The ever-clever Jonathan Rauch has a Reason column today in which he makes a provocative proposal to President Bush:
Here is the idea: Propose an international treaty whose signatories would agree to eliminate gasoline from their transportation systems by a date certain—say, in 30 years. Seek initial support from Europe and Japan, but open the treaty to any country that cares to join. Specify only that the treaty should allow signatories to reach the goal in any fashion they please and that it should allow for tradable credits against whatever interim targets it sets. That way, countries can act at different speeds and in different styles. Then let the negotiations begin.
Hmmmm. I like the flexibility, tradability and transparency. I have my doubts about being able to innovate to such a specific, goal-oriented target, though; recall the California dictums that “we will have an electric vehicle by 1996, no, we meant, 1999, no, well, 2001, oh, well, forget it”.
What do you think?
Later in the column Rauch notes
Replacing gasoline also happens to be do-able. In a December 2004 NRDC report, Greene calculated that by 2050 the United States could virtually eliminate its demand for gasoline by substituting ethanol, making cars more efficient, and taking some other conservation measures. That was without considering the effects of plug-in hybrid cars, which can be charged from the power grid at night. Because they switch to liquid fuel only for longer trips, plug-ins can get more than 100 miles to the gallon of gasoline—and much more than that if they run on a mixture of, say, 80 percent ethanol and 20 percent gasoline.
This argument ignores the volumetric and energy density difference between gasoline and ethanol, which once you factor that in, makes ethanol-fueled transportation a higher-cost option. Only if you think that international financial markets do a poor job of pricing in the geopolitical security problems associated with oil are you willing to advocate government intervention to mandate ethanol.
Interesting, but I’m not yet persuaded. Add on the whole central-planning-unintended-consequences thing, and I’m really not persuaded.