GHG Emissions: From Hysteria to Hope


    “Back to the cave” strategies are not required to reduce transportation GHG emissions. Nor is it necessary for developing world nations to accept the materially lower levels of economic growth that would inevitably occur from not pursuing personal mobility advances. It is appropriate to ask, “If Indians and Chinese are not to be allowed to live like Americans and Western Europeans, then when are Americans and Western Europeans going to begin living like Indians and Chinese?” Continuing advances in automobile technology and demonstrated advances yet to come in alternative fuels could reduce GHG emissions from cars so radically that there should be little concern about rising automobile use .

The parade of anti-automobile and anti-suburban greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reports has one thing in common --- major behavioral changes are going to be necessary. This type of analysis makes for headlines and is attractive to the more hysterical.

These proposed policies have a “back to the cave” ring about them. Whatever the anti-automobile, anti-suburban lobby opposes is not to be allowed. If that means that people are forced to take twice as long or longer to get to work because public transport takes so long, fine. If that means that they cannot even get to work, because there is no public transport service, no problem. If that means that, with fewer jobs and less time, people spend less money on the wide variety of services and products than were unimaginable a few decades ago, then fine. All of this “let’s outlaw what we don’t like” environmentalism is destructive and portends a mean (yes, “mean”) future.

However, as is inevitably the case when ideologies are confronted, the claims and assumptions of the anti-automobile, anti-suburban lobby are found wanting.

We have already detailed inconvenient truths to the extent that (1) high-density development is not more GHG friendly than low-density development and that (2) the GHG emission advantages of public transport over cars is small and fleeting.

The potential for reducing GHG emissions without reducing our mobility is already illustrated by the technological advances in cars. Hybrid cars are now achieving substantial reductions in GHG reductions. For example, a hybrid Toyota Prius produces less than one-half the emissions of the average car in city driving. That is just the beginning.

I know there are those who think that the developing world will never be able to live as well as we do in the developed world, because of the imperative for reducing GHG emissions. This assumption that the developing world must accept a long term economic condition below ours is elitist, unreasonable and, itself not sustainable. If Indians and Chinese are not to be allowed to live like Americans and Western Europeans, then when are Americans and Western Europeans going to begin living like Indians and Chinese?

Poverty is not an option. Technology is the answer and there is plenty of reason for great hope. Environmental sustainability cannot be achieved in a vacuum. Society must be rich enough to pay for it --- or it won’t, as the record of Soviet Eastern Europe demonstrated. Social stability depends on continued economic progress, as Benjamin Friedman stated so well in his The Moral Consequences of Economic Growth. It is time to acknowledge that the glass is at least 90 percent full, not the other way around.


Transit’s GHG Reduction Role: No Big Deal

To Capitol Hill fanfare, the American Public Transportation Association released its new study, Public Transit’s Contribution to U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions on September 26.. The report is full of the usual big numbers for transit’s role in reducing greenhouse gases (GHGs). As is typical for reports covering the insignificant, the big numbers are never related to the much larger base of GHGs from personal transportation. If one believes the APTA numbers (which one does not, see below), transit use saves approximately 0.5 percent of GHGs attributable to personal transportation (cars, personal trucks or SUVs and transit).

There are problems even with that number. More than 40 percent of the “savings” is an exaggerated estimate of the congestion reducing GHG reductions of transit. There is no doubt that, without transit use, there would be more congestion near the cores of the nation’s largest downtown areas (Manhattan, Chicago’s Loop, Boston, Philadelphia and San Francisco, for example), but the impact would be slight in the rest of the county (places like Portland, Phoenix and perhaps Paducah), where the great bulk of the nation’s traffic congestion delay occurs. Randal O’Toole and I showed a similar estimate to be highly exaggerated in a Heritage Foundation paper The Contribution of Highways and Transit to Congestion Relief: A Realistic View three years ago.

All in all, a more reasonable figure for transit’s contribution might be 0.3 percent. Even that may be high. The APTA research only counts energy for propulsion (movement). Some estimates place the energy consumption at transit rail stations and maintenance facilities at a third above the propulsion figure.

But that opens a whole new area of inquiry --- full cost accounting of greenhouse gas emissions,. A full life-cycle accounting would include GHG emissions from construction of transit and highway systems, construction of vehicles, extraction of fuel for electricity generation and refining, disposal of vehicles and other materials, vehicle maintenance and administrative support.

However, the news out of APTA is not that transit saves so much in GHGs. It is rather that, even with exaggeration and an apparent error, it saves so little. And things will get worse. The United States might be thought of as two nations in transit --- New York and the rest of the country. In New York, transit plays a far more substantial role than anywhere else.

