COLUMN: The Pope, climate change and VW
Demands of reducing carbon dioxide are creating policy that sets unrealistic demands
While Pope Francis shuttled around during his historic visit to the U.S. in a Fiat, he shared the news cycle with Volkswagen.
The pope made headlines with his calls for action on climate change. USA Today touted: “Obama, Pope Francis praise each other on climate change.” In his September 23 speech from the White House lawn, the Pope addressed President Obama, saying: “I find it encouraging that you are introducing an initiative for reducing air pollution.”
The core of the entire climate change agenda is the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions, which proponents like to call “air pollution.”
The drive to cut CO2 emissions is at the root of Volkswagen’s unprecedented scandal.
With nonstop coverage of the papal activities, the Volkswagen story was likely overlooked by most Americans. But it is not going away.
On Sept.18, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency disclosed the scandal: Europe’s biggest auto maker, with 600,000 employees world-wide and 300,000 in Germany, utilized software on some VW and Audi diesel-powered cars to manipulate the results of routine emissions tests — allowing them pass strict emissions standards in Europe and the U.S.
The “defeat devices” have reportedly been fitted to more than 11 million vehicles since 2008 and may cost Volkswagen up to $18 billion in fines in the U.S. alone. Owners of the impacted vehicles will need to have a heretofore unavailable “fix” installed, may have to provide a “proof of correction certificate” in order to renew their registration and will suffer “loss due to the diminished value of the cars.”
As a result of the scandal, Volkswagen’s stock price and reputation have both fallen precipitously, and class-action lawsuits are already taking shape. Fund managers have been banned from buying VW’s stocks and bonds. Tens of thousands of new cars may remain unsold. USNews stated: “Whoever is responsible could face criminal charges in Germany.”
The question no one seems to be asking is: what would drive Europe’s biggest auto maker to make such a costly decision, to take a risk, from which it may be impossible to recover?
While the question isn’t asked, Reuters coverage of the story offers the answer: “Diesel engines use less fuel and emit less carbon — blamed for global warming — than standard gasoline engines. But they emit higher levels of toxic gases known as nitrogen oxides.”
In short, the answer is the drive to lower CO2 emissions and the policies that encourage reduction.
If anyone could solve the dilemma, one would expect it to be the Germans, who excel in engineering feats. The reality of achieving the goals, however, is far more difficult than passing the legislation calling for the energy transformation.
Addressing German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s push for de-carbonization, BloombergBusiness points out: “Merkel has built a reputation as a climate crusader during a decade as Chancellor.” She “has straddled between pushing to reduce global warming while protecting her country’s auto industry.”
Merkel is, apparently, bumping up against reality. Those tighter emissions standards would have hurt Germany’s auto industry. At last week’s Frankfurt Auto Show Merkel said: “We have to ensure politically that what’s doable can indeed be translated into law, but what’s not doable mustn’t become European law.”
The VW emissions scandal provides a lesson in the collision of economic and environmental policies that strive to reach goals, which are presently technologically unachievable.
The fact that, while waving the flag of environmental virtue advocated by Pope Francis, those with the world’s best engineering at their fingertips used their expertise to develop a work-around should serve as a lesson to policymakers who pass legislation and regulation on ideology rather than reality.
The author of Energy Freedom, Marita Noon serves as the executive director for Energy Makes America Great Inc. and the companion educational organization, the Citizens’ Alliance for Responsible Energy.