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Talk about Newsnight

Ethical Man - Justin Rowlatt

A hybrid world

  • Justin Rowlatt -
  • 14 Aug 06, 02:40 PM

ethicalfamilycar203.jpgWell my colleague Paul Mason couldn't have been more frank about the difference between a blog and a diary. He says it is that "people who think you are an a*****e can say so immediately and have it hosted by the BBC!". Quite an opportunity, I'd have thought.

So I was pretty pleased with my first haul. Most of my correspondents seemed to look fairly favourably on my ethical endeavours. Even my very first respondee, Kate, who wrote to tell me "this "ethical man" crap has to be one of the worst ideas newsnight (sic) has ever had" - rather paradoxically concluded her message by wishing me good luck with the blog.

So here's another one of my ethical confessions...

I've made quite a do about giving up my car for the project and yet as SPL noticed I said in my report on the Big Green Gathering that I drove to the festival. As SPL says "something smells fishy - and not just your compost heap."

So here's the mea culpa. We did indeed drive to the festival. The Big Green Gathering is scattered across some fields in the soft Somerset hills and is a good few miles from the nearest town. The event lays on buses from the station but with two toddlers and a two month old baby we can’t travel light. Bee and I reckoned we were justified in hiring a car.

My first thought was to get a hybrid car. Wouldn’t this be the ideal opportunity to test one out? The problem is the only hybrid that might pack us all in is a Toyota Lexus. It is an SUV but uses hybrid technology. In fact, it’s the car that David Cameron uses. It had to be the most ethical option, surely.

avensis203b.jpgI couldn’t find a rental company that stocks the Lexus so I decide to try Toyota themselves. But when I called they didn't seem keen to help me get back behind the wheel. “You’d be better off with the diesel Avensis Estate”, Alan in the press office tells me, “it will give you up to 45 miles to the gallon on long journeys. The Lexus is based on a 3.3 litre V6 engine,” he explains, “You might get as much as 30 miles to the gallon in town but if you are driving on motorways a diesel would be better.”

For all warm words we hear about hybrid technology it clearly has its limitations – certainly when it’s used in a big four wheel drive SUV, as Toyota seem to acknowledge.

Instead we hired a roomy, cheap and fuel efficient 1.6 litre Vauxhall instead. Meanwhile my car is still gathering dust in a car park.

I don't think I am cheating on the project. When I gave up the car I said the idea was to see how the family got on without one. We said we would look at what alternatives to car ownership there are and hiring a car is one of them.

Of course, if you think I am being an a*****e feel free to use the box below to tell me and - yes - the BBC will publish your reply (so long as it is not too obscene).


Comments  Post your comment

Hey Justin,
I, perhaps for one, certainly don't think Ethical Man is the worst idea Newsnight has ever had!!

Infact, it's the only bit of the RSS feed I want to read... But there's only a feed for the whole "Talk about Newsnight" crew...

Do you know if I can get a seperate feed?

Cheers!

I think The Ethical Man is great. But the part of going without an auto is going a bit too far.

  • 3.
  • At 05:26 PM on 14 Aug 2006,
  • Ian Downing wrote:

Shouldn't this be ****** not *****?

  • 4.
  • At 05:33 PM on 14 Aug 2006,
  • kate wrote:

oh dear i seem to have touched a nerve (and on the main BBC editors' blog too, i note). i do hope my frank comment didn't cause too much excitement in the Newsnight office. sorry for wounded feelings but i do honestly believe this isn't the kind of thing that Newsnight's remit should cover.

  • 5.
  • At 06:47 PM on 14 Aug 2006,
  • J.G. wrote:

Hi Justin, I think you’re ‘being an a*****e’.

So, you have given up your car have you. Except for those times when you need one? Do you not see the hypocrisy here?

My main point however, is to do with the whole thrust of your so called ‘Ethic Man’ project. Whose ethics? I drive a car, am I unethical? The BBC seems to have come to a decision that the only ethical lifestyle is that proposed by green, sandal wearing Guardian reading left-wingers.

