Category Archives: Auto

Commentary: Shifting priorities in public health: from changing lifestyles to changing political, economic, and social circumstances

Public health researchers seeking to focus greater attention on the role of corporate practices in health and disease often encounter the argument that the only significant modifiable determinant of health is lifestyle.  In this commentary, social epidemiologist Sandro Galea, MD, DrPH, Associate Professor at the University of Michigan School of Public Health makes the case for a broader perspective.

The typical public health observational study goes something like this.  We identify a disease of interest.  We then try to figure out if an exposure is indeed associated with this disease. We conduct a study and collect data from participants.  We then use a variety of increasingly sophisticated analytic tools to isolate the relationship between the exposure of interest and the disease.  Once we have identified such an association with some confidence, we recommend a behavior change that will limit exposure to that particular factor.  For example, here is the conclusion from a recent, well done study aimed at understanding several factors that may cause cardiovascular disease: “strategies should focus on reducing obesity, in particular through physical activity, elimination of cigarette smoking, and moderation of alcohol intake” (1).

In other words, to reduce heart disease, we need a lifestyle change, to eat less, exercise more, and smoke less, in order to become healthier.  These types of conclusions come from peer-reviewed academic papers published in reputable public health journals. In many ways, these recommendations arise naturally and logically from the dominant public health paradigm.  We understand the factors that make us sick and now all we have to do is to change the way we live so that we are no longer exposed to those factors.

Although it is seldom stated in this manner, the public health literature veritably shrugs in disbelief when contemplating these issues, suggesting “how could they possibly keep smoking (or drinking too much etc) when we tell them over and over how bad that is for their health?” Or, “how could they possibly continue having such an unhealthy lifestyle?”

Tobacco as a Lifestyle Problem

Let’s look back at one of the great triumphs of modern public health science to provide us with hints about our lifestyle and whether we truly can do something about it.  All students of public health well know the details of what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) rightly identified as modern pubic health’s greatest triumph—the identification of tobacco smoking as a risk for disease(2).  In the middle of the twentieth century a few physicians-turned-epidemiologists used follow-up cohort studies to show that cigarette smoking was associated with lung cancer and heart disease.   These studies led to other comparable studies confirming these findings.  There was opposition to this observation at first, primarily from cigarette companies, but, with the production of the surgeon general’s report on smoking in 1964, the fact that smoking causes poor health in many forms became accepted within public health circles.  What followed of course was a dramatic burgeoning public health effort to help eliminate smoking.  A large industry grew around health education programs to teach all of us about the adverse consequences of smoking and countless education programs aimed to help smokers quit.

Smoking prevalence dropped throughout North America from 42% in 1965 to 25.5% in 1990 to a current prevalence of approximately 20.8% percent (3).

Clearly, public health research and practice “saved the day”.   Through careful empiric research, we were able to identify a health menace and we have, ever since, been devoting energy to help eradicate this menace. One cannot walk through any major US urban area without seeing a plethora of health education messages touting the evils of smoking, offering Quit-Lines and other aides to quite smoking and, increasingly, rather horrifying pictures of the pathologic consequences of smoking aimed at scaring us into not smoking.

But we, or at least 1 in every 5 of us, keep smoking. In fact, we keep participating in many of these factors that we surely must by now know cause poor health, including 1 in 5 of us drink too much on a regular basis, 1 in 3 of us are overweight, and 1 in 3 of us own firearms (4).  All of these factors are well recognized to be among the leading causes of death in this country (5).

Why do people choose unhealthy lifestyles? 

Which then brings us to the issue at hand. Why is it that so many patently harmful factors in our lifestyle continue despite public health’s valiant effort?   The existing literature suggests three common answers.  First, some posit that there are psychological reasons, including pleasure in risk taking and defying conventional wisdom, in continuing to embrace unhealthy lifestyles.   Second, some argue that public health professionals are not as good as we need to be at conveying what unhealthy lifestyles should be avoided. A third explanation asserts that ultimately people do not care much about being healthy and would rather do as they please without regard for health.  All these can be summarized to say that fundamentally, people choose the lifestyle they want, irrespective of what public health might say.

While these (and other)  explanations all have some validity,  they should matter little to us as public health professionals because a focus on lifestyle is simply not the most efficient or effective approach for public health to take.  Why?

