Recent Gallup study to chart American’s feelings about global warming found that 50% are now in the “Concerned Believers” category.

There are two subjects that, when I write about either in this space, I get the greatest amount of agitated reaction to:

  • Fuel economy
  • Environment

This has been the case for many years now, and I don’t suspect that it is going to change anytime soon.  Or anytime late, for that matter.

So, for those of you who prefer not to get worked up, you might as well close the page because I am going to write about the second of the two, the environment.

However, it seems to me that at least in the context of the auto industry, fuel economy and the environment are inextricably linked. And while there is a likelihood that before this gets published there will be some sort of modification to the EPA’s CAFE targets for 2025—and maybe just a shadow of the EPA with all that remains—fuel economy and environmental considerations are going to continue to be a major consideration in the industry if for no other reason that in late March the California Air Resources Board (CARB) unanimously voted to uphold its standards on greenhouse gas emissions and its zero-emission vehicle program for cars and light trucks to 2025.

And lest you sniff at this just being California, know that according to the California New Car Dealers Association, in 2016 they sold 1,927,640 new cars and trucks.  Just to give a sense at how important that market is, realize that the total figure for the U.S. in 2016 was 17.55-million.  And there is a passel of Northeastern states that follow California’s lead. All of which means that regardless of what happens in Washington, California is a market that cannot be overlooked nor underestimated.

In early March, the Gallup organization ran a study to chart American’s feelings about “global warming.” It found that 50 percent of Americans are now in the research firm’s “Concerned Believers” category. It is worth noting that this is a considerable increase over the number that fell into that cohort just two years ago. In 2015 the number was just 37 percent.

There are two other categories: “Mixed Middle” and “Cool Skeptics.” Those who were in the maybe-yes, maybe-no group had once been the largest category, but now it is at number two and falling. It is now at 31 percent, having been at 45 percent five years ago.

The Cool Skeptics are at 19 percent. Down from 26 percent in 2015.

Just because lots of people believe something doesn’t necessarily make it true. If it was just predicated on numbers, then we could conclude, say, that McDonald’s hamburgers are by far the best on the planet: they don’t even keep the running total on their signs anymore.

But what’s troubling is that the divide between the Concerned Believers and the Cool Skeptics is so binary, as shown in the accompanying chart, where three out of four of the items are ranked by the two as either 100 or 0.

Whether you’re skeptical, indifferent or strongly believing, the auto industry is now, and will continue to, go down the path of reducing emissions. There will be better internal combustion engines. Greater levels of electrification, whether this is a hybrid or a fully electric vehicle. Nontraditional fuels, like hydrogen.

One word that tends to get overlooked in the competing rhetoric about global warming is “global.” Given that there is a single atmosphere, this is something of interest and even concern by people around the world. For example, the European Union is calling for a fleet average of 95 g/km of CO2 by 2021. And according to the International Council on Clean Transportation, “The China 6 standard is one of the most stringent emission standards around the world for the post-2020 time frame.”

All of which means, believe it or not, fuel economy and the environment are issues that are going to be with this global industry.