What is our true self?

Buddhist economics assumes that people are kind and altruistic; we want to help others and relieve their suffering without any specific gain to ourselves and while caring for the planet. This is an important contrast with the traditional economic model assumptions that human nature is self-interested and doesn’t care about others, and ignores environmental degradation. Understanding what is the true self is critical for ensuring that our economic system supports social welfare and improves the quality of life.

In Buddhist economics, people are interdependent with each other and with earth. Human nature includes both self-regarding (egocentric and taking care of oneself) and other-regarding (altruistic and taking care of others) impulses, and the well-being of humans and nature are intertwined. Even when economists believe that humans are not only selfish, opinions abound as to what degree human nature is egocentric and to what degree altruistic; and economists mostly ignore environmental problems.

Economists begin with the assumption that everyone is egotistical, and then they look to see if perhaps caring for others is possible. Economists have observed in lab games that most people have some altruistic feelings, defined as unconditional caring about others with no ulterior motive. Even in an experiment on what people expected from dictators, the subjects expected the dictators to be fair and not behave selfishly. Generous behavior is not only observed in the lab, but also expected by subjects. These experiments have been important for economists to go beyond assuming that people are selfish and to incorporate other-regarding feelings into their models. Bowles and Gintis argue that humans developed cooperative instincts with moral sentiments over time to ensure group survival and growth. Now that the world is united by global warming, we have the opportunity to see how humans behave when existence is threatened in the short term, without time for evolution.

Buddhist economics complements the work of Bowles and Gintis. Yet rather than assuming basic human nature is selfish, and then asking what causes basically selfish people to become other-regarding, Buddhist economics sees human nature as being kind and loving, with self-interest (ego) something that we develop as we grow up in a greedy materialistic world. Then the question becomes “What creates materialistic self-interest (ego development), so people’s natural goodness becomes obscured by self-interest?” Certainly advertising creates endless desires; and inequality creates discontent as people compare themselves to the rich with their lavish lifestyles. Economic performance is measured by income growth, and society evaluates how well we are doing by how fast income is growing, while ignoring that the rich are getting most of the gain in income and our carbon emissions are overheating the planet and killing species.

Buddhist economics begins with the belief that our true nature is kind and altruistic, but then our ego obscures our true nature with delusions that lead to suffering from greed, hatred, and ignorance (the three mental poisons). The goal of life is to go beyond these delusions to be in touch with our Buddha nature, using contemplation and meditation along with our teachers and community of friends (sangha). Ignorance of our basic nature is the root cause of many of our personal, societal, and political problems, and failure to realize our own basic goodness or Buddha nature creates suffering.

We don’t have to agree to what extent humans act out of ego or altruism. What matters is that we agree that people have the desire, and responsibility, to take care of both themselves and others. Then the Buddhist economic system that redistributes income from the rich to the poor and caring about reducing suffering increases social welfare. We can make a living, even prosper, but not at the expense of others or the planet.
Audiences ask me about the violence and aggression promulgated by religions throughout history. Yet this observed violence and aggression is the result of confusion about who we are and how to attain eudaimonic happiness and relieve suffering. Violent behavior is never acceptable in Buddhist economics except to defend oneself and others in order to stop violence. Our mandate is to do no harm to sentient beings or to Mother Earth.

Without practicing Buddhism or any spiritual practice, one can adopt a pragmatic approach that accepts the interdependence among people and with nature, especially with global warming. In 1971, a founder of modern ecology, Barry Commoner, expressed this interdependence as one of the four laws of ecology: “Everything is connected to everything else. There is one ecosphere for all living organisms and what affects one, affects all.”

Then when nature is degraded, and when people are harmed, all life suffers.
As Thich Nhat Hanh writes, “Caring about the environment is not an obligation, but a matter of personal and collective happiness and survival. We will survive and thrive together with our Mother Earth, or we will not survive at all.”

Image (under creative commons) from https://results.searchlock.com/search/?tbm=isch&q=buddha%20nature&slr=1&tsrc=a&sr=omniredir-ask&chnm=7bc02420-4653-4d94-b27a-19a3ca1f8d0c

What makes people happy?

This question takes us to the heart of the difference between free market economics and Buddhist economics: our human nature and what makes us happy.

