U.S. Carmakers Catch Wind of Global Warming

After years of living in denial, Detroit opens up to reality.


Droughts in the Southwest and mid-Atlantic United States. Floods in Texas, southern England, China, Pakistan, Colombia, and, of all places, Sudan.

Watch global weather reports, and, to paraphrase Bob Dylan, you don't need a weatherman to know which way global warming is blowing. It's blowing your way—and fast.

Let's hope Congress "knows" when the House takes up a historic measure, possibly as soon as next week, to raise automobile fuel economy standards for the first time in almost 30 years. As a world leader in greenhouse gas emissions, the United States is woefully behind in curbing its esurient fuel consumption habits.

The U.S. House may and should follow last month's lead by the Senate, which voted to raise fuel economy standards. Congressional fights over CAFE (corporate average fuel economy) standards have in the past parodied historical scenes from ancient Rome. The automakers formerly known as the Big Three would mimic Nero, twiddling their thumbs while the world burned. There is some evidence the not-so-Big Three are slowly emerging from ancient times and entering the modern era. Yes, they still argue for public consumption that requiring them to produce fuel-efficient cars threatens their long-lost pre-eminence, will ultimately kill the U.S. car industry, and will cost America hundreds of thousands of jobs.

But they've also realized the public is not buying their "woe is me" attitude anymore. Japanese carmakers sprinted ahead of U.S. manufacturers decades ago with higher-mileage cars. Now the Japanese are dominant not only in the world but in the U.S. market as well.

So when the Senate acted last month, U.S. carmakers were surprisingly favoring Senate conservation efforts. Freed of the shackles of Detroit's routine opposition to raising CAFE standards, senators voted to require each manufacturer's vehicle fleet to average at least 35 mpg by 2020. And they eliminated long-standing and counterproductive separate sets of fuel standards for cars and for light trucks. What a difference a few floods and a few droughts make!

Next: floods and public-opinion polls.