Tuesday, April 25, 2006

two wheels good, four wheels bad

Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger's written a piece about how great his electric car is.

Having had an accident on his bike he wanted to find another way to get to work. He dismissed public transport and walking as too lengthy, and admits to feeling 'just possibly a teeny bit smug' at deciding on the electric car. It is described as 'emission free' and 'carbon neutral'.

Even ignoring all the resources used to manufacture the car and ship it halfway round the world to Mr Rusbridger, neither claim is true.

It is emission free when you look at the vehicle itself, but that's only because they've been shifted from exhaust pipe to power station. The climate does not care where we emit, only that we do.

It is rather like people in London believing smokeless fuel is clean because they don't see the factory in Abercwmboi spewing out filth so bad that villagers can't hang washing out and the trees are black.

Powered by electricity from the national grid, his car is not carbon neutral. It is predominantly fuelled by coal and gas, with a significant portion from nuclear and a smidgen of renewables.

Of course, if the national grid took more electricity from renewable sources it would make the would make the car greener, but as such sources cannot ever meet a majority of our domestic and industrial needs, they won't fuel the additional demand of our vehicle fleet. More vehicle use means more fossil fuels burnt whichever way you look at it.

If he's going to be honest with himself, he - like anyone who uses motorised personal transport - has to accept that his preferred commuting time is either impossible or unsustainable.

1 comment:

Jim Bliss said...

Actually, I'd hazard a guess that his "preferred commuting time" could be sustained, and even reduced, if he used an efficient public transport system that didn't need to share the roads with private cars. The vast majority of commuter traffic is cars occupied by a single person. So in theory you could reduce the number of commuter vehicles by a factor of 80 just by putting all those drivers into bog-standard Dublin doubledecker buses.

And of course, if you decided to get creative with trams and urban light rail systems, you could phase out lots of those buses too. That's without a planned system of localisation, so that overall fewer people need to travel and the distances they travel are shorter.

As I've said before (many times), there's no engineering obstacle to a sustainable infrastructure. It just requires people to accept a different way of life. And do it far enough in advance to implement the solutions.

And they all lived happily ever after.