According to Buddhist economics, human nature is generous and altruistic, even as we also care about ourselves. Buddha taught that all people suffer from their own mental states, with feelings of discontent that come from desiring more and more. The Dalai Lama tells us that the feeling of not having enough and wanting more does not arise from the inherent desirability of the objects we are seeking, but from our own mental illusions. Buddha taught us how to end suffering by changing our states of mind, which translates into finding happiness through living a meaningful life.

In contrast to Buddhist economics, traditional economics holds that human nature is self-centered and that people care only about themselves as they push ahead to maximize their incomes and fancy lifestyles. According to this approach, buying and consuming—shopping for new shoes or playing a new video game—will make you happy. But soon you grow tired of the shoes, become disappointed with the game, and are off shopping again. In this endless cycle of desire, we are continuously left wanting more without ever finding lasting satisfaction.

Economics based on hedonic happiness, or personal pleasure with the avoidance of pain, focuses on pursuing money and buying things that make you feel good, at least in the moment. This short-lived happiness fits in well with our materialistic, goal-oriented economy. We chase our dreams of large wealth or great power or awesome sex or a major championship in the belief that they will bring us lasting happiness. Our purchase, or promotion, or love affair gives us a high. Yet that high soon wears off, and we are off chasing the next high.

Buddhist economics rests upon Aristotle’s eudaimonic happiness, where happiness comes from self-realization, and living a worthy and moral life in service to others and the community. Aristotle teaches us, “He is happy who lives in accordance with complete virtue and is sufficiently equipped with external goods, not for some chance period but throughout a complete life.” He also says, “The contemplative life is happiest.”

The Dalai Lama warned that material gain is based on an erroneous assumption that what we buy “can by itself alone, provide us with all the satisfaction we require.” He teaches us that “genuine happiness is characterized by inner peace and arises in the context of our relationships with others.” In Buddhist economics, people strive to act ethically, which includes not harming others, even not ruining others’ experiences or happiness. For example, you cause harm when your words or actions anger others, or make them (and yourself) feel desire or attachment, hatred or aggression, delusion, pride, and envy, or other mental poisons (called kleshas in Buddhism).

Finding inner happiness is one of the goals of Buddhist economics. Buddhism holds that we attain true freedom and peace only when we quit our mental habits of reacting with cravings for external stimuli (“I’ve got to own that!” “Win this game!”) and reacting with aversion to external forces (“I can’t stand that!” “Defeat it!”). Instead, Buddhism says to quiet your mind: notice the beauty as you go for a walk, enjoy your food as you eat, connect more intimately with your friends.

Economists have demonstrated that people care about fairness, and want to be part of an organization or society that they consider just and fair. When psychologists study what makes people happy, they find that being kind to others makes people happier. People only need moments of compassion to build upon, because there is a positive feedback loop: when you do a kind deed (take your mom to lunch), you become happier, which makes it more likely you will do another kind act (help your neighbor carry in groceries). Kindness makes you happier, and happier people engage in more acts of kindness.

Positive psychology demonstrates how well-being comes from experiencing a life that has meaning beyond merely feeling happy, which complements Buddhist economics. For example, positive psychologist Seligman teaches exercises to promote well-being based on engagement, good relationships, accomplishment and purpose.

In Buddhist economics, we discriminate between real happiness built upon a fully developed mindful life, and temporary happiness built around money and never-ending desires. In Buddhist economics, people do not aim to maximize their own income, because we want to ensure the happiness and well-being of all people.

Buddhist economics provides guidance both for restructuring the economy to place concerns about inequality, sustainability, and the human spirit at its center, and for leading meaningful, happy lives. “Practice compassion to be happy” replaces “More is better.” “Maximize your own position” becomes “Everyone’s well-being is connected.”

What We Can Do to Save the Planet

At last weekend’s stimulating Bay Area Book Festival, at sessions focused on global warming the audience asked me (and other authors), “What can I do in this time of crisis, especially as Trump withdraws from the Paris climate agreement?”

The answer to the question, “What can I do?” combines working actively with environmental and political groups to ensure just and effective government policies to create a low-carbon economy, and to personally do less damage to the environment by eating less meat, wasting less food, and using much less petroleum-powered transportation.