Perhaps another example, one that contrasts with the previous smoking one, illustrates the point. Another of the CDC’s great recent achievements in public health is the reduction in motor vehicle injuries and deaths (2). As the automobile took the US by storm by the middle of the twentieth century, the rates of motor vehicle accidents and deaths were soaring. There were 93,803 unintentional motor vehicle related deaths in 1960, for example (5).  Clearly, our lifestyle choice to drive was also killing us. One approach would have been for the public health establishment to urge every American to drive less, to walk instead or take mass transit – to change their transportation life style.  But that is not what happened.

Instead, a consumer movement emerged that demanded the automobile industry to make safer cars  and Congress passed laws to make that happen, usually over the objection of the automobile industry and with significant compromises.   For example, Ralph Nader’s Unsafe at any speed (1965) resulted in changes that substantially changed the contribution of motor vehicle accidents to our burden of disease morbidity and mortality.  However, in stark contrast to the tobacco example, the focus of the changes aimed at reducing car-related disease was not on the “users” of the car but rather on the circumstances of the driving.  Certainly driver education improved, but it is widely recognized that the greatest contributor to the change in car-related morbidity and mortality were safer cars, safer roads and better enforcement of traffic regulations aimed at making those collisions that were inevitable less injurious. As a result, although there are now more than 200 million drivers on the roads on a regular basis, compared to under 90 million in 1960, the rates of motor vehicle accidents in the US is less than 1.5 per 100 million vehicle miles traveled compared to approximately 5 per 100 million vehicle miles traveled in 1960 (6, 7).  In other words, we did not really change our lifestyle (driving) at all (in fact, we are driving much more than ever), but still improved our health. We can argue about whether a different approach might have led to more sustainable and better environmental outcomes, but in this case changing corporate practices rather than lifestyle led to dramatic improvements in public health.

In contrast, until the last decade or so, tobacco control focused primarily on changing individual behavior.  As new policies were passed to ban smoking in public places and increase tobacco sales taxes, the declines in tobacco smoking accelerated, showing the value of integrating strategies to change individual lifestyle and policy.

Both these examples in fact reinforce the observation that changing lifestyles is immeasurably difficult, requiring not only efforts to change deeply held beliefs and practices one person at a time but also to continue to “treat”  the new recruits into tobacco use, or eating or drinking too much.  Thus, perhaps changing lifestyles should not be the point of what we do in public health but rather changing circumstances should be. Perhaps it is time to recognize that changing lifestyles is in fact very difficult and that a more efficient and effective approach would be to change the political, economic, and social circumstances within which  people live their life as they please, to the fullest. This strategy also acknowledges that people do not choose lifestyles in a vacuum but are influenced by corporate practices such as advertising and product design, by public policies, and by the “opportunity structures” of our market economy.

Objections to a critique of lifestyle

This argument can lead to complaints along three grounds.  First, some would object to leaving individuals to their own lifestyle choices within a healthier environment as insufficient given that some lifestyles are inherently injurious to self or others.  Second, some critics might assert that if public health were to take responsibility for the circumstances within which we live, it would contribute to a “nanny state”, highly unpopular in a country where individual autonomy is prized almost above all other virtues.  Third, some public health experts believe that it is outside our professional domain to seek to change economic, political, and social circumstances. In my view, each of these criticisms is in fact wrong. Let us tackle each one.

We cannot avoid dealing with lifestyles; some lifestyles are always harmful. It may seem that some lifestyles are simply harmful in an absolute sense, but is this really the case?  Let’s return to the cigarette example.  We now know that tobacco companies worked hard to make cigarettes more addictive to increase consumption and therefore profit. From the point of view of addictiveness and carcinogenicity, they are harmful by design.  To take another example, people choose high fat, high calorie food in part because that is what has been most advertised and made most available.  In these two cases, the health consequences of lifestyle “choices” are the direct result of efforts to make a profit.  With different food or tobacco policies, the default choices could be very different.  So what do public health professionals work to change—the environments and policies that make some lifestyle choices unhealthy or the behaviors themselves?

