Fighting global warming with greed

An Inconvenient Truth aired on HBO a few days ago and held up better than I thought it would, though it comes across more as a good lecture than the best documentary. One of the things Al Gore says in it caught my attention: during a slide of the car emissions standards, he points out the fact that U.S. auto manufacturers cannot sell a number of their models in China, because they do not meet China’s emissions minimums. This gives me an idea on how American car companies can save the environment and make scads of money at the same time. It goes like this:

First, make line of cars that get something like 60 miles to the gallon, or some number higher than any other manufacturer. If they are more expensive, so be it. Make the technology that runs it as hard to duplicate as possible. If possible, make it require a substance that you control the vast majority of supply.


A year or so before these cars become available, leverage your evidently huge influence over emissions regulators to quickly change the U.S. standards such that new cars sold in America have to have emissions just shy of your new model and, crucially, above everyone else’s. You’ve just captured the entire American car market, preventing everyone else from importing to the United States. Attempt to do the same in as many other countries as you can.

Of course, you will not actually be able to reap the benefits of this directly. What will happen is that before the legislation is voted in, other countries will protect their own auto industry and attempt to derail the new regulation with lobbyists of their own. If this fails, they can simply boycott U.S. cars, which would hurt. So, while these negotiations are going on, you unveil the real strategy: you meet with foreign car manufacturers and give them rights to your technology in exchange for joining your new auto hegemony. They then can make their own cars that meet the new standard, giving them incentive to support it, and to make it happen in their own countries. You gain the royalties on all of those cars you sell, as well as support for you new standard.

Depending on how many foreign companies go for the deal, you tune the limit your in-pocket legislators are writing into emissions standards. Chances are those who would reject the deal would be those who meet already high emission standards. If you can’t get them to join, you tune the limit to be below their levels, thus replacing their need to oppose the regulation with a reason to support it. They become de facto conspirators. You do this until those still opposed to the move can’t buy as much influence as you. This should not be difficult. Once the law passes, it should be possible for the hegemony to crush those that didn’t play along, eventually buying them.

If all goes well, you should end with a situation much like you started with, except that a) most new cars in the world will be far less polluting, b) some job adjustment will have occurred, with jobs gained from building and supporting the new technology and lost (at least temporarily) from companies that wouldn’t play ball being locked out of various countries, c) cars will likely be more expensive, which consumers won’t be able to do anything about (hey, at least they’re no longer dying from global warming) and d) car makers would have made a ton of money.

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