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Throttling guzzlers

Mark Mardell | 17:18 UK time, Thursday, 13 September 2007

Europe has had its first vote on what sort of cars we will all drive in the future.

The proposed European Union law restricting CO2 emissions from cars is over its first hurdle: a vote on more than 20 amendments in the European Parliament’s environment committee.

I’ve promised to follow the development of this law in some detail for the BBC News website and Radio 4’s PM programme for several reasons.

First, it’s important - it will affect anyone who drives a car.

Then, I’m interested to see how the forces balance out: the powerful German-dominated car industry versus ever-growing concern about the environment. Will the original proposal be beefed up or watered down? Also, it’s a chance to educate myself on how exactly the EU makes a law - a practical civics lecture for both me and anyone else who is interested.

The environment committee was voting on the report written by British Lib Dem MEP Chris Davies, and the amendments to it tabled by committee members.

A number of his innovations were thrown out.

His plan to ban cars that do more than 100 mph was defeated.

saabturbox203.jpgHe’d suggested giving the car manufacturers more time, but obliging them to meet a tougher target. That was thrown out, but so was the European Commission’s plan to include biofuels as part of the solution. So now the idea is manufacturers must reduce CO2 emissions to an average of 120g of carbon dioxide per kilometre by 2012, by engine emissions alone.

But Mr Davies isn’t disappointed. He told the committee that although his compromise had been rejected he was pleased because the result was “environmentally ambitious”.

Listen to him here.

The German Green on the Industry Committee, Rebecca Harms, said afterwards: “A large majority of MEPs voted for a binding average target of 120g/km to be achieved through engine technology alone. This is a welcome rejection of the so-called 'integrated approach' to this longstanding target - a dilution advocated by the car industry. We particularly welcome the support of the committee for the limit to be achieved by 2012. Delaying its introduction would only reward laggards and delay the necessary technical advances.”

The Tories in the European Parliament are striving to be more ambitious still.

“In order to offer the industry greater certainty with which to plan for the future, we recommend that an incoming Conservative government adopts an emissions target for new cars of between 80g and 100g by 2020," said their leader, Timothy Kirkhope.

"This target is merely a continuum of the downwards trajectory envisaged by the EU’s current proposal, which would see emissions reduce by 4-5% a year to 2012. Continuing this reduction path yields emissions of no more than 100g per kilometre by 2020.”

Labour MEP Glenis Willmott, a member of the environment committee, said:

"We firmly expect this vote to be a signal to the car industry to smarten up their act and to carry out the measures they themselves have agreed to. The 120g/km to be met on an obligatory basis by 2012 is the strongest message we can send to firms who have been dragging their feet and not understood that European consumers are now anxious to drive cleaner cars. Unless we have a strong European position on this issue, other car manufacturing countries outside the EU will steal the march on us."

For once a pretty common line from the politicians be they red, blue, green or yellow. But are they right?

Comments   Post your comment

  • 1.
  • At 06:14 AM on 14 Sep 2007,
  • Chris Smith wrote:

This requirement of 120 g CO2/km converts to 46 miles per gallon or 5.1 liters/100 km. Bravo, EU Parliament! In the USA, we have the same problem: drivers want more efficient vehicles, but manufacturers continue to swamp the market with "gas guzzlers." Requiring that vehicles five years from now go 46 miles on a gallon of gasoline is a fabulous idea for BOTH sides of the Pond. Here in America, there are only a handful of models of cars which exceed the 2012 target now. The manufacturers had better get busy!

  • 2.
  • At 07:23 AM on 14 Sep 2007,
  • steveh wrote:

It would be better to concentrate on making existing vehicles last longer - interchangable parts, easy repairs. The amount of energy used to manufacture a new car is about the same as it will consume in its first 10 years of normal use, so reduce, re-use and repair are better options than recycling.
The WHOLE LIFE footprint of a Toyota Prius is much worse than that of a LR Discovery, but if you are only concerned about fuel consumption then the energy costs and pollution from manufacture don't bother you (especially when it occurs somewhere abroad).