Public health cannot tackle political, economic, or social circumstances because that threatens individual autonomy. Would a public health focus on changing the circumstances within which we live mean that public health would reduce individual autonomy?  Of course it could but the critical point is that doing so would not be any different than what is already done to our individual autonomy by forces other than public health.  We do not choose the cigarettes we smoke—we smoke cigarettes that are made for us by corporations acting under a set of their own incentives (primarily to maximize profits) that are often not aligned with the goal of improving our health.  We often have little choice about the food we eat.  Recent research shows that those living in poor neighborhoods have more access to unhealthy foods and less to healthy ones. Not surprisingly, they then eat those available foods.  Similarly, for the most part drivers do not choose to drive in safer cars, on safer roads than we used to drive on 50 years ago. These choices are made for us by political, economic, and social forces that are larger than ourselves. It has always been so and it will always be so. Urging public health to tackle reshaping our circumstances would introduce a player among these forces that shape our circumstances whose interest is in the promotion of health rather than in the promotion of profit (as in the case of corporations) or electoral success (as in the case of political parties).  The choice is not whether parents should have sole rights to make health decisions about their children – our world is too complicated for that.  Rather, the question is who do Americans want looking out for their children’s health—public health professionals or McDonalds?  Public health professionals should welcome an opportunity to argue they will better protect autonomy than Ronald McDonald.

Public health simply is not equipped to tackle changing contexts. This third objection is a plaintive one—but what can public health do?  Public health arises from medicine, which is concerned with the health of individuals. The forces of public health are much weaker than are political, economic, or social forces.  How could we possibly compete?  It is self-evident that unless we try to compete we cannot succeed. It is also true that challenging contextual forces that shape health as a central focus would require substantial retooling of the public health profession.  It would require re-thinking how we teach our students, the goals and methods of professional practice, and the value of being well-regarded by all sectors of society.  But other professions have been able to conduct similar retooling. Why then not public health?  For example, many US State Attorneys General were, in the 1970s and 1980s focused on the eradication of organized crime.  This scarcely remains the focus on AG efforts nationwide today. In fact, AG efforts have been, in the past decade, much more focused on curtailing illegal financial sector activity than on what the AG offices used to work on a decade ago. Surely such focus shifting could not have been easy. But it happened, and arguably the law-abiding citizenry is better for it.

Another approach to public health is possible

Similarly, public health can decide that the old target, lifestyle, is no longer, or perhaps never was, such a fruitful target for our efforts, and move toward another target, the circumstances within which we live, the political, economic, and corporate practices that shape our environment, with the goals of effecting change here in order to promote the health of the public.   The objections to such an approach rest primarily on a lack of imagination on our part that we can indeed achieve a change in focus in the profession.  I argue that such a change is not optional, as much as necessary, for public health achievement in the twenty-first century.

Sandro Galea is the editor of Macrosocial Determinants of Health (Springer 2007) and can be reached at sgalea@umich.edu.

 

References

1.  Costanza MK, Cayanis E, Ross BM, Flaherty MS, Alvin GB, Das K, Morabia A. Relative contributions of genes, environments, and interactions to blood lipid concentrations in adult populations. American Journal of Epidemiology2005;161(8):714-724.

2. CDC. Ten great public health achievements–United States, 1900-1999. MMWR 1999;48:241-3.

3CDC. Surveillance for Selected Tobacco-Use Behaviors — United States, 1900-1994. MMWR 1994; 43: 5-6.

4.  Mokdad AH,  et al. Actual causes of death in the United States, 2000.  JAMA. 2004;291(10):1238-45.

5.  Okoro et al. Prevalence of household firearms and firearm-storage practices in the 50 states and the District of Columbia: findings from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, 2002. Pediatrics. 2005;166(3):e370-e376

6.  CDC.  Achievements in Public Health, 1900-1999 Motor-Vehicle Safety: A 20th Century Public Health Achievement. MMWR 1999; 48(18);369-374.

7.  Fatality Analysis Reporting System.  Encyclopedia.  Available at http://www-fars.nhtsa.dot.gov/Main/index.aspx

 
 

Local, National and Global Action Against Motor Vehicle Pollution: Making healthy breathing a right

According to the World Health Organization, about 800,000 people die each year from the effects of air pollution. In the United States, 60,000 premature deaths can be attributed to air pollution and automobile exhaust is the largest single source, reports the American Heart Association. Despite recent progress in reducing air pollution, 160 million tons of air pollution were released into the air in the United States in 2002 and more than 152 million Americans now live in counties with unhealthy levels of ozone or particulate matter, the two most prevalent of the principal air pollutants. Air pollution contributes to a variety of diseases including cancer, asthma, cardiovascular disease and stroke. In many developing world cities, the rapid increase in the number of automobiles and lax air pollution standards make automobile exhaust a growing threat to health. Automobile pollution also contributes to global warming, providing another rationale for action.

