"Cash for clunkers" could have the same effect on global warming pollution as shutting down the entire country — every automobile, every factory, every power plant — for an hour per year
. That could rise to three hours if the program is extended by Congress and remains as popular as it is now.
Climate experts aren't impressed.
Compared to overall carbon dioxide emissions in the United States, the pollution savings from cash for clunkers do not noticeably move the fuel gauge. Environmental experts say the program — conceived primarily to stimulate the economy and jump-start the auto industry — is not an effective way to attack climate change
"As a carbon dioxide policy, this is a terribly wasteful thing to do
," said Henry Jacoby, a professor of management and co-director of the Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change at MIT. "The amount of carbon you are saving per federal expenditure is very, very small
Officials expect a quarter-million gas guzzlers will be junked under the original $1 billion set aside by Congress — money that is now all but exhausted.
Calculations by The Associated Press, using Department of Transportation figure
s, show that replacing those fuel hogs will reduce carbon dioxide emissions by just under 700,000 tons a year. While that may sound impressive, it's nothing compared to what the U.S. spewed last year: nearly 6.4 billion tons (and that was down from previous years).
That means on average, every hour, America emits 728,000 tons of carbon dioxide. The total savings per year from cash for clunkers translates to about 57 minutes of America's output of the chief greenhouse gas
Likewise, America will be using nearly 72 million fewer gallons of gasoline a year because of the program, based on the first quarter-million vehicles replaced. U.S. drivers go through that amount of gas every 4 1/2 hours, according to the Department of Energy