Sunday, October 04, 2009

Nothing new
about an
environment crisis

I am just old enough to have been on this earth during the first of what have been three main post-war envirmonmental awareness surges.

The Suez crisis of 1956 shut the eponymous canal and created a significant oil shortage - leading to the return of petrol rationing. The public probably for the first time began to appreciate the unsustainable rate at which we were consuming the earths resources, at least in Europe. Consumers reacted by buying smaller, more economical cars - a market dominated by German car manufacturers like Isetta and BMW, and this ultimately led to the design of the British Motor Company Mini and other super economy cars like the Renault 4.

In 1973 the oil crisis led to another step-change in consumer behaviour when war in the Middle East caused a slump in supply and a quadrupling of the oil price by the Arabs.

This created a huge boost to demand for super economical cars and electric vehicles which, although failing to create an all electric future as some had thought, did cause car manufacturers to place fuel economy at the top of the design criteria for new models - where it remains to this day.

And now we have entered the third phase of consumer awareness - this time mostly brought on by the growing concern about the possibility of man-made global warming, allied to a huge increase in the real price of oil.

And as a direct result, consumer habits -including mine- are changing. Yesterday I joined a growing list of others when I part exchanged my comfortable, fast, quiet and very luxurious Mercedes for the worlds most economical and least environmentally harmful volume manufactured car, a Smart Diesel.

I know lots of other people are doing the same thing because the dealer made quite clear that demand for my old large car was close to zero, as was its resale value!

Powered by the worlds smallest and most efficient diesel engine the Smart Car is proof that the internal combustion engine has a role to play in future personal transport. 85mpg and less than 88kg/km means that my energy use and emissions will reduce by over 80% without the need for expensive and heavy batteries, without having to plunder the world for rare metals and without needing to create new power stations to charge up an electric car.

I was pleasantly surprised at how little comfort I was sacrificing actually, the car is beautifully made, well equipped, as quiet and comfortable as a far larger car and although expensive compared to other small cars, cheap when you take it's good resale value into account.

90% of my journeys are made alone, we still have Karens five door Daihatsu for the (increasingly rare) family trips we make and so I felt losing rear seats was a worthwhile trade for increased economy.

I didn't take up the scrappage scheme (my Mercedes will go to a new owner, presumably someone who does a low mileage!) and I did not need a state hand out to persuade me to do this, although the zero car tax is a welcome plus.

There is a waiting list for delivery so I have about a month before my new transport arrives, I will keep you posted as to have it works out in practice.

I am still not convinced about Global Warming, by the way. But I am and always have been convinced that wasting resources is irresponsible - we do have a duty to make what we have go as far as possible.

I should add my kids say it's because I am a skinflint.

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