With the Trump administration abdicating its global responsibilities, action at the individual, state and local government, and company levels will decide the U.S. carbon emissions. People’s daily habits in two areas are especially important in determining our ecological footprint: diet and transportation. Out impact on earth is dramatically reduced if we eat little or no meat and if we do not waste food by eating left-overs and composting scraps. The U.S. is a nation of meat eaters, and averages 271 pounds of animal protein yearly—twelve ounces of meat each day for each person (without excluding vegetarians). This is an enormous amount of meat, and carbon emissions, from our meat diet alone. Only the people of Luxembourg eat more meat.

The other big driver of people’s carbon emissions is their vehicle fuel efficiency and miles driven. If you drive a hybrid or electric vehicle, use public transit, and walk or bike, your carbon emissions are very low. Yet Californians continue to buy gas guzzlers, especially SUVs and pickup trucks. In the San Francisco Bay Area, 130 million miles are traveled each day, or 14.5 miles per person. You can quickly see that fuel efficiency matters—drivers are using 5.2 million gallons of gas daily if cars average 25 miles per gallon, and are using 2.6 million gallons if cars average 50 miles per gallon. Accordingly carbon emissions drop by half. The goal is to use electric vehicles and public transit combined with walking and biking, and to use no gasoline.

We know that individuals alone cannot solve the global warming problem, and together Californians can do much. Fortunately California is moving rapidly ahead with policies to create a prosperous, just, and sustainable low-carbon economy by 2050. Working with our engaged environmental and political groups, we can make sure our local and state governments implement the wide range of clean energy and sustainable agriculture policies to reach the state’s goals.

Californians will provide global leadership on creating a sustainable, prosperous economy that works for everyone. We will not let Trump stand in our way.

Commentary: Responding to Trump’s Separation from the World

My commentary that was posted also on Lion’s Roar on June 4, 2017

Yesterday was a dark day for Americans, as we listened to our president withdraw from the Paris 2015 climate agreement. For me, deep sadness was followed by anger.

I turned to others’ wisdom about our duty to care for each other and the planet.

From Buddhist leaders:

Together, humanity must act on the root causes of this environmental crisis, which is driven by our use of fossil fuels, unsustainable consumption patterns, lack of awareness, and lack of concern about the consequences of our actions.

We are united by our concern to phase out fossil fuels, to reduce our consumption patterns, and the ethical imperative to act against both the causes and the impacts of climate change, especially on the world’s poorest.

The time to act is now.

From Pope Francis:

Disinterested concern for others, and the rejection of every form of self-centeredness and self-absorption, are essential if we truly wish to care for our brothers and sisters and for the natural environment. These attitudes also attune us to the moral imperative of assessing the impact of our every action and personal decision on the world around us. If we can overcome individualism, we will truly be able to develop a different lifestyle and bring about significant changes in society.

We must regain the conviction that we need one another, that we have a shared responsibility for others and the world, and that being good and decent are worth it.

From Thich Nhat Hanh, in his book Love Letters to the Earth:

“Caring about the environment is not an obligation, but a matter of personal and collective happiness and survival. We will survive and thrive together with our Mother Earth, or we will not survive at all.”

His Holiness the Dalai Lama teaches us about the fragility of the Tibetan plateau and the Himalayan glaciers, called the Third Pole. Temperatures are rising three times faster than the global average at the Third Pole, which contains 40 percent of the world’s fresh water and feeds seven major rivers running throughout South Asia. His Holiness tells us, “Relying on prayer to God or Buddha seems illogical, because humans created the problem and humans must solve the problem to avert disaster.”

One person alone cannot solve the problem, but together we can do much.

With the Trump administration abdicating its global responsibilities, individual behavior and actions will make an even bigger difference. Our daily habits in two areas are especially important in determining our ecological footprint: diet and transportation. Our impact on earth is dramatically reduced if we eat little or no meat and if we do not waste food, which we can alleviate by eating leftovers and composting our scraps. Our carbon emissions are dramatically reduced if we drive hybrid or electric vehicles, use public transit, and walk or bike. A meat-heavy diet, wasting food, and driving gas guzzlers are killing people and earth, and are unacceptable Buddhist practice.