Strong momentum is clearly building in the European Parliament's (EP) Environment Committee for more ambitious air pollution legislation generally.

Europe's citizens may only hear "tax" when they are told of the need for "green taxes" but they do know that if tough legislation is put in place it is for their (necessary) protection (whether to address the climate change or air quality aspects of air pollution). A strong and up-to-date legislative framework also helps companies to know where they stand - rather than be pressured erratically to go some arbitrary distance further than existing legislation.

Earlier this week, two leading London MEPs, John Bowis (Conservative) and Baroness Ludford (Lib Dem) spoke in the same EP Environment Committee you mention in favour of more stringent air quality legislation ahead of a similar vote due in the Environment Committee on 9 October and a vote scheduled in the EP as a whole on 10 December on a new Air Quality Directive. You might observe the session on 9 October!

These developments are all welcome after recent news that the UK had received a first written warning from the European Commission for breaching European Union legal limits for sulphur dioxide affecting some 4,000 people.

Keep up the good work!

Simon Birkett
Principal Contact
Campaign for Clean Air in London

  • 4.
  • At 08:31 AM on 14 Sep 2007,
  • john s wrote:

Given that there are only three countries in the EU - Germany, France and Italy - that have their indigenous and independent car manufacturers, I find this focusing on British MEP's rather navel gazing

  • 5.
  • At 08:45 AM on 14 Sep 2007,
  • John Clark wrote:

I would like to see a proper asessments of all the different costs of the proposed measures and I'm not convinced the demand for cleaner cars is there at the moment - maybe mr. Mardell could do some research there, offering us a clear picture of what the consumer in Europe actually buys, perhaps Eurostat has some figures. It is obvious that there will be no longer a choice for the consumer to buy a car he or she would like if the proposed measures become law and it's also clear some politicians, notably the green ones, want to change 'automobility' fundamentally and make the manufacturers pay for it as well. I don't think this entirely fair. Last point: who says other continents will follow Europe in its endeavour?

  • 6.
  • At 09:33 AM on 14 Sep 2007,
  • Derek Morris wrote:

What I, and I suspect a lot of others, do not understand is the need for an 'average' which seems to simply mean that the majority will drive less poluting cars so that a few can continue to drive monster gas guzzling poluters. Can someone explain to me why it is necessary for the car industry to continue to make high performance cars when either laws or traffic conditions make it illegal/ impossible to use such power. How poluting are they when crawling in traffic queues in cities? And we don't need to to go on any longer about the sense of the off-roaders in cities.

The report on the BBC site this week highlighted the reduction in polution to be made from reduced speeds and careful driving so why does the industry continue to encourage the opposite?

The target is ambitious, but also unrealistic as Europe further divides into North and South.

120g/km may sound reasonable in the North where the road infrastructure is well developed and the geography lends itself to easy roads. Also the greater population density allows for public transport to take some of the strain and bring down the average.

Here in Andalucía with (generally) poor roads winding their way up and down through the mountains in a sparsely (away from the coast) populated area, the target is a non-starter.

The Spanish politicians have no interest of course since none of them live here; only in the big cities.

The extravagance of the North (e.g. Sloane Rangers in their BMW X5s) will penalize those in the South - me and my neighbours who NEED a 4x4 to access their properties, especially when the rains sweep the roads away.

  • 8.
  • At 10:52 AM on 14 Sep 2007,
  • Steve Fagg wrote:

"it’s important - it will affect anyone who drives a car" - actually it's more important than that: it will affect us all. As a measure aimed at reducing the environmental impact of our addiction to motoring, it has to be welcomed: we certainly can't carry on as we are! It cheers me to see the political parties vying to be "greener than thou", I hope that's not a passing fashion.

  • 9.
  • At 11:36 AM on 14 Sep 2007,
  • A Warrington wrote:

Could we see the return of a Eurostyle Trabant? Greener of course but do we really need choice or freedom? In the spirit of Henry Ford you can have any fuel you like as long as it's oil. Therein lies the problem: not in regulating the fun out of life.