These grim statistics demonstrate the benefits of reducing air pollution. Since motor vehicle exhaust is a major contributor to air pollution, decreasing what comes out of the tailpipes of cars, busses and trucks has become a focus for public health action. Recently, advocates and policy makers have initiated efforts at the local, national and global levels to clean the air we breathe. An examination of these activities may help to identify the relative advantages and limitations of working at each level.

 Community Groups Document Perils of Air Pollution in Milan and New York, Demand Change.

“We want people to rebel and politicians to pay attention. This is really bad for health.”

Concerned about the impacts of air pollution on health, community organizations such as Parents Against Pollution in Milan, Italy and both West Harlem Environmental Action (WE ACT) and the Harlem Children’s Zone Asthma Initiative in New York City are fighting to clean up urban air. These groups link youth researchers, scientists, medical professionals and lawyers to take on both the motor vehicle industry and city planners, calling for cleaner air, improved public health and environmental justice.

In Milan, Italy, where the levels of air pollution are among the worst in Europe, “Parents Against Pollution” has armed young people with portable monitors to measure ultrafine pollution particles. Participating scientists helped to design the measurement strategies and interpret the results. Sixteen year old Tommaso Abbate wore the monitor for 24 hours. During that period, his average exposure to air pollution levels was 127 micrograms per cubic meter, 117 g higher than the standard of 10 micrograms per cubic meter set by the World Health Organization (WHO) as a safe target. Responding to these findings, Anna Gerometta , President of Parents Against Pollution stated, “We want people to rebel and politicians to pay attention. This is really bad for health.” Earlier this spring, Milan exceeded both the WHO and European Union (EU) standards for particulate air pollution on 80 days. Italy, home to Fiat, Alfa Romeo, Ferrari, Lamborghini and others, was warned by the EU that its current emission reduction plan is inadequate and the city will face billions of euros in fines if it fails to remedy the situation.

Milan is taking notice. Milan now imposes “car-free Sundays” in which the use of cars and motor scooters is banned throughout the better part of the day and public transportation is increased to compensate. In order to further reduce air pollution and improve health, Parents Against Pollution would also like to see free public transportation for children, dedicated bike lanes and special lanes for buses, and a charge for cars entering the city center.

In New York City, the greatest source of air pollution comes from vehicle exhaust. In Harlem, WE ACT and the Harlem Children’s Zone Asthma Initiative, two community organizations, have demonstrated the disproportionate effect that air pollution has on residents’ health. A sanitation truck depot and six of the seven NYC bus depots operated by the Metropolitan Transit Authority of New York (MTA) are located in Harlem. (The MTA operates public transportation in the New York metropolitan region.) At these depots, which house more than a third of the city’s fleet of buses, vehicles are parked, repaired, fueled and relaunched each day. The asthma rate for children in Harlem is 25%, one of the highest ever documented in the United States and considerably higher than the national childhood average of 7%. Harlem and the Bronx have the highest rates of hospitalization for asthma in New York City and African Americans and Latinos are hospitalized at a rate of of 3 – 5.5 times that of whites. The neighborhood has consistently exceeded National Ambient Air Quality Standards for particulate matter, likely as a result of the high concentration of bus depots, nearby commuter highways, local traffic, as well as regional upwind emissions, incinerators and industrial facilities. Local traffic is particularly an issue given that Amsterdam and Broadway avenues – two of the major north-south thoroughfares in Manhattan – pass through the center of Harlem. These routes are the main truck routes for transporting goods in the area since trucks are prohibited from traveling on the highways that run east and west of Manhattan.

A partnership between the Harlem Children’s Zone and the Harlem Hospital Center Department of Pediatrics led to the Harlem Children’s Zone Asthma Initiative. The goal of the project is one of intervention and the Initiative seeks to improve the health of the estimated 13,000 residents of Central Harlem. Initial screening resulted in rates far higher than initially expected and study researchers ultimately found rates of asthma four times the national average and three times the national average for African Americans. Researchers involved in the study stated “Childhood asthma in Central Harlem is not only highly prevalent, but severe.”

