Car ownership and the climate

This has been a week of biblical torment, the words of the Gospel nagging every step in what should have been a routine transaction. I bought a new car.

Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye…..

Can those of us who breathe fire and brimstone over the perpetrators of climate change justify scrappage as a new beginning rather than the proper end of car ownership?

In my defence, I did adhere to my green terms and conditions for renewed engagement with the car industry. When I acquired a Ford Fiesta back in the ‘90s, I swore that I would not buy another car until its performance of 40 miles per gallon was doubled.

By the spring of 2009, my motoring days appeared numbered. The sixteen year-old car was diagnosed with terminal cancer of its rusting intestines, and given only months to live. Nothing on the market remotely met my target, not counting those impossibly priced electric vehicles.

I raged at the car industry lobby for its sanctimonious positioning within national pride. Government subsidies worldwide have sustained over-capacity and indulged resistance to carbon efficiency. The lightning advances of digital technology make the combustion engine resemble the 19th century technology that it is.

Then Mercedes introduced the diesel version of the Smart car to the UK market. Its combined fuel cycle promises 83 miles per gallon with CO2 emissions of 89 g/km, streets ahead of the competition.

I was back on the road. But I have to concede that my conscience remains troubled.

My ability to make the purchase was dependent on the UK scrappage scheme about which I wrote disparagingly in these notes only a few months ago.

My annual motoring footprint, even with the Smart’s miserly consumption and my frugal 5,000 miles per year, will be 0.7 tons. Our Climate Change Guide suggests an equitable personal carbon allowance of less than 2 tons. This doesn’t leave me much room for manoevre in my lifestyle.

I’m not even entirely comfortable with my status as a customer of Mercedes. I signed the registration papers at a desk in the vast showroom, encircled by the monstrous hulks for which this marque is best known. This did not convey a message of a company storming the bastions of carbon excess.

The sales pitch for the Smart focused on fuel cost savings and free parking at railway stations. My impression was that climate change is a subject for silence rather than deployment to clinch a deal.

Is the Smart model a token, designed to contribute positively to European regulations for average emissions of a manufacturer’s fleet, the equivalent of Nestlé massaging its reputation with Fairtrade Kit-Kat?

Mercedes would doubtless observe that, if more people expressed interest in its low emissions model, the company would make the purchase price more competitive and crank up production.

I sense an improbable answer to the recent failures of climate change campaigning.

Retrain the protesters as car salesmen.


this article was first published by OneWorld UK