sample debate paper, Should cars be more efficient?

Joshua Coltrane
Environment and Politics
Word Count: 2,181

Issue 10: Should Cars Be More Efficient?

Ever since the industrial revolution, people have been going further and faster thanks to the wonders of fossil fuel.Society upgraded from horses and carriages to automobiles.For a while, the benefits abounded and the downsides were nowhere to be found.This was not because the technology did not have any adverse affects, but because its affects were not noticeable within the scope of just a few years.It took a while, but eventually those “hidden” effects came and slapped us in the face.There are two main problems in the United States today, resulting from our vast consumption of fossil fuels.One, we are heavily dependent on foreign oil.This finally became understood as a legitimate problem in 1973 when our wonderful friends at the Organization of Petroleum-Exporting Countries (OPEC) decided to cut oil supplies and raise prices.Two, scientific research has convinced the vast majority of the U.S. that the burning of fossil fuels contributes heavily to global warming.A few solutions have been proposed and some attempted to help mitigate the affects of these problems.One particularly controversial solution is to raise the efficiency of our cars.This idea was first employed after the previously mentioned actions of OPEC, which has been dubbed the Oil Crisis of 1973.At this time, the more efficient foreign cars sold better than our own.(I find it ironic that when we couldn’t depend on foreign oil as much we were in a sense forced to depend on foreign cars.)The result of these happenings was the Energy Policy and Conservation Act of 1975.A key component of this act was the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) program.The purpose of this was to increase our average fuel efficiency.(The initial goal was to double it by 1985.)Keep in mind that the key motivator here was the desire to be energy independent.The second motivator came later in the early 1990’s, when the world made its first real acknowledgement of global warming.Our desire to reduce our CO2 emissions bolstered the argument of making our cars more efficient.Heavy debate has arisen over this topic.Although those against it do not support foreign oil dependence or damage to the environment, they claim that the CAFE standards do not help to solve these problems and, in fact, cause problems of their own.The major stakeholders in the ring are the auto industry, American oil consumers, environmentalists, and as always in America the U.S. government.The auto industry is motivated by profit like any other business.Making cars more efficient means either making them smaller and lighter or spending money on new technology.The industry’s initial reaction to the CAFE standards was making smaller, lighter cars, which opponents of car efficiency argue causes vehicles to be more dangerous.Smaller cars also could mean less variety for the consumers, which may hurt sales.On the side of new technology, automakers spending more money mean car dealers charging more money.This could cause fewer consumers to buy, especially if gas prices are lowered.This would cause the Auto industry to tend to favor the negative side of this argument.From the consumers’ point of view, higher efficiency cars mean fewer dollars per mile.However, if those cars cost too much, they may not see it as worth it.They will side with whatever seems less expensive.Environmentalists are pressing desperately to fight global warming, which puts them on the side of the affirmative.The government, more than anything doesn’t want to be under the influence of foreign powers, and so would tend to lean toward the affirmative.However, the government’s inability to agree on anything still stands in the way of making a clear determination of where it stands in this debate.The main sub-issues are global warming, energy independence, public safety, new jobs, and profit.

David Friedman makes the case for the affirmative.A look at his ideological framework helps explain why.His entire career has been focused on clean, efficient transportation.Before he was the research director of the Clean Vehicles Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists, he worked in the Fuel Cell Vehicle Modeling program at the University of California-Davis.His choice of career shows that he cares for the environment and falls completely in line with the side of the argument he has chosen to take.His main point is that we do have the technology required to improve car efficiency and doing so will help make us more oil independent, save money, fight global warming and even create jobs.He briefly substantiates global warming by stating that eleven of the past twelve years have been among the hottest on record.He analyzes the costs of global warming and states that they could be as much as five percent of the global GDP yearly if we do not cut back on our emissions.He shows that vehicles are large contributors in that only the U.S., China, and Russia have economies that exceed the pollution of cars and trucks.He goes on to point out our unhealthy addiction to oil, which causes us to spend $500,000 a minute on foreign oil that could be used to benefit our own country.He then goes on to make the case for car efficiency as a solution to these problems.He states that there are more than 300 types of cars and trucks that get less than 15 miles per gallon.He explains the cause of this by showing that automakers responded to the 1975 fuel economy standards by making cars smaller.Consumers in the market for larger vehicles were left with few choices that were fuel-efficient as a result.Friedman furthers his argument with the assertion that current technology, such as direct injection gas engines and improved aerodynamics, can make even out SUV’s more fuel-efficient without making them any less safe.If SUV’s were produced to achieve 35 mpg, consumers would have to pay about $2,500 more and would save about $7,800 over the vehicles lifetime.This certainly shows to be profitable.Friedman makes a very key point in that automakers have not used existing technologies to make cars more efficient in the past twenty years, and therefore should not be trusted to in the future.The inference here is that the government needs to ensure that they do so in the future.On the subject of employment, which is of particular importance today, he cites the research of Management Information Services.This research indicates that improving fuel-efficiency could lead to the creation of 35,000 new jobs by 2015.He again asserts that requiring automakers to make their products more efficient is essential in achieving this.He goes on to combat the argument to show that fuel efficiency does not cause increased deaths during accidents.He uses many examples to show that the design of a vehicle has more effect on how safe it is that does its weight.He raps up his argument with a plan of action.He states four main points:A concrete efficiency goal, government regulation, a plan to stop automakers from using loopholes to combat efficiency, and incentives to both consumers and automakers.All in all, he shows that we need to use less oil and we have the technology to do just that.