  • 6.
  • At 11:40 PM on 14 Aug 2006,
  • Hugh Waldock wrote:

I have the greatest amount of sympathy with you. It certainly can´t be easy being green, especially if your heart´s not really in it and the whole family has to suffer simply because of your job.

I´d be inclined to hire the wonderful toyota diesel estate for the year and get them to allow you to spray it green and perhaps paint a few flower power sunflowers on it together with the slogan "PM´s green machine!"

As I wrote on my blog, I think it's very ethical indeed for Justin to respond so candidly. As he correctly says, renting a car is an environmentally friendly option when other green avenues have been exhausted.

Keep it up, Justin - Lexus or no Lexus.

  • 8.
  • At 09:02 AM on 15 Aug 2006,
  • Ashley Ballard wrote:

I live on a main road and I often see people go past on horses with a little cart here in Lancashire. Surely two would have more than enough space for the whole Ethical Family, and costs wouldn't be too bad if you were only hiring.

I'm concerned that Justin may be placing less emphasis on overcoming difficulties ethically and more on testing out new-fangled gizmos.

Can I suggest viewing the South Park hybrid car (season 10 episode 2) story "Smug Alert!"?

Dear Justin,

Well done for taking up the baton to help bring a little green re-education to the nation....but can't you pack a bit more in love!

There are thousands of people who want to 'lean towards the green' and make more ethical shopping decisions on everything from vehicles to eco balls and you have a perfect platform to get the message across.

We need to take the 'freaky out of eco' and present easy to digest facts. People want to know the ups and downs of it all too, particularly when it relates to high cost spending options like car purchase.

I managed to get Toyota to part with a test drive hybrid recently and was overall very impressed. I got the 3 kids in, shopping and usual family crud and was able to flick a switch to 'EV' (electric vehicle) when I hit the pedestrian filled busy streets and school areas.

The downside was that with almost a zero noise emission, people jumped out of their socks as you cruised quietly by... Comparing the cost of other similar sized cars, it came out aprox 1.5k higher. No doubt, prices will come down as more are bought and one day, I am sure it will be quite the norm, but we have a long way to go before then.

So, use your time on the box and your blog to best use fella! List your findings, comparisons, ups and downs and help us all through this important transition.

Get Janie Lee Grace on and Penney Poyzer too - they will put you on the right green track...

  • 11.
  • At 05:32 PM on 15 Aug 2006,
  • James Southorn wrote:

Justin, I applaud your efforts however after much thought have decided to go the Mercedes S500 route, very fast, 5 litre engine, and has beaten the Toyota Prius by being the first car in the World to win and environemental certificate (ref http://www.schwab-kolb.com/daimler/en/dc000227.htm). My advice is to go out and buy yourself a really big fun car then concentrate your efforts on saving the environment by raising awareness of Global Warming in China and India - that's where the really big damage is about to start ?

  • 12.
  • At 09:53 AM on 16 Aug 2006,
  • Kris wrote:

Hi Justin,

I’d like to echo some previous comments in saying I’ve really enjoyed Ethical Man… but driving a hire car to a green festival is not cheating? Who are you kidding? (Does this make you a *****, or even a ******?)

This well illustrates that not everything green can be painted in black and white, and almost any effort of this nature will inevitably be an exercise in compromise.

For those who wish to try, it does seem possible to exist in an urban situation without owning a car, but when it comes to needing one it would be nice to have the salary or expense account to enjoy when necessary the option of getting one on demand.

As a countryside homeworker I guess I could use public transport. However I am not sure how long I could sustain bearing the costs, especially those of transit time which I doubt any client will be prepared to support.

Equally, I'm sure if Ethical Man needs to do a far-flung piece, there may be some questions around the office water-cooler, HR and indeed by licence payers should he be away too long by sailing there.

But the importance of this feature is that one gets introduced to, and an appreciation of the options, from the personal to the professional to the environmental (which sadly can be conflicting), and assisted in making informed choices.

Hence in this case, as car was the chosen option for perfectly valid personal reasons, I was interested and impressed that a purely tokenistic vehicle choice was not made rather than barrelling down the motorway lugging a battery. The fantastic makes better copy than the mundane, with many in the media playing a part in keeping things overly idealistic and free of financial consequence (not all, including the BBC it seems, can swing a freebie or loaner from a PR dept!), impractical and hence beyond the abilities of many average families to embrace, no matter how keen they are to do their best.

