Neil Winton, a columnist for the Detroit News' Auto Insider, wrote a piece arguing that we should leave automakers alone and let market forces determine the outcome of emissions and global warming. He states his case in a clever way by not actually stating it at all. He paints the media, environmentalists and left-leaning politicians as emotional opportunists and leaves the rest of his argument to the quoted words of a high-level automotive executive and two automotive experts.

Read the rest after the jump...

[Source: Detroit News]

To describe those in favor of governmental regulations on emissions, Winton uses phrases like, "[the media] believe[s] that humans are warming the climate and that Earth will perish unless we curb emissions of carbon dioxide by foreswearing the automobile and aeroplane, among other things." He also says that the "public [is] being bombarded with the idea that CO2 must be curbed if the world is to be saved." (Note: I did the underlining, not Winton.) In another paragraph, he describes the BBC as a media monopoly. As for politicians, he says that they can't resist the urge to save us from ourselves." The point is not to say that the BBC isn't a monopoly, but to emphasize with clarity that Winton is painting a negative picture of those in favor of curbing harmful emissions with his subtle adjectives and accusations.

Winton goes on to argue that aside from a handful of cars like the Peugeot 207 Epure and the Citroen C-Metisse, the presentations of most major automakers at the Paris Motor Show were thin when it came to eco-friendly vehicles. He finds the reasoning for this in the words of Carl-Peter Forster, President of GM Europe, who believes that despite media coverage consumers are not yet ready to purchase cars that are environmentally friendly unless they are also inexpensive and a good value for the money.

This certainly makes sense and from what I can tell it's completely true, however, Winton uses this as a launching pad to get to the core of his thesis. He does not believe there is adequate evidence to support that climate change is an impending crisis. He uses his own metaphorical words here and says that "there is a cloud on the horizon, although it is not clear whether it will quickly dissipate, or develop into a full-scale storm." At this point he says that Professor Garel Rhys of Cardiff University Centre for Automotive Research does not see evidence of a climate emergency and uses the most asinine reasoning of all quoting him, "If the politicians believed there is an emergency they would do something about it."

First of all, Winton stated earlier in the article that politicians were taking action. Remember the quote about saving us from ourselves? Secondly, politicians shouldn't be relied upon to make all the right decisions. Do I really have to say it out loud? Mark Foley, Bob Ney... Granted, Mr. Winton is British and resides in England, but I would imagine that similar stupidity and irresponsibility applies.

The last piece of Winton's argument is that any changes should be market driven rather than forced through legislation or artificial incentives. Here he quotes Phil Dunne, vice-president of automotive consultancy A.T.Kearney, "I still don't think anything radical will be done in Europe. It has to be market driven, it has to be attractive to consumers... as more and more consumers jump on this bandwagon the manufacturers will provide the cars." Mr. Rhys' quote takes the idea one step further and implies that tampering with the market could result in disaster, "the industry has to determine what the market will accept. It would be the road to ruin if the motor industry spent a fortune on products which were fine in terms of emissions, but nobody wanted to buy them."

It's true that there will always be doubters regarding climate change, however, Winton's use of an auto expert who says that if there was a problem then politicians would have reacted is simply irresponsible, especially, when there are numerous well respected scientists from institutions like the Royal Society as well as James Hansen, the director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, emphasizing the harm we're doing and continual burden we're placing on the global balance. Rhys, Dunne and Forster are correct when they say that consumers tend not to make purchasing decisions on conscience, but mainly for monetary reasons yet, they ignore the fact that beyond competition, market forces don't necessarily have other interests in mind.

Imposing emissions limits is by no means a perfect strategy. Legislation can be fought or even ignored through loopholes. Lobbies can sway politicians. Eventually, we'll have to nurture a culture of conservation, but until then, as time passes the problem gets exponentially worse and the fix becomes increasingly difficult. Waiting for market forces to drive the industry towards renewable energies will most likely take too long.

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