E.P.A. : Small Cars Suck

NYT — E.P.A. Energy-Saving Spots Give Cars Short Shrift [RSS]

A new series of whimsical public service announcements from the Environmental Protection Agency are lampooning the notion that cars can be made more energy efficient while the ads encourage conservation at home. A top E.P.A. official said the $1 million campaign was developed by a branch of the agency that specializes in energy-saving home appliances and was not intended to send a message about cars. But it comes at a time of heightened awareness of oil consumption and energy security, and despite the fact that many analysts say consumers can make their greatest single contribution to air quality when choosing a car.

It also comes less than two months after an E.P.A. report emphasized how much more fuel efficient new cars and trucks were in the mid-1980’s. The E.P.A.’s transportation division was not consulted for the new public service announcements, the E.P.A. official, Brian McLean, said, despite the fact that a car plays a starring role. In a 60-second version of the public service announcement, a woman named Suzanne says she is concerned about pollution and global warming, but laments the homegrown efforts of her husband, Mark, to cut emissions from the family car. Mark – nerdy, pudgy, harried – is shown rigging up their car, first with a sail, then a microwave contraption using huge satellite dishes, and finally a helium tank with a bulbous hose. “The E.P.A. says the energy we use in our home can cause twice the greenhouse gases of a car,” Suzanne says, adding that she has started buying energy-saving household products. Buying a cleaner car, or say, a smaller sport utility vehicle, does not appear to be a viable alternative for reducing emissions. The ad ends with a shot of Mark pushing the car down a hill and Suzanne saying, “He still marches to the beat of a different drum.” At one point, the car fills with helium, Mark starts talking like Mickey Mouse and two men in the backseat shake their heads and say “Genius!”

Indeed, as the E.P.A. says, energy use at home can cause twice the emissions of a single car. But most families have more than one car and emit roughly the same amount of global warming gases in their vehicles as in their homes, said David Friedman, senior policy analyst at the Union of Concerned Scientists, an environmental research and advocacy group. “With a car, you can cut your fuel use in half by using a hybrid,” he said. “You’re not likely to cut your electricity use in half by using more efficient appliances.”

While I don’t think the government has any business propagandizing the public into smaller, more dangerous cars, thes ads are clearly misleading. Has the EPA been outsourced to Halliburton?

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.