  • 10.
  • At 01:03 PM on 14 Sep 2007,
  • Sean wrote:

I don't understand complaints that banning the more polluting cars will reduce consumer choice. Consumers can't choose to legally buy cocaine, missile launchers, ivory and a vast host of other goods for a variety of reasons. Should we remove all restrictions on all goods, regardless of social and environmental effects, so that I can have more choice?

  • 11.
  • At 01:12 PM on 14 Sep 2007,
  • Oliver wrote:

It may well the case that European consumers buy often buy less environmentally friendly cars, but I sincerely doubt this is because they specifically want unenvironmentally friendly cars. Of course, certain types of cars lend themselves to that category, but not all. Regardless, in the face of a mounting global catastrophy, if our government are not even willing to reduce emissions from a principal source, then what else will they do? I'm quite sure the cost will be spread between consumers and the auto industry, but the good news is, that by doing this through the EU the cost will be dramatically reduced. Done by member states alone, we might well end up with 27 separate pieces of legislation, causing enormous costs in terms of legal certification for cars and also designs and research that would go into them. This probably cause many governments to back away from ambitious goals, or it would hugely raise the cost of automobiles. Instead we have 27 members with a single standard, giving us lower costs and higher targets.

As for whether others will follow its hard to say. It will mean though that all of the large car companies are building and selling cars with far better emissions ratings. For governments outside the EU having all of the heavy lifting done will make it more desirable to raise their own standards as the products already exist.

Of course, maybe no one will follow for the time being. But it seems likely that emissions reductions in one form or another will be needed and introduced elsewhere in the world. Having started the process now, the EU can steal a march on others.

  • 12.
  • At 01:31 PM on 14 Sep 2007,
  • Jason Spencer-Cooke wrote:

I think that John Clark is missing the point when he looks for statistics and what people want . The issue is not what people want , but what they need to do ( willingly or unwillingly ) to help fight pollution and global warming .Legislation is just one means , but an effective one of moving in the right direction .

  • 13.
  • At 01:33 PM on 14 Sep 2007,
  • Gerard wrote:

Yes, I would like to run a cleaner car, but I like many others cannot afford to put over a year's salary into an automobile.
All modern cars are less and less accessible to the home mechanic; possibly for our "peace of mind", but mostly for huge wads of cash.
My latest car (which is already six years old...)is practical and comfortable, but thirstier and less reliable (and this will shock you) than the 30 year old rusty Triumph I ran when in the UK.

When your budget wil not allow you state of the art (hm...) technology, the argument becomes redundant.

So the question should be:
How long before we see the effects of this sort of legislation?

  • 14.
  • At 02:01 PM on 14 Sep 2007,
  • Mark Kiernan wrote:

I think the tories have a much better plan than Labour, I think the environment as been abandoned by Labour. They simply don't care anymore.

  • 15.
  • At 02:15 PM on 14 Sep 2007,
  • Carol wrote:

As we are becoming more aware of global warming the need and desire for greener cars is coming.
Why were biofuels ruled out?

  • 16.
  • At 02:57 PM on 14 Sep 2007,
  • Ronald Grünebaum wrote:

I want a car that is safe, big enough for my family and as environmentally friendly as possible.

I don't need a car to display my social status or my virility. There are better ways to do that.

I have a certain understanding for Porsche and the likes who make money from selling cars that fall into the second category. But I have nothing but contempt for the buyers of those cars. Democracy and governance should be about the common good, not about remedies for the psychological problems of a few.

Yes, they are right in what they want to achieve. However, can they achieve it?

The most important aspect of any plan of this type is the "force the bleeders into a corner so they ain't got no where to turn" aspect. This is especially important when dealing with the likes of the car industry who if they can find even just a mouse sized will somehow squeeze a Range Rover through it.

My worry is that as any law works its way out from the Brussels centre, like a ripple from a stone it will get weaker round the edges and we will end up bearing the financial cost of this without reaping the benefits.

I am also have the small problem that your headline "Throttling Guzzlers" sounds like lynching the old journalistic mob down the Euston Road in they days of Reginald Bosanquet!