At least DOING something is better than nothing.

  • 14.
  • At 11:40 PM on 16 Aug 2006,
  • george brigham wrote:

Ethical man is the way forward to the day when petrol becomes too expensive to run a car.
Ethical man is the way forward to the day when UK is in economic meltdown.

  • 15.
  • At 02:43 AM on 17 Aug 2006,
  • amanda wrote:

Hiring a car to go somewhere for a special occasion is absolutely not cheating - people who say so are being well-meaning but mean-spitited purists! Are you supposed to never leave the house again?! The aim is to avoid using a car when not necessary. Car sharing schemes are also a great idea for people who want a car only every now and again and are usually cheaper than hiring.

Hi Justin
Not sure where you live but two Carbon Rationing Action Groups have started in Clapham and Islington. I think Clapham might be running now, Islington are about to schedule their first meeting. Here is the background: http://portal.campaigncc.org/node/550, go to last page for latest news. There is also a CRAG yahoo group at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/cragcentral. CRAG web site coming. John

  • 17.
  • At 04:07 PM on 17 Aug 2006,
  • Smith Dorrien wrote:

How did you get across London to do that piece on terrorism trials -did all the crew use public transport.

  • 18.
  • At 04:44 PM on 17 Aug 2006,
  • Dweller wrote:

We cycle to work and work from home for 90% of my working life. I can tick all of the recycling check boxes and wouldn't be bothered if the local council collected our rubbish every three weeks as we have so little non-recyclable waste.

I have no doubts that if everybody did the same we would have a cleaner world. But I know that unless the "powers that be" regulate my actions really are just a token.

As to the lazy mans excuse that there is no point in cleaning up our act because the developing world will overtake us soon. I think the likes of China might take us a bit more seriously if they saw we could practice what we where preaching and not just adding to the green house effect with a lot of hot air.

Next I think I'll see if we can reduce our usage of drinking water for toilet flushing and gardening by installing a large underground rainwater tank and capturing our own water.

  • 19.
  • At 10:06 AM on 18 Aug 2006,
  • Martyn wrote:

To answer J.G (post 5) - the reason being green is ethical is because if we do not live within the limits our planet can sustain, we pass on a less rich planet to our successors - to be emotive, we are stealing from our children and grandchildren.

There are limits to the amount of things we remove from the earth (will it be our generation that uses up virtually all the earth's oil?); and in the mount we put back in (will our carbon dioxide emissions wreck the climate?)

So there is nothing inherently unethical about driving a car - even a Ferrari frankly - as long as you remain within those limits. As the pressing one in terms of cars is carbon emissions, you won't get to drive as far in the Ferrari as you would in your hybrid - but stick within the limit (and don't drive in a way that endangers others) and it is perfectly ethical.

And as for the now famous Kate who thinks the whole idea is not one that Newsnight should cover...is your concern that examining how people can ensure our plant remains a viable place for humankind to prosper is getting in the way of political gossip? What exactly is more important?

One nitpicking thing - Cameron has a Lexus luxury saloon hybrid car, not an SUV one. Hybrids are starting to get a bad press because many journalists don't understand them (not accusing you of this by the way). They are fantastic in city traffic conditions becuase the battery enables them to store a proportion of the energy lost in braking. At a steady speed on a motorway this makes less difference, because you don;t slow down much. So if you do lots of urban driving they are great - lots of motorway driving, its more questionable the extra cost is worth it.

