Citation: Sharon Beder, 'Can we trust big business', Canberra Times, 13 January 2006, p. 15.

This is a final version submitted for publication. Minor editorial changes may have subsequently been made.

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GOVERNMENT leaders meeting in Sydney to discuss climate change say we can trust big business to reduce greenhouse gases without regulations or binding targets. This is more a declaration of surrender than a demonstration of trust. The genuine commitment of big business is belied by its recent history of denying problems such as global warming and opposing fuel efficiency standards.

Take motor vehicle manufacturers as an example. Motor vehicles make a significant contribution to greenhouse gases and therefore global warming. Yet the response of car makers to a Californian plan to require greenhouse gas emissions from cars to be reduced by 25 percent by 2012 was to threaten to sue the government - even though the cost of meeting these measures is only around $300 per vehicle. Various front groups have been formed by big oil, coal and car companies to oppose measures to prevent global warming.

Perhaps the most well known was the Global Climate Coalition, a coalition of 50 US trade associations and private companies representing oil, gas, coal, automobile and chemical companies and trade associations. It spent millions of dollars in its campaign to persuade the public and governments that global warming was not a real threat. It was only when Coalition activities began receiving unwanted publicity in 1997 that corporations began to pull out, fearing for their reputations.

The Coalition for Vehicle Choice was established by the Motor Vehicle Manufacturers of America to fight standards for fuel consumption in new cars. It was also part of the lobbying effort to undermine the Kyoto protocol during the 1990s. Its members include a variety of automobile manufacturers associations, motorists associations, and business groups. It has received funds from car manufacturers including Ford, GM and Chrysler.

Motor vehicle manufacturers have long waged a campaign against proposed regulations aimed at enforcing greater fuel efficiency in new cars. The Unions of Concerned Scientists claims the car companies have the technology to improve their fuel economy of passenger cars but have instead prioritised increasing size and power. This is because there are higher profits to be made on large, powerful cars than on small, more fuel-efficient cars.

When a bill was introduced into US Congress in 2002 proposing fuel efficiency standards be improved, General Motors vice president, Guy Briggs, said none of GM's pickups, vans or sports utility vehicles would be able to meet them and it would be better to encourage alternative fuels and car engines, such as hybrid electric or fuel cell vehicles, with tax incentives paid to customers.

In 1990 the California Air Resources Board ruled that 10 per cent of new cars in 2004 would have to be non-polluting. This would have amounted to some 100,000 cars, particularly electric vehicles. However, the quota has been fought and eroded by car makers ever since and in 2003 the regulation was revised to require tens of thousands of gas-electric hybrids and 250 hydrogen fuel cell vehicles by 2008 and 2500 by 2011.

Various studies have been done to show that tightened vehicle fuel efficiency standards would create jobs and save money whilst also reducing emissions. When big business opposes such benign token measures, there is little reason to trust them to voluntarily put in place effective measures to prevent global warming any time soon.