Predictably, transit in New York is very GHG friendly. New York’s GHG emissions are well less than one-half that of transit elsewhere (and cars).

Outside New York, the average automobile (not SUVs) is just about as GHG friendly as transit (see Greenhouse Gas Emissions: US Public Transport and Personal Modes).

However, even New York’s advantage may be fleeting. Cars are becoming more fuel efficient, which is indicated by the hybrid and hybrid diesel data. Toyota’s Prius produces only 10 percent more GHGs per passenger mile than transit in New York. Hybrid diesel cars just entering the European market emit 22 percent less.

So, as for transit’s contribution to GHG reduction --- interesting, but no big deal.


Greenhouse Gas Emissions: US Public Transport & Personal Modes


    Despite perceptions to the contrary, there is little difference in greenhouse gas emissions between cars and public transport. On a per passenger mile basis, cars emit nearly the same GHGs per passenger mile as all public transport outside the New York urban area. Hybrid automobile technologies are already producing GHG emissions lower than the New York public transport figure.

Demographia has posted greenhouse gas (GHG) emission data for US public transport by mode and for personal mobility mechanisms (cars and SUVs). The data is for 2005 and is calculated using US Department of Transportation, US Department of Energy and US Environmental Protection Agency data.

The results may be surprising to any who have assumed that public transport is inherently less GHG intensive than cars.

    The average 2006 car emits 307 grams of GHG per passenger mile in urban driving. This is approximately 30 percent more than the average for public transport (233 grams).

    Virtually all of the public transport advantage is due to the New York urban area, where 133 GHG grams are emitted per passenger mile, 57 percent less than the average 2006 car.

    Outside New York, public transport and the average 2006 car emit have similar GHG emissions --- cars 307 and public transport 303.

    Cars are becoming more fuel efficient, which is indicated by the hybrid and hybrid diesel data. Toyota’s Prius emits 147 GHG grams per passenger mile in urban driving, 10 percent more than the New York public transport figure of 133 grams. Hybrid diesel cars just entering the European market emit 101 GHG grams per passenger mile, 22 percent less than public transport in New York.

    SUV’s are considerably more GHG intensive than both cars and public transport, emitting 443 GHG grams per passenger mile.

These estimates include the GHG emissions from electricity consumption and fuel refining. A full life-cycle analysis would be preferable, which would include GHG emissions from construction of public transport and highway systems, construction of vehicles, extraction of fuel for electricity generation and refining, disposal of vehicles and other materials, vehicle maintenance and administrative support.


Greenhouse Gas Omissions: The “Growing Cooler” Report


    Anti-suburban interests have published a new report, Growing Cooler, which wrongly suggests that it will be necessary to sharply reduce car use and undertake much more dense development to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Growing Cooler is more reflective of greenhouse gas omissions than of any rational policy with respect to reducing greenhouse gases. The report is based upon incomplete data, faulty assumptions and incomplete analysis. Adoption of its recommended strategies is likely to reduce economic growth, employment and increase poverty. Sustainability in environmental policy cannot be achieved without both economic and social sustainability.

Growing Cooler: The Evidence on Urban Development and Climate Change appears to be another attempt to advance the anti-mobility, anti-suburban agenda, this time under the cover of climate change (greenhouse gas emissions). Growing Cooler is more reflective of greenhouse gas omissions than of any rational policy with respect to reducing greenhouse gases. It was released by the Urban Land Institute, Smart Growth America, the Center for Clean Air Policy and the National Center for Smart Growth. Growing Cooler predictably suggests that car use must be curbed and that we must build densely to save the planet. Like so many agenda-driven reports, Growing Cooler tells only selected parts of the story, and even those not very reliably.

Greenhouse Gas Omissions

The greenhouse gas omissions of Growing Cooler start with housing, urban transport and economic growth (or poverty alleviation).

Housing: Growing Cooler implies that more dense development would be less greenhouse gas (GHG) intensive. That is not necessarily so, and certainly is not known at this point. Higher density requires construction of higher rise buildings. Construction produces GHG emissions. Does Growing Cooler assure us that the construction of higher-rise buildings will produce gains enough to offset any higher imagined GHGs from detached housing? No --- because there is no such data (Note 1). This is an important enough issue that such knowledge should precede adoption of any strategies that favor one form of housing over another.

Moreover, Australian research shows that, once housing is constructed, GHG emissions per capita are higher in mid-rise and high-rise condominium buildings than in detached and attached suburban housing. A principal reason is that common (shared, rather than billed to households individually) GHG emissions are so high (halls, elevators, parking lots, heating, cooling, etc.). Shared GHG emissions can exceed the consumption per capita of households in the same buildings.