WE ACT challenges the structural conditions that cause high rates of respiratory distress and other health conditions in Harlem and fights to keep pollution out of poor and people of color communities. Founded in 1988, WE ACT works to improve environmental policy, public health and quality of life in communities of color. The organization challenged the MTA regarding its use of diesel buses which are primarily housed in upper Manhattan and emit 30-100 times more particles than do gasoline engines with emission control devices. Working with Columbia University researchers to demonstrate the impact of air pollution on Harlem, WE ACT measured air pollution levels in the neighborhood over the course of five days at four intersections in Harlem. The group found rates of fine particle concentrations ranging from 22-69 micrograms per cubic meter, far higher than the standard proposed by the 1998 Environmental Protection Agency of 15 micrograms per cubic meter. As inMilan, WE ACT also worked with youth researchers to demonstrate that young people in Harlem are exposed to levels of diesel exhaust known to contribute to respiratory health problems.

Although WE ACT has not so far been successful in its legal actions against the MTA, the Authority has substantially reduced the age of its fleet of buses and cut emissions by 85%. Still, WE ACT has demanded that the city close one of the bus depots, upgrade the fleet to the use of hybrid vehicles at all uptown sites, and relocate some of the remaining depots to other locations in the city. These battles continue.

Researchers, Activists Demonstrate Importance of Clean Air for Lifelong Health, While Auto Industry Opposes Stricter Fuel Standards, Sways Lawmakers

Public health researchers and advocates have urged the federal government and the auto industry to reduce automobile air pollution both to prevent pollution-related illnesses and, more recently, to reduce global warming. In the last two decades, the incidence of asthma has increased and if current patterns continue, it is estimated that the rate of asthma will double in the United States by 2020, affecting 29 million individuals. Although the auto industry publicly shows support for improved emission standards, their efforts to stall stricter emissions bills in the United States and their financial and political support for lawmakers who sought to weaken the bill illustrates that clean air and better health are still not top priorities.

Within the United States, emissions from cars and trucks accounts for approximately one third of greenhouse gases. Thus, researchers, environmentalists and community health activists are increasingly joining forces to make the point that better fuel economy not only reduces the need for foreign oil but reduces emissions that are linked to both environmental and public health concerns. These groups point to the particular impact that pollution has on children. Combustion related air pollution is linked to cancer and serious respiratory and cardiovascular concerns for both children and adults and there is evidence to suggest that the fetus and infants are more vulnerable to environmental toxins which can affect pre and postnatal development. A Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health study found in preliminary analyses that 46% of infants between birth and three months of age experienced wheezing and other respiratory symptoms as did 54% of babies at six months and 50% at nine months. Children who live near busy streets are more likely than their peers who live in quieter areas to have health problems, including asthma and lung disease, stunted lung development and premature death. While asthma has many causes, nationally, children who live in low-income neighborhoods, areas more likely to be near highways and other high congestion zones, are four times more likely to be hospitalized for asthma than children living in wealthier neighborhoods. Health problems developed in childhood continue throughout adulthood and increase their risk of serious breathing problems.

Although new research evidence and health advocacy have called attention to the health and environmental benefits of less polluting and more fuel efficient motor vehicles, U.S. fuel efficiency standards have not been raised since 1983. However, in late June, the U.S. Senate passed a bill that would require that new cars, SUVs and light trucks to achieve an average of 35 miles per gallon (mpg) by 2020 compared to the average of 25 mpg today. Although the Senate bill (known as the Stevens Amendment) passed, it was opposed by House and by Senate Democrats from Michigan, who at the behest of the auto industry looked to weaken the proposal.

Despite the fact that the auto industry has admitted that increased fuel economy standards are necessary, automakers complained that the increases proposed in the June Senate bill were too strict and not economically feasible. Dave McCurdy, President and CEO of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, issued a statement in which he commended the efforts of Senators who “worked to eliminate provisions of concern in the energy bill.” Arguing that the proposed increased standards would reduce auto safety, cost jobs and hurt the economy, Steven Douglas, Director of Environmental Affairs for a consortium of auto manufacturers, suggested officials move gradually toward a national increase in fuel economy and reduced emissions. Automakers were especially opposed to a provision of the bill that combined light trucks and the passenger fleet into one group, setting a common emissions standard which manufacturers claimed was economically untenable. Throughout the 1990s, the auto industry depended on high profit, high pollution SUVs and light trucks to make their money. Even though this strategy has contributed to the near collapse of the US auto industry, Detroit automakers find it difficult to kick the habit of depending on big polluting vehicles for their profits.