One person alone cannot solve the problem, but together we can do much. Working with our sangha and engaged environmental groups, we can work with our local and state governments to move ahead in creating low carbon and just economies. At the national level, we can resist Trump’s rollback of clean-energy programs by supporting legal actions and by pushing our representative and senators to support clean energy and sustainable agriculture programs, as well as financing the United Nations’ Green Climate Fund to help vulnerable developing countries prepare for climate impacts and transition toward low-carbon economies. Both lawsuits and town hall meetings make a difference.

As a Buddhist economist, I draw strength from knowing that we can create an economy that creates comfortable, meaningful lives for all people and cares for the earth. Together we can move forward, and not let Trump stand in our way.

Every second of every day, may we care for each other and Mother Earth, and may we enjoy life!

Image of Earth via NASA/JPL-Caltech/Malin Space Science Systems

Love for Mothers Everywhere!

A guest blog from my son,Jason Katz-Brown: Happy Mother’s Day to every mother — keep inspiring the next generation to be compassionate to all and caring of the earth.

“When my mom first described the tenets of her new project Buddhist Economics to me it seemed, well, too obvious to be book material. That a country should optimize for total happiness of its people seemed obvious. That a business should optimize for the prosperity and sustainability of its employees and those who use its products seemed obvious. That we should keep our personal impact on the community and Earth top of mind seemed obvious.”

“Today on Mother’s Day I realized that these Buddhist economic tenets seem obvious to me because of the parents I grew up with. And that my mom had been living these values her whole life and instilling them in me over my whole life.”

“My favorite chapter of the book its last: “Leap to Buddhist Economics”. Even if Buddhist economics seems like a no-brainer, it’s far from obvious how we can get to a world that embodies Buddhist economic principles. Any one person is lilliputian compared to the magnitude of inequality and the trajectory of climate change. The systemic problems can seem to big too tackle; the impact of one person too small to matter.”

“But I look to my mother as an inspiration. As the first woman on the University of California, Berkeley Economics Faculty, she has already been demonstrated that individual determination is worthwhile and sweeping institutional change is possible. Today mom tackles far-reaching projects aimed at systemic problems, writing Buddhist Economics and promoting it to governments and economists around the world, and projects in the local community, coordinating local climate activism with 350.org.”

“Even after I joined Airbnb in 2011 as a software engineer, she was ahead of me in realizing Airbnb’s potential. I didn’t think there would be many travelers to Richmond, California, but my mom and dad became Superhosts, hosting Airbnb guests more than 100 times. She would always implore me to encourage Airbnb to encourage and highlight green hosts, and as the Airbnb host community has grown, I have realized the immense value in Airbnb hosts exemplifying sustainability and acceptance.”

“Happy Mother’s Day to every mother — keep inspiring the next generation to be compassionate to all and caring of the earth.”

Americans Happiness Will Plummet with Repeal of Obama’s Affordable Care Act

The Republican’s push to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA) will result in millions of Americans being cut off from basic medical care, both physical and mental. This will cause suffering and illnesses, and even deaths that would have been prevented with basic health care, especially for those most in need. We know from the 2017 World Health Report what contributes to our happiness, and our misery—an important factor is our health, both physical and mental, and this is true as we age.
Mental illness causes misery. In a study of U.S., Australia, and Britain, mental illness is more important than poverty, unemployment, or low education in explaining misery. The most powerful policy to reduce misery is to eliminate depression and anxiety disorders, our major forms of mental illness.

Without the ACA, pregnant women, homeless people, and many others in need of critical health care will find their access to health care has disappeared, and local health clinics will not have the funds to stay open. Already the homeless and working poor families are having a hard time getting the health care they need. Mental health care for depressions and anxiety are almost nonexistent. Now the line of Americans not seeing doctors will become vastly longer. Health problems will dwarf people’s happiness, and misery will skyrocket.
Repealing the ACA also hands out billions of dollars in tax cuts for the rich. Too bad this will not make rich people happier, because higher income doesn’t increase your happiness once your income has reached a certain point (around $80,000). The United States will end up with sick kids and adults needing medical care, while the rich have more money for fancier yachts and exotic vacations. This action is immoral. We must let our Congress members know that they will be defeated in the next election if they don’t provide decent, affordable health care for all Americans.

