In today’s Ireland, choosing the most efficient and sustainable mode of transport is a tricky business. In an ideal world, most of our needs would be within walking distance and for everything else, a clean, efficient public transport network. However, I think we can all agree that the situation is at best, far from ideal. For those not served by public transport, where walking and cycling is not a practical option, the car remains the most accessible option. For someone looking for more ethical and sustainable motoring the choice is not clear. There are a myriad of options, from hybrid to fully electric, bio-fuel to A-class CO2 ratings and this is before the ethical practices of the manufacturer are considered at all. e.g. Under the present regulations, a new small diesel car with low CO2 emission may come with tax benefits that give it an attractive purchase price and low annual road tax. However, diesels thrive on longer journeys and may suffer mechanical failure much sooner from the short journeys that small cars are typically used for. In addition, their harmful emissions may be higher than the manufacturers quoted figures when used in an urban or suburban environment. One should also consider the embodied energy of the vehicle. Does the purchase of a new “low emission” actually reduce the impact of one’s driving? Perhaps the energy involved in making the new car, along with that used to recycle the old one, eats into this saving significantly.
The option of running on a bio-fuel may seem an obvious solution for cleaner greener motoring but with food shortages affecting millions of people around the world this is a subject of much heated debate. The benefits of producing bio-fuels in an enlightened and sustainable way can be overshadowed by the very general argument that burning food is bad, full stop. One fact rarely mentioned when producing fuel from indigenous oil seed rape is that the fuel is actually a bi-product of the whole process. The main product by volume is a protein rich animal feed. This offsets the need to dedicate land for growing crops for animal feed, in turn freeing up land for human food.
Some might consider the ethics of the car manufacturer as equally or more important than the emissions of their products. Does the company treat its workers well? How much recycled material is in their products? How easily recyclable are their products when they come to the end of their life? Do they operate in countries with oppressive regimes? The deeper you delve the more questions arise. A good resource for finding this information is a website such as www.ethicalconsumer.org It soon becomes apparent that there is no straightforward answer to the enigma of cleaner motoring. The easiest, cheapest and coincidentally greenest thing we can do is think about being more efficient with our use of the car. Steps such as defensive driving, combining journeys and car sharing (www.gocar.ie) can dramatically reduce the cost and impact of our motoring, without having to make drastic lifestyle changes or spend a cent.
By Allen Holman