  • 18.
  • At 05:05 PM on 14 Sep 2007,
  • sweetalkinguy wrote:

The attitude of the Germans to the environmental impact of the motor car can be assessed here:

The hybrid version is presumably a sop to the green lobby. The high-performance versions are more interesting. The top-of-the-range model is reported to have a V-10 engine (reminiscent of the engines used by Heidfeld and Kubica in Formula 1). Very green, that.

As long as the super-wealthy can zoom on the Autobahns at terminal velocity, what else matters?

  • 19.
  • At 12:39 AM on 15 Sep 2007,
  • Mark wrote:

I haven't been in Europe in decades but when I lived there, the streets were filled with the stench of diesel and gasoline fumes. It was impossible to eat or have a drink at an outdoor cafe the fumes were so bad. It wasn't much better indoors with all of the cigarette smoke. The travel brochures never told you about the stench of the rivers. In the early fall of 1973 I changed my travel plans from touring Italy to touring Spain and Portugal just prior to returning to school. The reason was a cholera epidemic in Italy. You can check the historical records to verify this. Seeing how solid and liquid waste was disposed of the prospects of an epidemic spreading like wildfire there was daunting and we got innoculations before returning from summer recess in the States which made us sick for over a month. It is one thing to talk about CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions, quite another to talk about polution. BTW, some months ago, BBC reported that the EU is on target to miss its Kyoto reduction agreements by over 90%. Any further update? Why should anyone think that the EU will be any more likely to meet its new more stringent voluntary reduction targets next time than it was under Kyoto?

  • 20.
  • At 05:14 AM on 15 Sep 2007,
  • harry starks wrote:

Mark, if you want to understand the forces involved in the making of a law on this subject, you will have to get inside the Commission. As I understand it, this is a Parliamentary resolution in response to a Commission strategy document (or green paper). The real law-making process only begins when the Commission adopts a proposal for a Regulation or Directive (whatever the relevant Treaty article provides for). No doubt the Commission will appear to take into account the Parliament's resolution on its strategy document, but who knows what politicking goes on within the Commission? Governments and industry will try to influence individual Commissioners and their cabinets to block things they don't like. We never get any real insights into this murky process.

  • 21.
  • At 07:20 AM on 15 Sep 2007,
  • Tony wrote:

With respect to steveh's comment (no.2) that the whole life environmental cost of a Toyota Prius is much greater than a Landrover Discovery, I think it would be useful for people to provide evidence when they make claims that are so counter intuitive.

My current hypothesis is that steveh is a discovery driver with a guilt complex, but I stand to be corrected.

  • 22.
  • At 07:58 AM on 15 Sep 2007,
  • Tony wrote:

I was wondering how large families would cope with these regulations; it is therefore heartening to see that Toyota already produce a full size people carrier that hits about 120g/km emissions.

The cost is rather high though. I wonder if these regulations will price the poor back off the road. This should not be allowed to happen, which might lead to the conclusion that a fairer system would be to set an absolute maximum allowable emission level. Can't see the EU destroying the german car industry though.

In my youth, a local farmer took me to a horse auction near Tunbridge Wells (GB) in a pony and trap. It was a wonderful, slow, trip along quiete country lanes (with a packed lunch for sustanance -as well as the refreshment tent at the auction). Later, in Holland an aquaintance of mine (an accountant) also had a pony and trap and kindly took my daughter for a delightful birthday trip. After that, my daughter and her mother enjoyed a holiday by horse drawn wagon in the country heart of the Netherlands.

I'm sure that if one did a trully objective, scientific, study comparing animals (horse and bullock, etc) with petroleum based machines -then the animals would win hands down. The only (obvious) advantage of the petro-carbon machines is their speed -which; if this contributes to the bad food we eat may not be such an advantage after all. One cannot breed, milk or eat one's petrochemical machine..... One cannot use the exhaust from cars or tractors to fertilize the land, to burn as fuel or to build walls, etc... machines cannot survive by eating local agricultural waste products -and so are quite unsuitable for poor, agrarian, areas. Few people seem to be killed in collisions between bullocks -although horse accidents were obviously much more a real threat earlier, but presumably not as bad as those involving motor cars, especially on expressways (a hundred horse pile up?). So why are people encouraged to abandon a good solution in favour of a bad one?