The situation in the United States? No one knows. There is data for detached and multi-unit housing in the United States, but these US Department of Energy estimates exclude shared energy consumption. If shared GHG emissions are anywhere near those in Australia, detached housing is likely to be less GHG intensive than high rise condominium buildings. This is before taking into consideration the significant GHG reduction advances that are being incorporated into new detached houses.

Urban Transport: Urban transport has its own construction issues. Constructing the urban rail systems favored by the anti-suburban lobby produces so much in GHG emissions that the savings from attracting drivers from cars may never be recovered. The US federal government found that a Seattle light rail line would require 45 years to pay back the GHG emissions produced in construction (Note 2). If one accepts the Growing Cooler projections (which I do not) rail-based urban transport policies would probably leave 2050 GHG emissions from cars and transit every bit as high as the “business as usual” case Growing Cooler uses as a “whipping boy.”

Economic Growth and Poverty Alleviation: Growing Cooler, like nearly all similar publications, virtually ignores the economic impacts of its proposed policies Yet, there are potentially devastating economic impacts.

It starts with exploding house prices, which result from excessive land regulation and banning development on the low cost land that makes affordable housing possible. For example, it costs little more to build a house in San Diego than in Atlanta, but the land in San Diego is at least $250,000 more costly. These kind of land price differentials are unprecedented and they are the direct result of land use restrictions. Metropolitan areas that have severe land use regulation, including smart growth, have seen their housing prices increase more than $100,000 since 2000 compared to areas with more traditional regulation. Smart growth’s land rationing policies have already exacted a huge cost. The policies Growing Cooler favors would spread those economic losses to parts of the nation where housing still remains affordable.

Forcing people to spend more time traveling --- an inevitable consequence of substituting transit use for car use --- would reduce the time people have for productive activity. That means less economic activity, less economic growth, fewer jobs and more poverty (Note 3).

The anti-suburban lobby never has understood the strong association between the unprecedented, broad economic prosperity and reduction of poverty achieved in the West and Japan and the simultaneous expansion of personal mobility and home ownership on cheap suburban land. There can be arguments about the extent of this relationship, but one thing is clear. The prosperity-suburban association should not be omitted from the GHG emissions discussion.

Logical Omissions

Growing Cooler and similar reports start with a fundamentally flawed assumption --- that transit use produces a substantial reduction in GHG emissions relative to cars. Think again. According to data published by the United States Department of Energy, cars (not SUVs) are more fuel efficient (read emit less GHGs per passenger mile) than transit buses. Outside New York, cars are only 10 percent more GHG intensive than transit. Moreover, cars are getting more fuel efficient. Peugeot will soon be marketing a compact car that will be less GHG intensive than transit in New York. This is no small accomplishment, and it is just the beginning

Other Omissions

Growing Cooler, like other agenda driven reports, uses selective data to paint a far darker picture than is plausible.

Noting that transportation accounts for a “full third” of US GHG emissions (Note 4), Growing Cooler paints an overly negative picture of US automobile impacts and trends. In a significant GHG omission, Growing Cooler does not tell us that automobiles and SUV’s account for only about half that figure. Airliners, trucks and trains ---the other half --- are not cars.

Growing Cooler notes that annual miles traveled have increased three times more than population growth since 1980. There are far more important indicators than population growth. Miles traveled has increased only one-tenth more than employment and only one-quarter more households. These figures, of course, are a small fraction of “three times more”.

Part of the increase in driving has occurred because the number of ethnic minority households with cars has increased. Would the Urban Land Institute, Smart Growth America, the Center for Clean Air Policy and the National Center for Smart Growth be happier if African-Americans and Hispanics had less access to cars and had an even larger income gap relative to white non-Hispanics? In 1980, 9,000,000 fewer women had drivers licenses than men. By 2005 women held as many drivers licenses as men. Would it be better for the clock to be rolled back on the advancement of women?

A Complex and Serious Issue

GHG emissions policy is challenging, serious and complex. Things are not always as they seem. It would be a mistake for policy makers, like na├»ve converts on foreign shores, to accept the “feel-good” doctrines of this anti-suburban missionary society.

Consumption is the Driver: It is important to know what we are doing. It starts will a full understanding of what drives GHG emissions throughout all sectors of the economy. Of course, it all comes down to consumption. Greenhouse gases are produced for consumption, whether it is for mobility to jobs or shopping, to produce food or to provide for the national defense. At the same time, it would be a grave mistake to suggest that consumption should be reduced. The very sustainability of modern society requires a high level of employment, which any serious reduction of consumption would destroy.