Surely Americans want “Health care for all!” and not “More money for the rich!” Together we can move from a “closetful economy” to a “mindful economy” that provide a comfortable meaningful and healthy life for everyone.

Sangha for Earth

 

On Sunday April 30, people joined together in Climate Mobilization Marches Rallies around the U.S.A. to demand that Trump protect the earth and provide clean air and water to all Americans. Trump put the fossil fuel industry and investment bankers in charge of energy and the environment, and they are rolling back clean energy programs and pushing ahead with more drilling and pipelines for oil, goal, and natural gas. The carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is rising rapidly and overheating the earth.

Our marches and rallies show how resistance can create change, and we cannot stop making demands of the national and local governments to take action to create a clean energy economy that is healthy for people and the planet. As we work together on climate change, we must be ready for the backlash from the wealthy fossil fuel energy companies and the organizations and politicians they fund. Big Oil fights hard to block regulations that reduce the use of coal, oil, and gas. They spent billions of dollars to elect lawmakers to the local, state and national governments. They spent millions of dollars to lobby against demands to reduce carbon emissions. They use their resources to fight “Keep it in the ground,” as they deny they are causing global warming and climate change.

A positive legacy of the climate crisis is that our collective response is building a more caring community, augmenting our citizenship roles with public action, and expanding our participation in, and donations to, environmental organizations and causes that protect people and earth.

In Buddhist economics, everyone belongs to a sangha, which provides support and love. Everyone needs a community for social and emotional support, and our family and friends give us courage and renew our energy. We cannot expect to be fearless in our practice Buddhist economics without a community of like-minded people who share our values and goals.

Most likely you already are part of a community of family and friends, including those who live nearby or share a sport or hobby or religion with us. This primary community expands outward to include old friends, people from work, and families we meet through our kids’ activities. Within our community, we also need a group of close friends with whom we share our ups and downs, with whom we feel free to explore our deepest fears and longings. People who love and trust one another, and who put one another’s well-being on an equal (or higher) level than their own, become a sangha.

Thich Nhat Hanh teaches us that we amplify our energy to live mindfully and to create change when we join with others. He writes,

“Our collective compassion, mindfulness, and concentration nourish us, but it also can help to reestablish the Earth’s equilibrium and restore balance. Together, we can bring about real transformation for ourselves and for the world.”

If you do not have a personal sangha, take the time and care to create one. A sangha is a place where people reach out to help another person who needs compassion and generosity during a difficult time. When we practice kindness to help others without any thought of what they will do for us, then we are building a support network of close friends. Happiness studies show that having people to call on when you need help is an important source of satisfaction in life.

Together we are stronger, we are fearless, and we can prevent Trumpism from hurting people and the planet. Together we are unstoppable in healing the planet and promoting the well-being of all people!

 

How Can We Create a Successful Economy Without Continuous Economic Growth?

Reprinted from http://www.humansandnature.org/how-can-we-create-a-successful-economy-without-continuous-economic-growth-clair-brown

My book: Buddhist Economics: An Enlightened Approach to the Dismal Science (Bloomsbury Press, 2017) also addresses this question. Buddhist economics assumes that humans are interdependent with each other and with nature, and happiness comes from helping others and living a meaningful life, and not from consumption. Society can structure the economy and regulate markets to provide opportunities for everyone to live a comfortable worthwhile life while caring for the environment.

Buddhist economics integrates the capabilities approach of Sen, with the ecological economic approach compatible with strong sustainability (boundary thresholds for ecosystems), with the UN sustainable development approach for shared prosperity worldwide. Happiness comes from creating a worthy life, based on Aristotle, rather than hedonic happiness based on “more is better.” We move from a “closetful economy” to a “mindful economy.”

Following in the footsteps of Daly and the other Genuine Progress Indicator researchers, Buddhist economics measures economic performance (and growth) by people’s quality of life, and not by the average GDP. Once we evaluate economic performance this way, then economic growth increases with redistribution from the rich to people in need, and increases with protecting nature and reducing environmental degradation.