Regarding emmissions: is the EU only concerned with carbon emmissions -what about other toxic by-products? What about the effects these have on humans -or are we seeing a state of commercial denial such as manifest by the tabbacco industry earlier?

Many European countries have heard of bicycle lanes -some (including Britain) apparently plan long distance walking paths. In England, the canals dissapeared because they were destroyed by the rising railway industry -but was this a wise (rational) step forward? In continental Europe, waterways still form an important part of a (modern) transport network. "Modernization" is a propaganda concept and has no real meaning in terms of "progress". So what about bullock and horse lanes -as well foot and bicycle paths, canals, railways and (as a last resort) roads -in an intergrated transport policy?

Why are we so irrational, while believing ourselves to be so rational?

Perhaps we could use those educated Romanian scientists to help solve our energy problem in rural areas. Or do we need to retrain our scientists too?

  • 24.
  • At 03:46 PM on 15 Sep 2007,
  • Rob wrote:

I am perplexed about these standards for combustion engines... In context that cars already exist that are plug in hybrids (can run off a combustion engine and a battery) with a range of up to around 100 km on one battery charge. For standard commuting to work and around town, and if your electricity is derived from a non-carbon source, a car like that is well near ZERO carbon emission.

If your electricity is coal derived it is still more efficient in terms of CO2 emited, perhaps already within the proposed standards... but do not have the figures on hand.

The few times when longer travel range is necessary the combustion engine is used, but it avergaes out with the battery use for the car to very small values.

What I find even more troubling is the biofuels issue. We are already hearing almost every week about current and projected food price increases, even in the West. Multiple articles just right here on BBC. Yet, people are proposing to use land to power our cars while it can be used to grow food. I would not be surprised if pretty soon food cost became a worry in the West just like rent/loan repayments. Right now food is relatively cheap, but perhaps for not much longer.

The above is the more perplexing in the light that bio-oil can be derived much more efficiently without using any agricultural land. Namely getting oil from algae grown in waste water treatment plants, around coal power plants, or even in ponds in the desert... every way not taking up any food production capacity, but in fact leaving as a by-product carbohydrates and proteins that can be fed to animals!

Or more simply, why not use nuclear power plants to produce electricity to power the hybrid cars above? Nuclear is a proven technology. It can be made safe, scare mongering aside. There are even types of nuclear reactors that properly designed and run will produce NO long term radioactive waste, just small amounts of waste that will decay to non-radioactive within two or three hundred years (for that time frame you do not need the complicated nuclear waste depositories that have to be geologically stable for tens of thousands of years, a concrete block burried in a dry place will do, and in 200 years you can use the waste on your breakfast as a mineral supplement). This type of reactor is called liquid fluoride thorium reactor. This is right, not even uranium is necessary to power it, so unlike with uranium we will not run out of fuel for them in some decades... but have enough thorium for tens of thousands of years... at least, and maybe much longer, as thorium is both more plentiful than uranium, and probably a lot less explored for.

Why are we trying to starve ourselves to produce car fuel? Why are we spending billions upon billions of dollars researching fusion that we may never get right, not for decades at least, that is likely to be expensive, and is very complicated, when the old proven fission (albeit from thorium) can power our civilisation for tens of thousands of years into the future with ZERO carbon emissions? Why are we trying to mandate combustion engine standards when we should be thinking electric cars? Why are some trying to research and built complicated particle accelerator driven thorium reactors, when a workable liquid fluoride reactor already exists? (good safety features too, because of the liquid fuel there is no nasty explosions, no meltdown, if things get too hot, a plug melts and fuel drains into containers, can almost leave it alone and go fishing)

Overall all of it makes our energy policies look quite INSANE. Perhaps the logical explanation is that all these contradictions were created by strong self interests. We use agricultural land instead of algae farms because farmers want better financial returns created through demand. We research fusion because of the scientific establishment in that area. We ended up with uranium reactors producing a lot of very nasty waste and not thorium ones because we needed the uranium reactors to produce nuclear weapons (that's right, it is somewhere between impossible to very difficult to use a thorium reactor to produce material for nuclear bombs). We are trying to make thorium reactors run with a particle accelerator instead of a liquid fluride thorium fuel, because a bunch of particle physicists is behind the idea and they use what they know and try to promote their field... even if better ways exist.