Life Cycle Analysis: Moreover, it is important to ensure a full life-cycle analysis. This requires including all GHG emissions, from the extraction and manufacturing processes, to fuel consumption and eventual disposal. Life-cycle analysis needs to be applied to every sector. Without that kind of an inventory, serious mistakes are likely to be made. It is an understatement of serious proportions to state that no such inventory or information exists.

Rational Strategies: There are economic consequences to virtually everything that produces GHGs. GHG reduction policy will have serious consequences (negative externalities) unless it starts with objective, rigorously developed and comprehensive inventories based upon consumption. Every gram of GHG emissions should be allocated to a household, whether from direct or indirect consumption.

Environmental, Economic and Social Sustainability: From analysis based upon such inventories, it will be possible to identify the best strategies based upon effectiveness ---- those that are most consistent with the maximum economic growth and poverty alleviation. This is a radically different approach from the knee-jerk, agenda based measures the anti-suburban lobby would like to see imposed. But it is the only way to reduce greenhouse gas omissions in a way that is environmentally, economically and socially sustainable.

Note 1: I say “imagined” because new detached housing is often 70 percent more fuel efficient in its operation than previous designs.

Note 2: Actually the case endorsed by the Federal Transit Administration was overly generous to the rail project. It assumed that a substantial amount of the electricity used to operate the trains would be produced by hydro. In fact, virtually all new electricity production for years in the Seattle area has been by fossil fuel (including natural gas). This would materially lengthen the payback period. Further, the 45 year time frame did not include energy that would be required for the inevitable refurbishing of the system and subsequent vehicle car production.

Note 3: Generally, travel by transit takes twice as long as travel by car, even where roads are congested. There are exceptions, the most obvious being travel into Manhattan, where the high density of rapid transit systems and, just as importantly, the intense concentration of jobs make it possible for many transit trips to take less time than commuting by car. It is infeasible to build this intensity of transit to anywhere except the largest downtown areas (central business districts). Our research suggests that a transit system capable of replacing car use throughout would cost a major European or American urban area 50 percent of its gross domestic product annually --- hardly an achievable amount.

Note 4: Actually, United States Environmental Protection Agency data indicates that transportation accounted for less than a full third (33.3 percent) of GHGs. In 2003, 2004 and 2005 transportation accounted for 26 percent of gross GHG emissions and under 30 percent of net GHG emissions.

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IBM-Lotus Symphony: A Real Loser

At the outset, let me say that I, more than anyone, want to be freed from the tyrrany of Microsoft.

I have been frustrated with their operating systems and programs to the point of actually buying a top of the line Apple a few years ago. That experiment ended a couple of months later when, having returned from my yearly assignment in Paris, I determined that I was more productive on a French keyboard. That’s not Apple’s fault. It’s just that the conversion simply was not worth the pain. My sister, who had long wanted an Apple, was quite pleased to take it off my hands.

I have continued to use the latest version of Lotus 123, which despite its 7-year age remains far superior to Microsoft’s juvenile “XL” product.

So it was with great satisfaction that I learned there was an alternative. Within minutes of finding out that IBM-Lotus Symphony was free on the web, I was downloading. I wasn’t even bothered that it took the better part of 30 hours and 8 attempts to get a copy that would work.

It took a fraction of that time to determine that this product is a loser, unless one returns to the information technology crib and pretends that there was no reality before it.

The following tests were more than enough to find better use for the precious space it would have consumed on my hard disk.

1. The word processing program imports only the simplest Word files. Virtually none of my tested files of more than a few pages could be loaded by Symphony. The limit appears to be somewhere below 20K (yes, that is a “K”). It was possible to “paste” longer files into a Symphony file, but it was then impossible to save them. Moreover, Symphony was generally unable to save into Word format and even failed sometimes to save into its own “odp” format.

2. The spreadsheet program suffers from the same deficiencies and more. Only the simplest files from “XL” can be loaded into Symphony. Any more complicated brings an error message. Perhaps the ultimate insult was that this Lotus spreadsheet does not even support Lotus 123 files.

3. The presentation program rounds out a perfect score of zero. Again, only the simplest Powerpoint files can be loaded onto Symphony. It appears to be impossible to copy a slide from Powerpoint to Symphony.

Granted, I am a very heavy user, with files that can easily run to 100 or more megabytes. There was no point in trying out any of those.

So the simple advice is this. If you are more than 12 years old and have had a computer for more than a week, IBM-Lotus Symphony is probably a mistake.

That is really too bad. I’d gladly pay for an office suite that lived up to its claims.

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