I would like to read the study Alwyn (26/1/12) refers to that suggested a 1960 Morris Minor may be a better environmental option than a hybrid vehicle. I have found a 1960 Morris Minor for sale in Hawkes Bay for $120. It has no WOF or Registration but is “good for parts”.

Of course the most environmentally-friendly option is to not use a car.

In 1994 I read a paper entitled “The Environmental Consequences of Having a Baby in the United States” by Charles A.S. Hall, et al. (State University of New York).

The study calculated that over their lifetime the average person (based on 1994 consumption rates in the USA) uses around 3,103 tons of glass, 3,288 tons of metal, 2,697 tons of plastic, 1,034 tons of rubber, 1,870 barrels of oil, 233 tons of coal, 370kg of lead, 26,187kg of cement, 4,238kg of nitrogen, 5,151kg sweeteners, 347kg coffee, 1,654 chickens. Each person is responsible for the loss of just under one hectare of indigenous forest, 5,430kg of fertiliser and 119kg of pesticide.

The authors concluded that many people are looking for ways they can protect the environment for the sake of future generations and no doubt controversially recommended that the most effective decision an individual can make to protect the planet is to abstain from making another human being.

The waste management hierarchy of: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle – expresses the order of importance of these ideas and practices. So it would be reduce the demand for vehicles as the first priority, repair and reuse existing ones, and recycle the components as much as possible. Perhaps a fourth step is ‘rethink’ the way we create and consume.

In 2007 a report was published by CNW Marketing Research, Inc., entitled “Dust to Dust: The Energy Cost of New Vehicles From Concept to Disposal.” It was said to measure in dollars and cents all the energy used in creating, building, operating and disposing of each vehicle over its entire lifetime. The report gained worldwide media and consumer attention, mostly because it concluded a Hummer H3 was a better option than the Toyota Prius. The report was quickly discredited after its calculations and claims were proven from a wide range of sources to be completely false and misleading at best (for example the paper “Dust to Dust Report Misleads the Media and Public with Bad Science” by Dr Peter H. Gleick, Pacific Institute, 2007).

Contrary to ‘facts’ in ‘an American survey’ quoted by Alwyn, last year the US Consumers Union tested a 2002 Prius that had done over 300,000km and compared it to the test they had done 10 years earlier on a Prius with only 3,000km on the clock. The report concluded that the effectiveness of the battery has not degraded over the long run. Hybrid batteries are no worse for the environment than the batteries in every traditional motor vehicle. All the hybrids on the market use NiMH batteries, which contain no heavy metals (so they’re not classified as hazardous waste unlike Lead-Acid batteries) and are more easily recycled than alternatives. And I’m not sure where the ‘survey’ authors got their prices from but in the unlikely event of needing a replacement battery they cost about $2,000.

Alwyn is correct that a battery probably uses more energy and resources to produce than a fuel tank. But while numerous reputable studies suggest hybrids are better than traditional cars, when we take into account the energy and resources associated with all the transport and infrastructure costs of cars, it seems the only option will eventually be learning to live without them again.

4 responses to “End of the Road?”

  1. David Tawhai-Bodsworth Avatar

    Hybrid vehicles are great but unfortunately out of the reach (currently) of most middle income and below households. The main focus of most people is either paying off the mortgage (or making their rent payments) and thus keeping their jops while still feeding and clothing and supplying the whanau with the basics. I guess a start for people is to reduce to one car, use it sparingly, and where its available, use public transport.

    What does get to me sometimes is that there is this movement to move to alternative power generation (which I support) but in the minds of some the underlying objective is to maintain our current (western mainly) high consumption based lifestyles. It requires a cultural change or shift in our mindset (says he with a 42 LED Tv!!).

    I support the introduction of consumption based taxes regimes on households and businesses – gst is not the answer get rid of it. The taxes should target over consumption eg. large Mc Mansions houses, ownership of multiple goods e.g. more than one car, tv etc. Similar regimes have been introduced overseas so they are not new to the planet. Carbon tax on heavy polluters should be greatly increased to penalise and to divert funds to alternative power generation development and implementation. The current EST is a joke and a scam for multinational pulluters to maintain pollution while increasing emissions. Better to reduce our carbon footprint than to lose much of the planet we love.

    1. Admin Avatar

      Great comments David – I would add that a secondhand Prius is no more than the equivalent petrol car these days. I got mine for $7,000 three years ago and would sell it for $4,000 now. A lot of people I know spend a lot more on a secondhand car still. I agree with the need to reduce our overall energy consumption, particularly in (over)developed countries – unfortunately the dominant growth paradigm is still too pervasive for the majority of citizens to take a sufficiency paradigm seriously.

  2. Don Miller Avatar
    Don Miller

    Rather than having educational tours to developed countries I would suggest that some staff and councillors should travel (at their own expense!) to see how low carbon consuming cultures cope. Despite sometimes being under oppressive regimes these people still live, laugh and bring up their families while making minimal impact on the earth. No cars, few tractors but lots of draft animals.

    Using the scientific knowledge we now have, their lives can be improved while still keeping within their low carbon budget. Meanwhile we could learn that it will not be the end of our world if we reduce our carbon footprint – although it could well be the end of all we cherish if we don’t.

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