Taking the Wheel in Clean Transportation

 

“Clean transportation solutions, alternative fuels, electric vehicles, and the infrastructure that’s going to be needed to support this, are all going to very important in addressing the climate challenge,” said Julian L. Wong, Senior Policy Analyst at the Center for American Progress at a CAP event on Wednesday. The event’s panel included Joschka Fischer, former German foreign minister and vice chancellor; and Norbert Reithofer, chairman of the board of management and CEO of BMW Group. Wong and the panelists discussed a green transportation system’s role in reducing carbon emissions and how to develop the infrastructure to support this system.

Wong said the United States has headed toward responsible clean vehicle production standards since President Barack Obama took office. The stimulus package allocated money for mass transit systems earlier this year, the Environmental Protection Agency introduced new fuel efficiency standards, and the Waxman-Markey Bill created a cap-and-trade system to limit national emissions of greenhouse gases. But the infrastructure to support clean vehicles is lagging behind.

Fischer said that by the end of the Cold War more people around the world were “dreaming more or less the same dream” of reaching a lifestyle comparable to that of the United States and Europe—including luxuries such as expensive cars—but he explained that this way of life has hurt the environment. He saw a green transportation system as a means of maintaining this lifestyle in light of the global warming crisis. “Addressing climate change should not be seen as threatening economic growth,” said Fischer, “but accelerating economic growth in the right direction.”

He acknowledged the costs associated with producing energy-efficient cars during the economic crisis, but said that businesses should take the recession as an opportunity to make a long-term investment in their products. Fischer said car companies now have an opportunity to conduct business in a way that is consistent with 21st-century technologies such as electric vehicles and alternative fuels, and added that they have a responsibility to do this by producing cars that will leave behind a smaller carbon footprint.

Reithofer emphasized that BMW is ahead of the clean car curve thanks to its 28 percent reduction in carbon emissions from 1997 to 2008. For Reithofer, keeping up with society’s expectations for energy-efficient vehicles is the key to survive in the car industry over the coming years. Clean transportation is both a moral imperative and good for business.

And any good business knows to how diversify. Reithofer said the world’s “transportation future will require a mix of mobility options,” including modern combustion engines, efficient diesel, and hybrids. He said that BMW is committed to pushing energy-efficient technology to the next level.

The push for cleaner cars is present beyond the United States and Europe. Wong noted that China’s fuel efficiency standards are already one-third higher than those in the United States, and it has invested almost $3 million into the development of electric vehicles. China has also reduced taxes for cars with smaller engines and increased them for cars with large engines.

Climate change is a global problem, and will only be solved with the help of all nations. But several countries and businesses are taking steps to cut emissions through clean transportation and prepare for a low-carbon economy. “This will be the future and it’s wise to position yourself in that direction,” said Reithofer.

For more on this event please see its events page.