Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door...

...apparently to beat your damn head in.

Wired has this hand-wringing report that all the environmentalists and economists are all worried about the potential mass sales of India's new $2,500-car, the Tata Nano.

The Nano doesn't go on sale until fall, but already environmentalists say it will bring big increases in carbon dioxide emissions and pollution. "This car promises to be an environmental disaster of substantial proportions," Yale environmental law professor Daniel Esty told Newsweek. Some energy experts say all those new cars will increase demand for gasoline, with one telling CNN, "we'll get into a situation where we'll have to compete with them for gasoline, $4, $5 a gallon. Who knows how high we could go?"

It would be easy to denounce the naysayers as western do-gooders with no moral standing to criticize India. But the most vocal critics include Indians who say the Nano will deepen the country's critical pollution, infrastructure and traffic woes.

Wired (which regular readers will remember for advocating not opt-out but actual mandatory organ donation) doesn't waste any time examining things like upward mobility or better access to jobs and health care....

The part that truly gets me about this piece of supposed journalism is how it treats the actual environmental performance of the Nano:

At first glance it looks like an eco-friendly ride. It has a 623 cc engine that produces 33 horsepower, gets close to 50 mpg, meets Euro III emissions standards and according to the Economist should be able to meet tougher Euro IV standards "with a bit of tweaking."

The second glance is a bit more peevish:

But the prospect of tens or even hundreds of thousands of Nanos on the road worries environmentalists. India's Economic Times says the Nano potentially could expand the country's auto market by 65 percent and spur a 20 percent increase in auto sales in its first year. Honda, Toyota and Fiat are among the companies developing competitors to the Nano. The proliferation of cheap vehicles could prompt as much as 25 percent of the 50 million people who ride scooters to buy cars, the Center for Science and Environment in New Delhi says.

India is the world's fourth-largest overall producer of the greenhouse gas (it ranks far lower in per-capita terms). Its carbon emissions are expected to triple by 2020, according to the United Nations, and climate experts are only beginning to ponder what the "Nano effect" may mean for the global environment.

"In none of our reports did we assume there'd be a car like this," Judi Greenwald, a researcher with the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, told Newsweek. "This is a new category. It will effect everybody's projections."

The Center for Science and Environment warns more cars will only exacerbate congestion and smog-related illnesses in a country where 57 percent of cities already face critical levels of air pollution.

I love this--the Tata is a disaster because we scientists neglected to allow for technological innovation in our forecasts.

Hidden away and discounted is the counter-argument from Tata Motors:

Tata counters that the Nano is cleaner than the scooters it will replace and claims the car's catalytic converter cuts emissions by 80 percent. The Nano supposedly emits 30 grams of carbon dioxide per kilometer, well below the 160 g/km average of Europe's cars and far less than the 130 g/km standard the European Union will adopt in 2012. Even if half a million Nano's hit the road and each of them travels 5,000 miles a year, they will be responsible for less than 8 percent of India's annual CO2 emissions, Economic Times reports.

Lost in all of this hoopla (in fact never recorded at all by Wired) is the fact that Tata has spent years developing green programs and outsourcing much of its parts business and support materials to small, family-owned cooperatives run by the relatives of its workers, or that Tata is now developing purely battery-operated light pick-up for sale in the American market.

If climate change containment policies not only mandate carbon cutbacks in industrializing nations, but also stifle the upward mobility of the emerging middle class in places like India, China, and Brazil, any so-called international accord is going to unravel pretty damn fast.


Jim Fryar said...

I need to get some shares in that.

Anonymous said...

These guys (Wired) must have been paid to say this. by whom I wonder...

If they were not paid then it is sadder still and these guys really believe the s**t they're saying

yet another US hypocrisy and misinformation for the Believers.