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New Year Solutions: Cars

January 2019 by Georgia Gage

We are writing a review of Jo Fidgen’s podcast on BBC 4, New Year Solutions in which Joe “tackles the ways in which ordinary people can make a difference”. This episode tackled cars and you can listen to it here.

Cars. Everybody knows cars are bad. They make us fatter and they pollute the air we breathe which in turn makes us sick (especially children). Not to mention the never-ending expense of owning a car.

The average UK citizen has a carbon footprint of 10 tonnes per year; driving makes up one-sixth of this. However, it’s surprising to learn that only half of the carbon footprint of a car is from exhaust fumes. The next largest chunk of carbon comes from manufacturing the car.

The carbon footprint of a new car:

6 tonnes CO2 (carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas): Citroen C1, basic spec

17 tonnes CO2: Ford Mondeo, medium spec

35 tonnes CO2: Land Rover Discovery, top of the range [1]

The ultimate solution is to forego the car and cycle or walk. There are countless mental and physical health benefits associated with active travel and you will save yourself a fair penny. After active travel, public transport has a much smaller carbon footprint per person than private cars and is perfect for quick trips to town.

Baby Steps

Perhaps you’re not quite ready to say goodbye to your four-wheeled friend (or fiend) so here are some baby steps you can take to reduce the emissions of driving.

The UK guzzles 46 billion litres of petrol and diesel on roads each year. This is the equivalent of four brimming bathtubs of fuel for every man, woman and child in the UK. Leaving the car at home one day a week would save half a bath-tub of fuel per year.

How about taking it slower? Life is rushed and it’s not very relaxing. Reducing your speed will reduce your carbon emissions. Driving at 50 mph instead of 70 mph cuts your carbon footprint by a third and will only add a small amount of time to your journey.

Fill up your car with people. This takes cars off the road and reduces the carbon footprint per person. It’s also sociable and reduces the total cost.

Car shares and car clubs are perfect for those who only need to drive occasionally and are often cheaper than owning a car.

If you can afford it, buy an electric or hybrid car. 2040 heralds the ban on new sale petrol and diesel cars in the UK. If you buy a new petrol or diesel car in 2019 it will be increasingly difficult to sell it on as we approach the transition in 2040.

The Tipping Point

Yes. We all know cars are bad and many of us dream of a time when kids played in the streets and postmen road around on bicycles.  So why do we find it so hard to give them up? 75% of households in the UK own at least one car. Mike Burners-Lee (Author of How Bad Are Bananas: A Carbon Footprint of Everything) suggests there is a tipping point; if more than 50% of a population own a car it becomes more difficult not to own a car. He gives this apt example. A parent is asked why they drive their child to school. The parent replies that they would rather not drive their child to school but there are no other children to walk with (they are all being driven) and it’s not safe to walk because there are too many cars.

James Evans (Professor of Geography at The University of Manchester, and Sustainable Cities Specialist) shares his experience of getting rid of his car. Friends and colleagues could not understand why he did not own a car. He has a good job, he is wearing nice clothes, he has a nice house, why doesn’t he own a car? James points out that a car, in this society, is a glowing symbol of success and can represent your social status. If we want to move away from private car ownership, we need to de-couple achievement and car ownership.

One last parting fact from James: if you spend more than 3 hours commuting by car, you are twice as likely to get divorced (causation or correlation yet to be determined but the fact still stands).

Let’s leave the car at home.


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