High Speed Rail Won’t Impact Climate Change

by Marc Joffe, California Policy Center,  1/24/17

According to the high speed rail authority’s website, the bullet train is expected to reduce CO2 emissions by just over one million metric tons annually by 2040. This reduction is supposed to be achieved by replacing almost 10 million miles of motor vehicle travel each day, and eliminating between 93 and 171 daily flights. But these HSR projections have two fatal flaws: they are based on unrealistically high ridership estimates and they fail to take into account the transition to hybrid and plug-in electric cars. If HSR’s numbers are adjusted to take these factors into account, the project’s emission savings turn out to be much less. Further, they won’t have a meaningful impact on climate change.

HSR’s Environmental Impact Report used EMFAC2007 to estimate emission savings. EMFAC2007 is an emission model published by the California Air Resources Board ten years ago.  It has since been superseded by new versions released in 2011 and 2014. The EMFAC web page specifically states: “Do not use EMFAC 2007 for new studies.”…

Even in the extremely unlike event that HSR’s one million metric ton annual emission savings estimate were to be realized, it wouldn’t have a significant impact on global warming. According to EPA figures, global CO2 emissions total 9449 metric tons in 2011. Assuming this level remains constant and that HSR’s estimates are correct, the project would only reduce global emissions by about 0.01%. And, based on the evidence provided above, it is safe to assume that the real savings will be a small fraction of this figure…

A fair rejoinder is that even though nothing California does by itself will significantly move the dial on global emissions, the example we set for the result of the world is more important. If an affluent economy like ours’ can’t get emissions under control, how can we expect others to do so. But if we want to set an example, shouldn’t we do so in a cost-effective manner? Spending $64 billion to achieve minimal emission savings does not set a good example. Undoubtedly, there are ways to make steeper reductions in emissions at lower cost… (more)

Marc Joffe is the director of policy research for the California Policy Center.

Always looking for scientific analysis and opinions on these matters.

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