Lifestyle is the culprit

SATURDAY MAILBOX

August 31, 2002

Do I favor restrictions or taxes on large vehicles such as SUVs to promote fuel efficiency and limit emissions?

Well, maybe. But isn't it time we put the blame on the real culprit?

Constant harping at SUVs and light trucks is a bit like blaming global warming on barbecue grills and lawn mowers. The real culprit is the American lifestyle and our energy-driven economy.

Go to your local supermarket and count the products shipped and trucked thousands of miles daily from around the world. We demand fresh lettuce from California, fresh lobsters from Maine, apples from Washington, grapes from Chile, oranges from Israel, and on and on for thousands of other items. We demand them fresh daily in thousands of supermarkets that are open seven days a week, sometimes 24 hours a day, and brightly lighted and air-conditioned or heated. We want our local wine shop to stock beverages from every country -- wine from Australia and New Zealand, France, Chile and Italy, vodka from Sweden, Russia and Finland, beer from everywhere. And look at the labels on your clothes: They are made in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Korea, the Dominican Republic, India.

This stuff doesn't walk here. Fossil fuel is how it gets here.

Or observe the long lines of every type of vehicle crowded on the beltways or waiting to cross the Bay Bridge. Or the thousands parking at Camden Yards. Or the college sports teams flying coast to coast.

If we are really serious about getting at fuel efficiency and emissions -- and I agree that we should be -- let's look at the whole picture.

W. Scott Ditch

Royal Oak

I am completely perplexed at our seeming inability as a nation to reach agreement that clean air not only benefits us all, but is crucial to our health and economic well-being. All vehicles, including large trucks, need to be held to higher standards.

But rather than take a punitive approach, as The Sun's question suggests, should we not take the opportunity to offer tax incentives to assist our U.S. automobile companies to develop and sell more efficient cars, light trucks and SUVs, and also to reward taxpayers who purchase these vehicles with tax breaks and transportation subsidies?

We could also reward cities that support public transportation using hybrid buses or light rail. We could support companies forward-thinking enough to market such options.

The indisputable fact is that oil is a nonrenewable energy source. And we can change our dependence on oil, and especially on foreign oil.

We can only maintain our lifestyles by changing the way and the type of energy we use.

Dana M. Goode

Baltimore

Simply blaming SUVs or trucks for vehicle emissions trivializes our transportation problems. Incentives and disincentives must be directed at our travel behavior and not simply vehicle ownership.

One basic reform would be to pay for auto insurance by the mile or by the gallon of fuel, instead of our current system where motorists pay for insurance up front and then can drive all the miles they wish at no extra charge.

The current system not only distorts the true cost of driving, it discriminates against the poor, who can't afford to drive even a few miles because of the huge up-front cost of insurance.

Another reform would be to charge variable tolls for driving on expressway lanes during congested hours.

This gives motorists a true indication of the cost of driving and provides a financial incentive to travel efficiently -- carpool, take transit, drive during off-peak hours, drive fewer miles, combine trips or don't drive at all.

Gerald P. Neily

Baltimore

There is no longer any real doubt that the increase in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is responsible for global climate change.

This climate change has many harmful economic consequences. Currently, drought in the West has produced forest fires that are causing millions of dollars in economic losses. Drought in the Southeast has put stress on valuable timber forests, making them vulnerable to insect attack. In the last few years, more severe weather in the form of hurricanes and floods has produced costly damage and tragic disruption of lives. Now we are seeing the advance of the West Nile virus, which can be linked to milder winters. And warmer climates will produce more diseases affecting crops, livestock and human beings in more of the world.

In developing countries, the consequences are even more severe -- for people living on the margin, the loss of one season's crop because of drought or flood can mean starvation.

Each of us needs to consider all the ways we use power that puts carbon in the atmosphere --in our use of electricity as well as gasoline and oil.

We cannot continue to put our own immediate interests above the long-term interests of society.

Elizabeth A. Fixsen

Savage

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