A view from the cycle path)
Saturday, 9 September 2017
Business as usual by driving a “Green car” vs. actually using a genuinely clean and green mode of transport
In the late 80s I worked as a contract software engineer and lived as a sort of a self-propelled technological vagrant. I had never had an interest in cars and wouldn’t learn to drive for several more years so all my travel was by public transport, by bicycle or by foot. Many people thought this an unusual choice, but I managed to make my way with an ancient laptop computer and portable stereo to wherever I had work to do.
|2017: Car companies have never shied away from claiming
that their product is “green”, but actually cars are anything
but a “green” product. Similarly, this sign claims that a
product which kills over a million people every year is “safe”.
For a few months I worked off and on at a location in South London where I found accommodation in a local family’s spare room. It was just as well that I didn’t drive as there would have been nowhere to park a car, Mum, Dad and both their sons had cars so the driveway and the road outside were already full. They were sociable people and there were often conversations over breakfast, often concerning annoyance with traffic jams and the cost of fuel. One morning my landlady told me that it was going to be expensive but because she was so concerned about the environment she was buying a new “green” car (she used the word “green”).
It seemed to me that the problem with that area was that is was dominated by cars. I couldn’t see how changing from one model of car to another was going to achieve any sort of transformation (I think I’ve been proven to be right as it’s still dominated by cars, just like the rest of London). I pointed out that building a new car costs in lot of energy and resources and that therefore keeping an older model going for a few more years would quite possibly have a lower environmental impact than changing prematurely to a new one. I also pointed out that the new car would burn fossil fuels at much the same rate as her old car so those gains would be marginal at best. But it was too late for any of this as the marketing people’s work had been done and a mind had been made up: My temporary landlady was convinced that new technology made the new car so much better than the old so she was buying one. What was this new technology ? It was merely that the new vehicle could (optionally) run on unleaded petrol.
I was a guest in someone else’s home and I left it at that, but this thought always stayed with me: Marketing works. A very pleasant woman had been convinced to part with a lot of money to buy a new “green” car because she thought it would allow driving with a clean conscience, in addition to it being a nice thing to show off to her friends. Of course she was far from the only one convinced: Many millions of people have since followed the same path.
Now it’s a good thing that lead was removed from automotive fuels. The entire planet was being contaminated with lead from the exhausts of cars and this was especially concentrated in cities and alongside busy roads where many people lived. The result of lead pollution included lowered intelligence and higher crime rates. But could a car modified only so that it could run on lead free fuel be said to be “green” ? Surely not. Hardening valve seats to allow use of unleaded fuel was a relatively inexpensive development which allowed for a new model year of car to be produced, distinct from the old, but it was really just the smallest improvement which the manufacturers could make when faced with possible legislation against them. The greater problems with cars had not been tackled – new cars burnt just as much fuel as the old and carbon emissions were therefore the same. The “green” marketing served its purpose in that it extracted money from customers’ bank accounts and sold more cars, but it did nothing for the environment.