  • 20.
  • At 08:00 PM on 20 Aug 2006,
  • matt wrote:

can i drift a little off topic and ask about taxation of non-fossil fuel oil ?...

from my blog in another forum, on the topic of vegetable oil fuel taxation, and the question asked "surely, if fuel taxation is about saving the planet, why is [vegetable] sunflower oil taxed ?"

unfortunately it has more to do with earning revenue as your point demonstrates, also, the cynical may suggest that it is to keep us all from using vegetable oil, possibly as the result of big oil lobbyist activites ?

if road and fuel taxation was really about saving the planet, there would be no roadtax, instead cars might have an 'mot disc' in the screen, and all road funding and fuel taxation would be added to fuels, at least then, there would be some logic to (reduced rate for vegetable oil use) taxation for fuels such as sunflower or other non fossil fuels

providing all road user revenue through fuel taxation could work very nicely indeed, and it could be quite just as well, if you (for example) work out the average annual mileage (for cars, in this instance), divide the average road fund licence by those miles, and work out the average miles per gallon for the average car, and multipy the (now divided) road fund licence cost by those miles (per gallon), you then have your figure for how much tax you would add to the cost of a gallon of fuel

in [b]rough[/b] terms something like this - £150 road fund licence divide by 12,000 miles multiplied by 30 miles per gallon = £0.375 per gallon (in addition to the current fuel levy for fossil fuels) - buy a thirsty car, pay more tax, buy a frugal car, pay less, of course, this still leaves electric cars out of the loop, but something could be arranged for those

i have been wittering on about this for more than a decade, it could be done, it perhaps should be done, so why hasn't it ?


...and furthermore, in answer to the issue of land area, and vegetable oil production pressures upon it...

initially a thought of 'green hi-rise' may occur, but vegetable [oil] products can be grown in vertical farms, so actual land area becomes less of an issue, i think that done right, a 'farm city' could be an attractive use of the human termite-esque desire to build upward

  • 21.
  • At 01:18 AM on 21 Aug 2006,
  • David Lloyd wrote:

Hi Justin,

Isn't it true that you are only expected to live the ethical life during working hours and your family car is in use outside of these times?

David

That, David, is nonsense. Why do you think I keep posting "ethical confessions" on the website?

  • 23.
  • At 04:33 AM on 24 Aug 2006,
  • matt wrote:

Daryl Hannah for u.s. president ! http://vincenze.com/?p=114

  • 24.
  • At 10:26 PM on 01 Sep 2006,
  • Simon Marchant wrote:

matt wrote
"...and furthermore, in answer to the issue of land area, and vegetable oil production pressures upon it...

initially a thought of 'green hi-rise' may occur, but vegetable [oil] products can be grown in vertical farms, so actual land area becomes less of an issue, i think that done right, a 'farm city' could be an attractive use of the human termite-esque desire to build upward"

If you build a vertical farm you would cut the light on the shaded side so reducing the space available for growing stuff, so nothing would be gained.
The only reason high rise works for humans is because we use artificial lighting, which is not in itself a good green solution for growing plants.

As an aside carbon offsetting, by planting trees, is a non starter. To offset every flight from Britain, per year, you would need to plant an area the size of Wales - permanently, and stop the trees from ever rotting. So where would you plant next years offset trees ?

  • 25.
  • At 11:49 PM on 01 Sep 2006,
  • matt wrote:

Simon

not true, it is entirely possible to double, treble, or quadruple the area of land used in agriculture by stacking, it is not necessary to grow many crops in total unobscured sunlight, additionally, the kind of stacking i had in mind would comprise each storey being spaced higher than an ordinary 'human' storey

add in the use of glass reflectors, which would be integral to the structure, and you have no real issues with one storey being beneath another

factor in mesh flooring with confined rows of root system, and you have something more akin to a pagoda than a multi storey carpark

i appreciate where you're coming from, but you make many assumptions as to how it might not work, whilst ignoring the many ways in which it could actually be made to succeed

indeed, much work is being done all over the world to make this happen

  • 26.
  • At 06:43 AM on 10 Nov 2006,
  • Will wrote:

The Swedes (I think) have some sort of deal where people with Smart cars get reduced cost of town-to-town car hire, subsidised by the govt for reducing carbon emissions. The idea is to use the tiny but low-emission Smart car round town for shopping etc, and use bigger (but still low-emission) vehicles for longer journeys. Seems sensible to me.

BTW the US military gets 30% fuel savings on hummvees running a diesel donkey engine to electric direct-drive motors in the wheels. But that would cost car companies a lot in R&D&Marketing.

