suppliers, would like to see the U.S. government increase
incentives for American drivers to choose diesel-powered
engines by leveling the fuel taxation field—so gasoline
and diesel could be competing fairly at the pump—and
by boosting tax breaks on the purchase of new, more fuel
efficient diesel vehicles. One hurdle is the relative lack
of filling stations across the U.S. with diesel pumps, but
as such vehicles become more popular, filling stations that
don’t already offer them can relatively easily add
a diesel pump or two.
Petroleum Institute; U.S.
Coalition for Advanced Diesel Cars
EarthTalk: What does "carbon neutral"
really mean? And is it really possible to live in such a
manner without just resorting to buying carbon credits?
--Vera Hoffman, Seattle, WA
your carbon footprint via any number of web-based
calculators, such as this one here from the University
of California at Berkeley.
© University of California at Berkeley
is a term that has sprouted many definitions, and how to
achieve it has spawned numerous interpretations, too. According
to the New Oxford American Dictionary, which made carbon
neutral its 2006 “Word of the Year,” it involves
“calculating your total climate-damaging carbon emissions,
reducing them where possible, and then balancing your remaining
emissions, often by purchasing a carbon offset.”
But the term
is really so ‘06. Today’s term, “climate
neutral,” complicates the issue. Tracking carbon is
great, but carbon dioxide (CO2) is only one of several greenhouse
gases that contribute to global warming, says the 2008 publication,
Kick the Habit: A U.N. Guide to Climate Neutrality, by the
United Nations Environment Program. CO2 makes up some 80
percent of the world’s greenhouse gases, but five
others—nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons,
sulphur hexafluoride and methane—also contribute.
Limits on all six gases were called for by the Kyoto Protocol
international climate treaty.
whether a person can live in a climate-neutral manner is
a question of lifestyle choices and making improvements
over time. Start your climate neutral quest by calculating
your energy usage. Type “climate footprint”
or “carbon footprint” into Google and try a
couple of calculators that track use in different ways.
One is Earthlab’s the University of California at
Berkeley also offers one at: ConsumerFootprintCalc.swf
For a calculation,
you’ll need information about your home energy use
and your travel by car and public transit. Some calculators
ask whether you’re vegetarian, how much you recycle
and compost, and how much you spend buying goods and dining
out. The equation can get involved. Record your information
sources, and then revisit the calculator periodically with
new numbers to see how you’re doing.
The final element
involves a carbon offset, “an emission reduction credit
from another organization’s project that results in
less carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere
than would otherwise occur,” says the David Suzuki
Foundation, which promotes “ways for society to live
in balance with the natural world.” You can purchase
credits from a renewable energy company, for instance, to
offset the amount of carbon emissions you can’t eliminate
through other measures.
Will your efforts
make a difference? Kick the Habit says that, for individuals,
“less than 50 percent are direct emissions (such as
driving a car or using a heater).” About 20 percent
are caused by the creation, use and disposal of products
we use; 25 percent comes from powering workplaces; and 10
percent from maintaining public infrastructure. You can
drive your car less and turn down the heat, but consider
ways you can affect business and government policies that
could tap into that other 50-plus percent.
all part of the solution,” wrote U.N. Secretary-General
Ban Ki-moon in the foreword to Kick the Habit. “Whether
you are an individual, a business, an organization or a
government, there are many steps you can take to reduce
your climate footprint. It is a message we must all take
SYNDICATED COLUMN ONLY ON AMERICAJR.COM