Consumption in Buddhist Economics takes a global approach rather than a domestic approach. Rich countries no longer can ignore the suffering from extreme hunger or poverty in poor countries; social welfare increases with transfers from rich countries to poor countries that improve the consumption of basic food, water, shelter, health care, education, and human rights. Development must depend on using clean energy instead of fossil fuel energy to raise the standard of living. Rich countries benefit from providing clean energy technology that supports green development.

Clair’s Interview With Gruppo Editoriale Mauri Spagno

This week’s blog is from an interview with an Italian reporter.

My book is being published by Italian publisher Vallardi, an imprint of Gruppo Editoriale Mauri Spagno (part of Penguin Random House).

BUDDHIST ECONOMICS is part of their bestselling Sakura line about Zen & Japanese philosophy and way of life.

My book trailer (2 min), https://youtu.be/88RX5A2iezs has Italian closed captions.

What are the basic principles of Buddhist Economics?

Buddhist economics assumes that people are interdependent with each other, and people are interdependent with nature. These assumptions immediately lead to outcomes where shared prosperity and sustainability improve social welfare because one person’s well-being is affected by everyone else’s well-being and by the well-being of nature (the planet). Think of Indra’s Net, which is an infinite net with a jewel at each intersection, so each jewel reflects what is happening in all the other jewels. This is the infinite interdependence of Buddhist Economics!

Free market economics focuses on efficiency, or the size of the pie produced (national income). Most economists also care about inequality, or the division of the pie (distribution of income). Buddhist economics also cares about how people live, or what is in the pie (all output and activities that create a meaningful comfortable life and care for nature).

What are the main differences between Buddhist economics and Free Market economics or Socialist economics?

Economic systems present a variety of capitalism, as taught by political scientists. The role of the government is to structure markets to achieve specific social outcomes. Each society chooses their inequality and their carbon emissions (pollution), as well as how many people are suffering from poverty or inadequate health care. The government can be minimalist, as in Free Market Economy where the government enforces rule of law, property rights, and national security. Or the government can be activist, as in Social Democracies that structure markets in order to reduce poverty; provide social services such as child care, health care, and education; limit discrimination; and administer a social safety net. A Buddhist economy is a market economy where the government plays an important role in structuring markets so that everyone can live a comfortable, meaningful life in a sustainable world.

What are the policies supported by Buddhist Economics compared to Free Market Economics? Are these policies already being applied by some countries?

Free market economics ignores inequality and pollution, because these problems are assumed away, which means they are denied.

Buddhist economics looks to policies that have been used in many countries that effectively reduce inequality, and my book mentions some of them, such as higher minimum wages, laws that strengthen unions and workers’ bargaining power, more progressive income taxes (taxes that increase as income increases) with a top rate of 65 percent, more progressive inheritance taxes, adequate health care and education, child benefits, and mandated vacation days, overtime pay, and family care leave.

Buddhist economics also relies on available technology to transition from dependence on fossil fuel energy to a clean energy economy that is modern and affordable. Scientists have provided two road maps that show how countries can meet the Paris 2015 global warming target of < 2 degrees centigrade by implementing 75%-100% renewable energy by 2050 (see Stanford’s 100% clean energy http://thesolutionsproject.org/; UN’s Deep Decarbonization Pathways Project http://deepdecarbonization.org/).

 

How does Buddhist Economics evaluate and measure economic growth?

A critical part of Buddhist Economics is measuring economic growth in a holistic way that looks at the quality of life provided to all people and the health of the environment, because what we measure indicates what we value and lays out the path for the economy.

One chapter of the book explains various approaches used by economists to measure economic performance as quality of life. Economists agree that average national output (Gross Domestic Product, GDP) is not a good measure of a country’s economic well-being because only what is sold in the marketplace is included in GDP, and all other human activities are ignored. Yet GDP is used to measure economic performance around the world. Economists have created several ways to measure pollution and environmental damage, income inequality, happiness, human capabilities, and nonpaid activities (both useful and harmful). These metrics have been used to create various holistic measures of economic performance, such as the UN’s Human Development Index, the OECD Better Life Index, the Genuine Progress Indicator, the Happy Planet Index, and Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness Index. Buddhist Economics relies on these measures, and any one of them is better than using the GDP.

