Thursday, June 26, 2008

Green car: a contradiction in terms

Apparently the Environmental Transport Association has just voted the Toyota Yaris as 'Green Car of the Year' ('Transport Group picks Yaris as 'Green Car of the Year'', Bristol Evening Post, 26 June). I'm obviously all in favour of any cars that are used being cleaner and more efficient and so on, as I guess the Toyota Yaris is, given the award, but to call any car green is for me a clear contradiction in terms. Technically advanced the Yaris may be but green it's not. It continues to add to problems but just more slowly than other cars. The (diesel fuelled) Yaris still uses non-renewable, finite fossil fuels (as even hybrid cars which combine electric motor with petrol engine do) and any car mass production means heavy impacts from several massive, global industries (mining, shipping etc...). This means they still generate the gases causing climate change in significant amounts, as well as adding to other social and environmental problems. In addition problems like congestion and parking are nothing to do with efficiency, fuel type or emissions level - they are just about numbers of vehicles and a fast increasing shortage of space. This is something which could get even worse if people feel its even more acceptable to own and drive a car because its cleaner, more fuel-efficient and 'greener'. Such cars might even be driven further or more often!

Use of technical means alone, such as using cleaner cars, will not solve our problems and cant be seen as green. History shows that massive growth in car use, encouraged by the technical advance and socio-economic/political context, has easily outstripped any efficiency gains. Technical advance has so far primarily brought cars with improved performance rather than maximising efficiency because people aren't yet prioritising it enough, though this may now begin to change with soaring oil prices. To solve our problems we need to combine technical advance with changes in culture, attitudes and behaviour, which means a whole range of social, economic and political changes, as I try to describe and explain throughout this site.