Friedman makes a very strong argument.He successfully shows the need for cutbacks on oil usage.He then aspires to show how increasing vehicle efficiency would greatly help us to achieve this goal.This is where I feel that his argument could have been stronger.He states “only the entire economies if the United States, China, and Russia exceed the global warming pollution from our cars and trucks alone.”This reasoning is weak because the aforementioned countries are three of the top polluting countries in the world.He includes no figures of the percentage of global warming pollutants that result from vehicles.His point is not invalid, but he could have made it better.

Charlie E. Coon, the Senior Policy Analyst at the Heritage Foundation, presents the negative argument.His ideological framework is probably very similar to that of the Heritage Foundation, which is very in favor of the conservative ideology.Usually, that ideology sits on the side of industry, which in this case is the auto industry.His tendency to support business would make him more inclined to view anything that threatens the industry with a more negative light.I am by no means saying that he blindly sees fuel efficiency as bad, but rather that more evidence favoring fuel efficiency is required to make him support it.Coon’s argument is centralized on the fact that the CAFE standards have not succeeded in reducing our dependence on foreign oil or in reducing our carbon emissions.Oil imports have actually increased from 35% in the mid 1970’s to 52% today.He asserts that greater energy efficiency simply leads to greater energy consumption, titling this phenomenon as the “rebound effect.”He evidences this with the invention of James Watt’s steam engine, which was far more efficient than previous engines of its time (early 1800’s).After this, energy consumption actually increased tenfold from 1830 to 1863.He makes his argument that greater fuel efficiency does not benefit the environment by showing that emissions standards are measured in grams per mile, not grams per gallon of fuel.He utilizes the idea that more efficient cars will cause people to drive more, which will cause more grams of pollutants to be emitted into the atmosphere.He also shows that some technologies that improve fuel-efficiency cause damage to the environment at their production that offsets the efficiency of the vehicles.For instance, producing lighter materials for vehicle production such as aluminum causes additional greenhouse gas emissions.Coon states an increased risk to motorists is a result of CAFE standards.He asserts that since those standards were instituted, about 46,000 people were killed in crashes that they would have otherwise survived had there vehicles been larger and heavier.His evidence of this includes the study of Leonard Evans.This study found that “adding one passenger to one of two identical cars involved in a two-car frontal crash reduces the driver fatality risk by 7.5%.”He mentions that the average weight of American vehicles decreased by 23% between 1974 and 1989 in order to further correlate the large number of car accident fatalities to the CAFE standards.His argument is that the CAFE program is a failure and only serves to endanger human lives.He not only suggests that those standards should not be increased, but he asserts that they should be repealed.He says that free-market strategies are the answers to our fuel consumption problems.

In my opinion, Coon makes a fairly good argument, but I think it has a lot of holes.He asserts that the CAFE standards have failed because our carbon emissions and foreign dependence have not decreased.This is actually due to the fact that automakers made bad decisions.Up to this point, they have simply made vehicles smaller and done little with the technology that we have to make them more efficient, particularly with the larger vehicles.His point that increased efficiency does not decrease consumption implies that consumption will never decrease and we will never solve this problem.That is not a wise way to approach a situation in my opinion.His point that the technologies that increase fuel economy may produce just as much emissions as the car saves from being produced is good, but poorly supported with fact.He says, “Replacing the cast iron and steel components of vehicles with lighter weight materials…may reduce fuel consumption but would generate a different set of environmental impacts…” That is a very ambiguous example and does not reinforce his point very well.

“Hybrids With Power and Fuel Efficiency” examines the benefits of hybrid technology.One key fact that it points out is that they save money.Even though they cost more initially, they can cause people to save an average of $2,242 to $5,479 annually, according to the article. This fact falls in favor of Friedman’s argument that fuel efficiency saves a consumer’s money.Since we are in a very pressing economic situation, an extra few thousand dollars a year is a great reason to press for more efficient cars.

Personally, I side with the affirmative argument.In general I side with more conservative ideas.However, I make decisions based on facts and not based on other peoples’ decisions.From what I can gather, we absolutely need to reduce our usage of fossil fuels and eventually eliminate it.Since vehicles contribute to a large part of this usage, we need t make them more efficient so that they contribute less. True, they should not be made any less safe than they currently are.However, I believe that we absolutely can make them more efficient without making them more dangerous, and would even go on to say that we can make them safer and more efficient at the same time.

References Cited:

Easton, Thomas. Taking Sides: Clashing Views on Environmental Issues. 12th. Dubuque, Iowa: McGraw Hill, 2008.

“Hybrids With Power and Fuel Efficiency” Accessed 10/04/09. <>