A powerful new coalition is emerging to push accelerated phase-out of gasoline. The coalition is comprised of broad sectors of the public who are demanding clean air, climate activists, clean tech businesses and enthusiasts, and people concerned about the strategic and financial consequences of oil imports. It has the power to break the dominance of gasoline as the country’s principal transportation fuel.
The arrival of a new generation of electric and plug-in hybrid cars makes radical reduction of gasoline use feasible. If social attitudes and morays about personal pollution can be altered, extraordinary change in consumer buying habits and tolerance of gas taxes is possible.
The emergence of strong scientific research into the health effects of car exhaust is the most important driver of the new coalition. New studies show that people exercising on the street such as runners, cyclists, and walkers face increased risk of lung disease and cancer as a result of the auto exhaust they breathe. Recent research finds that children who live near busy roads are at more than twice the risk of contracting cancers of the blood and brain. The effect of auto exhaust on America’s 25 million sufferers of asthma and other lung disorders are now well documented. Scientists have found that runoff from car and truck exhaust is one of the largest and most important sources of toxic metal pollution in rivers, lakes, and saltwater inlets, and that this pollution is resulting in a major depletion of fish stocks
The new scientific studies vastly expand the constituencies who can potentially support efforts to curtail auto exhaust, and create greater urgency to address the issue. Unlike the long-term and more ambiguous health effects of climate change, air pollution is a more local and present danger to the broad constituencies affected by it. Tens or hundreds of millions of people would incur a direct benefit from a curtailment in gasoline ue.
Climate advocates are ramping up efforts to dissuade consumers from using gasoline. Long focused on upstream producers of petroleum, newer, cutting edge efforts to involve the gasoline consumer are now gaining traction nationally. Consumer gasoline use is emerging as a key battleground in the climate wars.
The success of Tesla is powering a new wave of investment and employment in electric vehicles, and growing interests in institutional investors in finding alternative investments to fossil fuels, has created a constituency interested in the rapid absorption of electric vehicles in to the marketplace.
Commentators such as Thomas Friedman and many groups are increasingly concerned about the linkage between petroleum purchases and financing of terror and other anti-U.S. activities. Petroleum imports make up roughly 1/3 of the U.S. (or about $800 billion/year) of the U.S. trade deficit, a figure which creates a significant long-term drag on U.S. growth.
All of these factors portend increasing pressure at all levels to curtail gasoline use. As this coalition grows in power and confidence, expect a rapidly accelerating rate of change away from gasoline as our principal transportation fuel.