How many lives is a billionth of a degree worth?

According to GM, the new federal fuel requirements will costs four to ten thousand dollars per car, mostly to use more expensive weight savings materials. Some environmentalists might dispute the numbers or cheer anything that makes cars more expensive to own, in the hope that fewer people are able to afford driving. However, that will not be the only impact.

If the amount the average person is willing to pay for a car does not change, people will respond to higher prices in two ways: they will keep their existing cars longer and buy cheaper cars. Keeping existing cars will delay the introduction of more efficient and luxurious cars in the future. Switching to cheaper, more efficient cars will increase efficiency at the cost of both luxury and safety. More families will be forced to squeeze into Honda Civics rather than Toyota Camry’s. Money that would have been spent on safety improvements will be diverted to increasing efficient. Smaller cars are not inherently unsafe, but they are inherently less safe, and thus the cost of the new fuel efficiency standards can be measured in both dollars and human lives. The cost in human lives of traffic accidents is well known – about 42 thousand lives each year in the U.S. How many people will the warming from the unspent gasoline kill? Actually, the oil not burned in cars will even not be “saved.” More efficient cars will simply make that oil available for other uses, which may or may not be more efficient.

Just how many lives is a billionth of a degree of global warming worth? Can we look forward to a new “no blood for freezing winters” campaign?

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