CBC News is reporting that according to an announcement made Thursday by Environment Minister Jim Prentice, Canada will be bringing in new fuel efficiency standards together with the U.S. for vehicles of model year 2011 to 2016.  I’m assuming the fuel efficiency requirement will grow with each year, thus leading to the target of 6.6L / 100km for 2016-model year cars and trucks (combined).  I’m also assuming that figure represents the highway-driving fuel efficiency, rather than the city-driving rating.  For comparison, my sister’s 2003 Corolla is rated at 8.1L / 100km (city) and 6.2L / 100km (hwy).

Those Corolla numbers might be calculated differently from the new standards being talked about, but they’re very close (within 5%?) to the real-life numbers I calculated when I was driving her car around Ontario in 2008/2009.  I could drive from Waterloo to Toronto (~121km one-way), drive around Toronto a little bit, and then head back to Waterloo for around a measly $15 (gas was around 93 cents / L).  That’s a round trip of ~250km that only requires a little bit more than 15 L of gas (or 30% of the tank)!

Anyways, the Toyota Corolla is one of the rare cars that blows other cars’ fuel economy off the map.  I think the Honda Civic is comparable as well.  But my whole point of this blog post is to say that I think this is the way to make a meaningful impact on climate change (or at least the way to start).  Our individual “greener” decisions do matter, but I don’t think they make too much of a difference unless they lead to many, many others following our example.  That’s hard to do.  What’s easier is for someone “up top” to decide what we want to achieve, and then provide incentives or disincentives that will lead the majority of us to step in line.

Setting aggressive fuel efficiency standards for our vehicles will be an important first step to clawing back the effects of climate change.  But just as importantly, it stands a good chance of being followed because it will save consumers money, and with the government providing incentives and/or disincentives fairly across the whole industry, it will be in each automotive company’s best interests (read: profit) to build these lower emission, higher efficiency vehicles.

I crunched some numbers, and after making some assumptions with some figures – well, I say that more because I don’t know what assumptions the people who came up with these figures made – I calculated that an estimated 1% of global carbon dioxide emissions comes from US cars and light trucks (i.e. the kind that the average citizen might buy).  So, even if fuel efficiency rules somehow bring our passenger car emissions down to zero, the maximum impact as of now would be an estimated 1% reduction in carbon dioxide gas emissions.  That’s not going to save our climate, folks.  (And neither is your hybrid car purchase, but I shall leave that controversial point for another time)  If you include ALL of the U.S. transportation’s sector into the equation (I’m assuming that’s made up largely by 18-wheelers / BIG commercial trucks, and also trains and boats, etc.), their share of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions goes up to around 6-7%.  So, I guess going for consumer cars and trucks, or even the entire transportation sector in the US isn’t going to solve the problem of man-induced climate change.

My point?  We need to continue to think “bigger“, and more strategically, instead of hyping up little things that look good on the news but don’t actually make a dent in the problem.  I actually think that setting new fuel efficiency rules for cars and trucks is a good first step that will make some difference (albeit, a less than a 1% global difference).  Perhaps the way that this is being done will be a good example for how to tackle this problem in other industries, and perhaps it will help influence public sentiment and receptivity to being inconvenienced (in the short term) for the sake of the greater good.

Because, let’s face it – public sentiment and opinion are vitally important in getting anything done when you’re dealing with democracies.

See: (CBCNews.ca) Canada, U.S. unite on car emission standards