Monday, 22 September 2008

Giving up the car

I started this blog a year ago with little idea what it would achieve and that's why it didn't achieve much.  This time around, I will try to post regularly and keep it practical so that you may be able to make use of what I have to say.

I have been busily working to cut my family's home energy usage and have now reduced our annual consumption by 30% since 2006.  Some of this required capital outlay - money which came from selling my two year old Civic Type-R.  This pocket rocket was much loved but owning it contradicted everything I believe about sustainability.  Consequently, selling it became a powerful statement of my personal commitment to reduce my own impact on the environment.  In a rare case of economic and environmental coherence, ditching this 200 horsepower runabout saved me at least £2000 a year (insurance, maintenance, tax, fuel and depreciation), cut my carbon footprint by around 4 Tonnes a year and put more than enough cash into the bank to fund my energy efficiency measures at home.  In the interests of transparency, I must add that my family still has the use of my wife's company car at weekends and for holidays.  

I know that my former online buddies at the CTR Owner's Club were unable to take the environment seriously but it's really hard to get your head round the idea that your own lifestyle is the problem!  Nothing is wrong with the CTR in particular, it's a fantastic car.  Like all petrol and diesel engines, however, it emits greenhouse gases whenever you use it.  The emissions per passenger-kilometre depend on driving style and number of people on board.  The incredible performance of the CTR is begging to be used and encourages the driver to adopt a fiery rather than frugal attitude.  It is also rare to see more than one passenger in a CTR and, during the rush-hour, most have no passengers - just a lone driver commuting between work and home.  

The alternatives to driving to and from work are difficult for many people and adopting them takes real courage.  Perhaps we should start by persuading everybody to avoid one day's commute a week - or even a month!  For the record, here are the obvious alternatives:
1) Work from home - using broadband, phone or just catching up on all that reading you're supposed to get through.
2) Share a lift - find out who lives near you and what days it will be convenient for you to pool.
3) Try the public transport options.  No really, they do exist for many of us.
4) If it's within an hour's cycling distance - pedal.  
5) If it's within an hour's walking distance - walk!  (or pedal, it's so easy if it's that close)

Less obvious - and really hard to do - is to face up to the environmental impact of living so far away from your place of work.  Few of us are in a position to trade in our current job for something closer to home - or to 'up sticks' and move closer to the office/ factory / shop, etc.  

The change that will drive us towards more sustainable personal transportation is likely to be painful and unpopular.  It will involve paying the true cost of the energy used and the environmental impact of this usage.   Fuel prices may bring this about, some years after peak oil has been recognised, but that will be too late to start managing down the carbon emissions  of our personal transport choices. 

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