Consumer group Public Citizen expressed criticism about the Senate bill in a press release. In addition to not setting mandatory emission standards, the bill would allow auto makers to produce vehicles that achieve less than 35 mpg if they could justify the lower standard based on a cost-benefit analysis. Public Citizen noted that cost-benefit analyses have often been used and abused by the auto industry and thus it seems unlikely that automakers would find raising emission standards to be economically feasible, despite the fact that foreign manufacturers manufacturers have already met and exceeded such standards. The House is currently working on their version of the bill and some reports indicate that a final vote may be delayed until later in the year.. Regardless of which version is ultimately passed, it seems unlikely that strong, mandatory emission standards will be set. Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook stated, “Even if it were mandatory, the 35 mpg target is not strong enough. The best-in-class fuel economy performers on the road today are already well on their way to achieving fuel economy in excess of this target. We can do much better much sooner.”

Making clean air a right: Next steps?

Through community-based organizing and alliances with researches, local groups such as WE ACT and Parents Against Pollution have mobilized their communities on the health impact of motor vehicle pollution. They have convinced city officials to take action to reduce pollution, such as car-free Sundays in Milan and the MTA’s commitment to upgrade their fleet of diesel buses. Both groups have also successfully crated new alliances among young people, researchers, and community organizations. To date, however, these local organizations have not yet been able to put direct pressure on the motor vehicle industry to design safer, less polluting vehicles.

On the other hand, national campaigns such as the one led by Public Citizen and JumpStart Ford, a joint project of Global Exchange, the Rainforest Action Network and the Ruckus Society, have elicited some response from the industry. Through internet campaigns, letter writing, media campaigns and direct action, these organizations have been able to draw the attention of manufacturers and have had some success in changing corporate practices, such as JumpStart Ford’s “Adopt a Dealer” campaign. However, without strong community-based links, national campaigns may be less able to motivate individuals to take sustained action or to put another pressure on Senators, Congressional representatives and a White House to overcome the powerful influence of the auto industry.

Growing local, national and global concerns about air pollution, health and global warming have sparked new action to reduce air pollution and create healthier and more sustainable forms of transportation. On the one hand, the creativity, passion and tactical flexibility of pollution control activists have created the potential for a movement that can challenge an industry that values its profits more highly than public health and governments that seem reluctant to make clean air a basic human right On the other hand, to date these activists have yet to forge a framework or policy agenda that can link these different levels and arenas of action. Only when clean air advocates achieve the same vertical and horizontal integration that the global automobile industry practices will they be able to achieve their health and environmental objectives.

Photo credits:
Photo 1: Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration.
Photo 2: Marc Baptiste, copyright 1997 West Harlem Environmental Action
Photo 3: Environmental Protection Agency

Spotlight on Corporate Practices: What is the Future for US Auto Industry?

In the recent past, the US auto industry has failed on two critical fronts. It has been unable to compete successfully with Japanese and European auto producers and it has not made fuel-efficient, safe vehicles. As a result, the US auto industry is in deep financial trouble and American cars pollute more and are less safe than those made elsewhere. While many factors contribute to the auto industry’s problems, in this case the decision by auto industry executives to sacrifice public health for profits by focusing on SUVs rather than on safer, more efficient cars ended up hurting rather than helping their own bottom line. Now, however, two recent developments provide advocates, public officials and the auto industry with new impetus to solve both their financial and public health problems. A recent Supreme Court decision and new public opinion polls that show auto worker and public support for more effective public oversight of the auto industry provide advocates with an opportunity to mobilize political support for federal action to encourage the auto industry to make cars that pollute less.

Supreme Court Rules Against Bush Administration and EPA on Greenhouse Gas Emissions

On April 3, 2007 the US Supreme Court ruled that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) violated the Clean Air Act when it refused to regulate new vehicle emission standards as a way to reduce air pollutants connected with global warming. The case, Commonwealth of Massachusetts et al v. Environmental Protection Agency, dates from 1999. It began when The International Center for Technology Assessment and other groups petitioned the EPA to set stricter greenhouse gas emissions standards for new cars. The EPA declined the petition four years later and argued that it did not have the authority to regulate greenhouse gases. The agency further asserted that even if it did have such authority, it still might refuse to act because the linkages between greenhouse gases and global warming were still scientifically uncertain. In its 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court rebuked the Bush Administration, finding that the EPA had acted illegally and had violated the Clean Air Act. In a press release issued by the International Center for Technology Assessment, legal director Joseph Mendelson stated “The Court recognized that the debate over global warming has ended and that states and individuals are suffering from global warming injuries and impacts right now.” The decision is being hailed as a landmark environmental ruling.

