green your transport

Submitted by sproutingforth on Wed, 2008-01-16 10:06

It might be a tad wearisome to consistently read ‘don’t own a car’ as one of the major ways in which you can green the planet - and, let’s face it, more than a little unrealistic when it comes to South Africa - but we can start thinking about how we use our car, the type of car we drive, and how to make use of other forms of transport as alternatives to getting around.

Whilst the oil industry continues to fund climate change ‘denial’ [guardian] , so that we continue filling our cars with petrol in a clear dismissal of climate change, we have two things to consider. One, the petrol price will continue going up and up, together with the price of food [tralac] with a resultant drop in the popularity of big cars [stuff.co.nz], and two, carbon dioxide remains one of the major contributing factors to climate change.

The stats:

  • In just 200 years, the amount of co2 in the atmosphere has increased by 30%
  • CO2 is the primary contributing factor to climate change. It accounts for 84% of greenhouse gas emissions in California
  • The fastest growing source of carbon dioxide in Britain is transport, its emissions increased by 50% between 1990 and 2002 [bbc]
  • US reliance on foreign oil would decrease by 40% if one in ten Americans used public transport on a daily basis
  • 18% of all carbon dioxide emissions in Canada come from on road vehicles [drivewiser] (and they have public transport, think what it is in SA!)
  • driving a car contributes ¼ of your personal carbon dioxide emissions total in the UK [taking it seriously]

Alternatives to the gas guzzler (aka 4x4)
A youtube video doing the rounds suggests that it’s all very well aspiring to new hybrid vehicles like the Toyota Prius [wiki] (and arguably, these do have a place for those who want to buy a new car) as the ‘hip’ substitute for the gas guzzler that dominates our roads at the moment, but it’s had a bit of bad press lately for overstating its green claims. [guardian] [fox] On a recent list of the greenest cars on the road from Cardiff University, Prius limped in at #12 – beaten by both Mini Cooper D and the Toyota Yaris, and there isn’t a hybrid in sight in the top 10! [autocar]

It’s the small, light cars that top the list of environmentally friendly cars – first and second place were both snapped up by Smart – the Roadster and the Fortwo cabriolet. Other winners are the Citroen C1 1.0i, the Peugeot 107 1.0i and the Panda 1.2 Dualogic. And forget the BMW hydrogen fuelled car – it places more strain on the environment than a heavy diesel truck! [spiegel.de]

There’s more logic then in buying a good second-hand car as a green alternative, mainly because you save on the manufacture of a new car. Obviously this needs some qualifying: buying a second-hand V8 chevy doesn’t make the green grade. A recent 1400 mazda or golf with a solid history and in good working order does.

If the government does as it has threatened, we could see a ‘green tax’ or levy of between 2%-33% of the selling price of new cars, based on their size. And an additional 20% could be charged on all 4x4s. [fin24.co.za]

The electric bicycle and scooter
There are other alternatives in the market. Electric scooters and bicycles are fast undergoing something of a revolution and, road safety aside, make absolute sense in the South African market as we travel distances that ordinary bicycles aren’t always capable of. eZee bikes SA look like conventional bicycles but are fitted with an electric motor, battery and controller system. The bonus is that you don’t need a vehicle registration or driver’s license to man these. Flexible Energy Solutions sell the award winning EGO Helio, an electric bicycle that is incredibly easy on the eye, comes in various colours and gives you ‘hustle without the guzzle’. BEN bikes, whose main mission is to alleviate poverty by promoting environmentally sustainable transport via the bicycle, import bikes for sale and lobby for safe bike paths.

When driving is still green
Our single occupancy driving habits are unsustainable. By sharing your car with others in a lift scheme or car pool, you spend less on petrol and parking. Sharing a ride saves on traffic congestion, reduces stress, and saves the planet! Roads in Gauteng and Cape Town already make use of high occupancy vehicle lanes (HOV) for use during rush hour, which means you could get to work faster (the lanes are for vehicles - cars, minivans, pickup trucks, taxis and buses - travelling with three or more people). [m&g] [carfreeday]

The government plans to cut rush-hour traffic in South Africa’s big cities by at least 20% in the next three years, and part of this plan is future steps to discourage “single-occupancy vehicles”. [news24] In New York a Clean Pass pilot programme allows low-emission, energy-efficient vehicles to use HOV lanes regardless of the number of occupants in the vehicle. The projected results include an estimated reduction of 6000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions and a saving of over 500 000 gallons of petrol! [networkwomen] [urban sprout for car pools and green cars]

Biofuels – the way forward or a threat to our food supply? The dash for biofuels [wiki] is due to the sharp rise in oil prices and the threat of climate change. But did you know:

  • that the corn required to fill one 4X4 tank with bioethanol just once could feed one person for an entire year [gmfreeireland – running on hype]
  • that it takes more energy to produce 1 litre of biofuels than the energy that is given by that same litre [treehugger]
  • the demand last year for corn to produce ethanol caused an increase in the price of this crop, and pig farmers noted the rising cost of grain needed to make feed (soy, corn & barley) along with rising costs of rice and wheat
  • that the World Bank’s latest Word Development Report urges developing countries considering expansionary biofuels strategies to proceed with circumspection, warning that the potential conflict between food and fuel is real
  • that our ever-increasing conversion of larger tracts of forest to cropland for the growing of crops for biofuels is not worth it [treehugger] - no amount of biofuels can ever offset the environmental damage caused by the cutting down of forests to grow more crops
  • and that biofuels are not the solution to our energy problems – recent figures show that if high-yield bio-energy crops were grown on all the farmland on earth, the resulting fuel would account for only 20% of our current demand! [theecologist]

A scenario in case: The average US car, travelling 10 000 miles a year on pure ethanol would need about 852 gallons of the corn-based fuel. This would take 11 acres to grow, based on net ethanol production. This is the same amount of cropland required to feed seven Americans. If all the cars in the US were fuelled with 100% ethanol, a total of about 97% of US land area would be needed to grow the corn feedstock. Corn would cover nearly the total land area of the US. [news.cornell.edu]

What’s SA’s take on biofuel?
In the announcement of its biofuels industrial strategy in early December 2007, the South Africa department of minerals and energy excluded maize as a biofuel feedstock, citing concerns that the inclusion of the crop would compromise food security and inflate already high maize prices. And minerals and energy minister Buyelwa Sonjica chopped biofuel production targets from 4.5% of the country’s fuel pool to a conservative 2%. However, it appears that the government is prepared to reconsider its wisdom at excluding maize! [busrep]

Must Reads:
Biofuel production and the threat to South Africa’s food security [wahenga.brief]
greencars blog