  • 27.
  • At 04:02 PM on 15 Apr 2007,
  • Tony Woodcock wrote:

Editor,
Why have all the postings since Nov. 2006 been wiped off? It couldn't be because there have recently been some more critical postings, could it?

  • 28.
  • At 03:14 AM on 17 Apr 2007,
  • Lionel Tiger wrote:

When I think of the objections people have to congestion charging, I can't but feel that many of the same individuals are ignoring the fact that they are pouring money down the sewer. Many of the same motorists are the sole occupants of inefficient large saloon cars, people carriers and suv's. If those vehicles had at least one passenger, the efficiency would be double for necessary journeys, and the cost would be halved. Should we not be promoting the use of a new generation of clean personal transport machines such as a form of scooter or lightweight carbonfibre car for the millions of commuters currently jamming the cities daily. Stopping this senseless car traffic would make it far safer for commuters to use more efficient personal transport. It would also improve road conditions for public transport vehicles. Also, certain roads could be converted for the sole use of two wheeled vehicles such as bicycles and low powered scooters so that they wouldn't be in danger of being run over and not endangering pedestrians and being a nuisance to other legitimate road users. Could urban cycle tunnels be built underground solely for cyclists ? I can't help but feel that the future of the internal combustion engine is due for a revolution. The Diesel engine was invented to provide a more efficient engine through high compression ignition. The inefficient reciprocating otto cycle engine is the steam engine of the 21st century, and has long been identified as inefficient and outdated, with engine designs already long invented that surpass the limited technology. Still using this inferior technology in hybrids, albeit with atkinson cycle adding 5% efficiency, and regenerative braking reclaiming lost energy in braking fails to address the core of the issue. The reciprocating otto engine in a heavy steel framed vehicle is fundamentally flawed. Having a compression ratio equal to the expansion ratio inherently limits efficiency. Maybe rotary forms of the otto and atkinson cycle designs is the future to avoid this limit of the reciprocating pistons. However, performance of Diesel engines have been improved with common rail injection, and the forthcoming generation of direct injection. Particulate emissions are the main reason for its lack of favour, however using fuels that reduce these emissions, including biofuels should help improve their status. On these lines, Ethanol in petrol will improve the efficiency of combustion of the petroleum component by providing additional Oxygen for combustion. So we also need a change in fuels, similar to the cleaner low Sulphur and Unleaded Premium fuels we all know and love so much now. Biofuels are not the only answer, as it is fanciful and utopian. The fuel industry in the real world needs to work with automobile manufacturers to produce new vehicles that use the energy in new fuels more effectively. The dti can influence this, and act as arbitrator, as has been done in the past. As soon as politicians and Joe Bloggs get involved, and tell everyone where they're all going wrong, this fascist social change washes away any technical improvements that can be made, and liberties are lost. Europe needs to use its technical agencies to facilitate technological improvements. A Union of Communist Carbon Cap Republic approach that non-technical socialists view with totalitarian delight is alarmingly gaining momentum in various forms and is heralding a social reversal to the liberation of car ownership and other industrially facilitated social revolutions. Would this mean, that I would only be able to drive twice as far if I can afford a more efficient car ? Would I have to not shower for a month to save the Carbon emissions to drive to Scotland, despite the fact that a nuclear power station or solar water heater could provide my domestic energy ? I sincerely hope not. Maybe people should be informed how to avoid their wasteful habits, I congratulate the tyre pressure promotion, but think more effective ideas to improve efficiency could be forthcoming. This is in line with our long fought for democracy, we can make our own choice as to whether we choose to act. How to enlighten our ignorance to cut the waste out of our socially unhealthy habits. I congratulate Newsnight and Ethical Man for informing the public where they are wasting resources, being polluters, and promoting better habits. I think ethical man embarked on a journey of discovery, but identified the reality that we are at the tip of the iceberg as the responsible citizen. Society and the wheels of technology need to do the rest. I trust the qualified technologists of their respective disciplines enough to do their jobs with admirable efficiency and to ask the politicians and communists to leave it to the experts. Society needs to wake up to the environmental impacts of modern life, and the individual needs to act responsibly, but we live in a democratic society, and we have the right to as good a quality of life as we can achieve, without resorting to miserable poverty. We need to find better ways of doing things, both for us, and for the environment.

