Plastics could certainly benefit if governments around the world decided to really crack down on fuel efficiency. Auto makers would have to find ways to make vehicles lighter, and we could see an explosion of plastics in many applications. But that could be small potatoes compared to a proposal floated by Mark Moody-Stuart, the former chairman of oil giant Royal Dutch/Shell Group. Moody-Stuart is actually suggesting that the European Union ban the sale of cars that get less than 35 miles per gallon! Here are some excerpts from his column, courtesy of BBC News:
I am a great believer in both the power of consumer choice and the market. As we come to understand the consequences, we do tend to make greener choices. But most of us will only make those choices if they deliver the convenience and utility to which we are used or aspire; and if they do not cost more (or we can afford the luxury of choice). Consumer opinion and choice is important, but it will not do the trick on its own. Its importance is in encouraging companies to supply the market in more climate friendly ways, and most importantly in encouraging governments (for whom consumers vote) to take the steps needed.He also calls for a carbon tax, and says that regulation is needed to bring about changes that are beneficial to society -- he compared his proposal to regulations that require vehicles to use unleaded gasoline, catalytic converters, seatbelts and airbags. He specifically calls for banning gas guzzlers and steadily increasing the total efficiency of any vehicle sold.
You can buy the roomiest, vroomiest car, as long as it meets the efficiency standard. My wife and I have driven a hybrid since 2001 and it is a beautiful and comfortable piece of engineering, silent and will do 100mph (we tried it, but not in England!). That may not be the best technology - the market will find out. But we must constrain the market in an efficiency framework. To achieve the same through taxation would mean fuel taxes at levels which would play havoc with industry, countryside dwellers and the poor who need transport.What do you think? It's fine to argue in favor of consumer choice. But at the same time, when I see gas prices rise above $3 per gallon, I'm reminded that prices are governed by the laws of supply and demand. If the millions of people driving gas guzzlers had purchased fuel efficient cars instead, demand -- and prices -- would be lower. When I'm paying $20 and getting less than half a tank of gas, Moody-Stuart's proposal is tempting indeed. And plastics would definitely benefit. Imagine, for example, how quickly the market for nanocomposites would grow if automakers had to take a serious look at finding lightweight alternatives for all that sheet metal?