What are the steps to implement a Buddhist economy in a Western country? To what extent does it require a change of perspective, and what motivates this change?

The last chapter pulls together the Buddhist economics framework and lays out eight steps to make the leap to a Buddhist economy: four steps for the country, two steps for business, and two steps for people. The major change in perspective for a rich country, like the OECD nations, is to focus on the quality of life of everyone and go beyond consumerism to create happiness and a better world. Our perspective shifts from a focus on chasing after more income to creating a meaningful life and preserving nature. In a Buddhist economy, “Practice compassion to be happy” replaces “More is better,” and “Everyone’s well-being is connected” replaces “Maximize your own position.” Our motivation is that we are dissatisfied and want to have a more meaningful life; we want to get off the materialistic treadmill and enjoy the relationships and experiences that make us happy; we want to pass along a healthy planet to future generations.

Fuel Efficiency Is Important

The government plays two important roles in making sure our economic system reduces the greenhouse gas emissions that are overheating the planet to dangerous levels. One is to educate people about how burning fossil fuels causes air pollution and global warming, so that they change their behavior to care for the environment. Two is to set standards so that companies provide greener products, such as more fuel-efficient cars. This could also be achieved by raising the price of oil, coal, and natural gas to include the social costs of carbon emissions, that is, the harm done to the environment and people’s health from burning fossil fuels. However politically it seems easier to pass regulations than taxes, and so mandating fuel efficiency standards for vehicles is a critical part of what government must do, at the national level and in California.

Transportation is the single largest source of GHG emissions in California. With low gasoline prices, Californians have been buying SUVs and pick-up trucks. Automobile manufacturers like the high-profit SUVs and pick-up trucks, rather than the low-profit electric vehicles, hybrids, and smaller cars. In 2015, there were 80% as many pick-up trucks and SUVs as smaller cars registered in California. Car ads glorify the power and comfort of the larger vehicles to entice consumers to buy them. Then the auto companies say that they cannot meet fuel efficiency standards because consumers want larger vehicles with low fuel efficiency. This becomes a chicken-and-egg problem, as consumers respond to advertising and low gas prices and then buy less-efficient SUVs and pick-ups. Then government must make stricter regulations, and the companies push back harder.

Average fuel efficiency of new vehicles reached 25 mpg in 2014, up from 21 mpg in 2008. Then the average fuel efficiency has stagnated for the past three years. Emissions from transportation did not decline over the 2011-20114 period (latest data) as the economy recovered.

We want everyone to ponder the problems they are causing with each gallon of gas, which is putting an average of 250 grams/mile of CO2 into the atmosphere in California (and even more in other states without California fuel standards).

What new vehicle you buy makes a big difference to how much you are polluting the air. If you buy the popular Honda CR-V with 27 mpg (miles per gallon), you are polluting 70% more than if you buy a hybrid Toyota Prius with 46 mpg. If you buy an electric Chevy Bolt with 119 MPGe, then you are polluting only 40% as much as with a Prius, and your emissions drop to zero if you use renewable electricity to charge your car. If you buy a pick-up truck or minivan with 22 mpg (or worse), you are polluting 20% more than the Honda SUV. Your vehicle is adding carbon to the atmosphere, and your choice about which vehicle to buy and how many miles to drive make a big difference. Your driving style also matters. Eliminating aggressive driving and speeding can improve fuel efficiency and reduce driving emissions by 10%.

The government’s fuel efficiency standards are a critical part of the United States’ commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. If consumers continue to buy larger SUVs and pick-ups, then the fuel efficiency standards become even more important in ensuring that manufacturers are providing vehicles that will reduce carbon emissions, including electric vehicles. Hopefully consumers will learn that electric and clean energy vehicles are important to people’s health and safety, and to the survival of our planet for future generations.

 

References

http://www.fueleconomy.gov/feg/Find.do?action=sbsSelect

https://www.arb.ca.gov/msprog/clean_cars/ldv-ghg-tar.pdf

http://www.energy.ca.gov/almanac/transportation_data/summary.html

http://umich.edu/~umtriswt/PDF/UMTRI-2016-7.pdf