  • 29.
  • At 04:24 PM on 17 Apr 2007,
  • Lionel Tiger wrote:

When I think of the objections people have to congestion charging, I can't but feel that many of the same individuals are ignoring the fact that they are pouring money down the sewer. Many of the same motorists are the sole occupants of inefficient large saloon cars, people carriers and suv's. If those vehicles had at least one passenger, the efficiency would be double for necessary journeys, and the cost would be halved. Should we not be promoting the use of a new generation of clean personal transport machines such as a form of scooter or lightweight carbonfibre car for the millions of commuters currently jamming the cities daily. Stopping this senseless car traffic would make it far safer for commuters to use more efficient personal transport. It would also improve road conditions for public transport vehicles. Also, certain roads could be converted for the sole use of two wheeled vehicles such as bicycles and low powered scooters so that they wouldn't be in danger of being run over and not endangering pedestrians and being a nuisance to other legitimate road users. Could urban cycle tunnels be built underground solely for cyclists ? I can't help but feel that the future of the internal combustion engine is due for a revolution. The Diesel engine was invented to provide a more efficient engine through high compression ignition. The inefficient reciprocating otto cycle engine is the steam engine of the 21st century, and has long been identified as inefficient and outdated, with engine designs already long invented that surpass the limited technology. Still using this inferior technology in hybrids, albeit with atkinson cycle adding 5% efficiency, and regenerative braking reclaiming lost energy in braking fails to address the core of the issue. The reciprocating otto engine in a heavy steel framed vehicle is fundamentally flawed. Having a compression ratio equal to the expansion ratio inherently limits efficiency. Maybe rotary forms of the otto and atkinson cycle designs is the future to avoid this limit of the reciprocating pistons. However, performance of Diesel engines have been improved with common rail injection, and the forthcoming generation of direct injection. Particulate emissions are the main reason for its lack of favour, however using fuels that reduce these emissions, including biofuels should help improve their status. On these lines, Ethanol in petrol will improve the efficiency of combustion of the petroleum component by providing additional Oxygen for combustion. So we also need a change in fuels, similar to the cleaner low Sulphur and Unleaded Premium fuels we all know and love so much now. Biofuels are not the only answer, as it is fanciful and utopian. The fuel industry in the real world needs to work with automobile manufacturers to produce new vehicles that use the energy in new fuels more effectively. The dti can influence this, and act as arbitrator, as has been done in the past. As soon as politicians and Joe Bloggs get involved, and tell everyone where they're all going wrong, this fascist social change washes away any technical improvements that can be made, and liberties are lost. Europe needs to use its technical agencies to facilitate technological improvements. A Union of Communist Carbon Cap Republic approach that non-technical socialists view with totalitarian delight is alarmingly gaining momentum in various forms and is heralding a social reversal to the liberation of car ownership and other industrially facilitated social revolutions. Would this mean, that I would only be able to drive twice as far if I can afford a more efficient car ? Would I have to not shower for a month to save the Carbon emissions to drive to Scotland, despite the fact that a nuclear power station or solar water heater could provide my domestic energy ? I sincerely hope not. Maybe people should be informed how to avoid their wasteful habits, I congratulate the tyre pressure promotion, but think more effective ideas to improve efficiency could be forthcoming. This is in line with our long fought for democracy, we can make our own choice as to whether we choose to act. How to enlighten our ignorance to cut the waste out of our socially unhealthy habits. I congratulate Newsnight and Ethical Man for informing the public where they are wasting resources, being polluters, and promoting better habits. I think ethical man embarked on a journey of discovery, but identified the reality that we are at the tip of the iceberg as the responsible citizen. Society and the wheels of technology need to do the rest. I trust the qualified technologists of their respective disciplines enough to do their jobs with admirable efficiency and to ask the politicians and communists to leave it to the experts. Society needs to wake up to the environmental impacts of modern life, and the individual needs to act responsibly, but we live in a democratic society, and we have the right to as good a quality of life as we can achieve, without resorting to miserable poverty. We need to find better ways of doing things, both for us, and for the environment.

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