Survey Shows Majority of Michigan Autoworkers Favor Auto Fuel-Efficiency

On February 28, 2007, the Civil Society Institute (CSI) and 40MPG.org released new research that showed that 67% of Michigan autoworkers agreed with the statement that Washington could “help U.S. automakers be more competitive by increasing the federal fuel-efficiency standard to 40 miles per gallon.” The survey of Michigan residents conducted for CSI by Opinion Research Corporation (ORC) also found that 84% of Michigan residents agreed that the U.S. auto industry was in trouble. When asked to identify the top problems the auto industry was facing, respondents identified the failure of the industry to offer the best technology, including improved fuel efficiency, as the most serious issue. The second highest ranking issue was the over production of fuel-inefficient vehicles, including SUVs. More than half of the respondents strongly agreed that higher federal fuel efficiency standards were needed to reduce dependence on foreign oil, reduce global warming and conserve energy.

The results of this survey were consistent with a prior national survey conducted by ORC for CSI and other CSI/ 40MPG.org research. According to the results of this earlier survey, four out of 5 Americans, including 76% of Republicans and Independents and 86% of Democrats, supported the idea of “Congress taking the lead to achieve the highest possible fuel efficiency as quickly as possible.” While the American public clearly supports the idea of fuel efficient cars, CSI and 40MPG.org’s research illustrates that the number of fuel efficient vehicles (defined as those vehicles with gas mileage of at least 40mpg) dropped from 5 to 2 vehicles between 2005 and 2007. Meanwhile, overseas during the same period, the number of fuel efficient cars available to consumers increased from 86 to 113 demonstrating a clear fuel efficiency gap between U.S. and foreign vehicles. Nearly two thirds of the fuel efficient cars available overseas are produced by U.S. auto manufacturers or foreign manufacturers which do a high volume of sales in the United States. The majority of Americans (88%) felt that U.S. consumers should have access to these vehicles. CSI/40MPG.org’s research indicates that given this support, there is a very large market – 2.5 million U.S. consumers – for these vehicles. While the technology for more fuel efficient cars clearly exists and consumer demand for such vehicles is high, U.S. automakers have failed to adopt different technology. Furthermore, the U.S. government has failed to enact federal fuel efficiency standards that would support its development. With gas pricespredicted to hit nearly $4 a gallon this summer, this reluctance seems all the more troubling.

40 MPG.org is an advocacy campaign to make US motor vehicles more fuel efficient. It is sponsored by The Civil Society Institute, a non profit group that seeks to catalyze public mobilization on important policy issues.

Jumpstart Ford

As part of its mission, Jumpstart Ford works to move the company from its current “worst polluter status” toward acting as a role model in a movement that partners corporations with campaigns and advocacy organizations to achieve a cleaner future for America’s auto manufacturers and consumers.

The campaign’s decision to focus directly on the Ford Corporation rather than on regulatory change follows a trend among environmental and public health advocates, but the campaign is by no means soft in its demands, which include pressuring Ford to produce a fleet of cars and SUVs that average 50 mpg by 2010 and zero emissions by 2020.  In the summer of 2006, the campaign’s website reported new blockades at Ford mega dealerships in Ft. Lauderdale and Los Angeles, as well as the founding of a summer “Freedom from Oil Action camp” which taught new activists the ins and outs of targeting the automobile industry for change in the interest of public and environmental health and safety.  Jumpstart Ford sees America’s oil dependence not only as a threat to human and environmental health, but also as a threat to national security.
During the November 2006 midterm elections, many candidates ran on a platform of lowering America’s dependence on foreign oil, thereby strengthening domestic security.  Given the frequency with which this platform was presented, Jumpstart Ford’s strategy of focusing on public and environmental health, safety and national security, is poised to have more impact on Ford Motor Company’s practices in the near future.

Auto Asthma Index

A tool launched by The Environmental Working Group’s [EWG] that allows consumers and public health advocates to compare the asthma-causing emissionsof automobiles by manufacturer, make, year and model.