Why we are not using electric cars? For that I do not have even a conspiracy theory... though perhaps the explanation is in the pattern of the above.

  • 25.
  • At 04:32 PM on 15 Sep 2007,
  • Tom Dunk wrote:

A saner approach might be to restrict the size and power of vehicles drivers are licensed to drive based on the drivers competence and driving record. In the US one must obtain a special license to operate large trucks, for instance.

As roads become more congested, people buy larger vehicles to feel safe. We have vehicles that make surviving a crash more likely, rather than requiring that only safer drivers be allowed to operate more lethal machines. Were less competent and experienced drivers required to drive smaller cars they would drive less and do so in a safer manner, reducing emissions, congestion and accidents.

In the end, it will be economics that convince drivers to downsize.

  • 26.
  • At 06:14 PM on 15 Sep 2007,
  • Derek Tunnicliffe wrote:

sweetalkinguy has it right. If you see the cars presented at Frankfurt by German manufacturers, they have both 'greener' models but also the even more powerful, greater gas-guzzlers! When you report, Mark, on "average" norms, that fits with the German view - allow them to carry on building gas-guzzlers while offering a few "greenies" as a sop.

  • 27.
  • At 08:17 PM on 15 Sep 2007,
  • john s wrote:

Tony mentioned a Tpyota "people carrier" which is probably a hybrid. A study inb the US has shown that the total emissions of a hybrid over a ten years period is higher than a conventional diesel as there are in fact two engines (one fuel operated and one electric motor) so that the emissions in the additional manufacturing process cancel the lower operating emissions. That's the main defect of the proposed legislation: in concentrates on the operating emissions not on the total emissions

  • 28.
  • At 08:55 AM on 16 Sep 2007,
  • Foppe Dykstra wrote:

Belgian public tv Canvas yesterday evening reported extensively on the CO2 nonsense.
Thatcher was blamed as the main perpetrator, she neither trusted the ME nor the British coal workers, so she wanted nuclear energy that does not emit CO2.

Since then the global budget for research on the alleged CO2 climate change has increased from $ 170 million a year until $ two billion a year.

It is amazing how in the so called free west the general public can be fooled, from German war guilts and holocausts through CO2 climate change and terrorism.

Amazing is too how people like you cooperate in trying to fool us.
Stalin's totalitarian society was far less efficient in fooling the Russian people.

  • 29.
  • At 04:36 PM on 16 Sep 2007,
  • Marcel wrote:

The key point in this issue is: there is no need for any legislation. As the story says: "Europe's consumers want cleaner cars".

As usual the market is stealing a march on the politicians.

The EU views the issue as an opportunity for more power grabs.

Did I forget to mention that climate change is still a natural phenomenon? Or that the deniers make themselves look more ridiculous by the week?

  • 30.
  • At 05:39 PM on 16 Sep 2007,
  • pro EU zombie wrote:

Must reject referendums. Must reject popular sentiment. Must obey Brussels. Must praise Brussels. Must ignore EU corruption. Must advocate more powers to Brussels. Must dismiss and belittle those who oppose the EU.

  • 31.
  • At 06:08 PM on 16 Sep 2007,
  • Jacques Bouvier wrote:

Most consumers focus on purchase price, operating cost and emissions during operation. While these factors are good to consider, they do not tell the whole story. The environmental cost of car production is very large (the carbon footprint alone is often equivalent to 10-15 years of operations) and some of the more fuel efficient hybrid vehicles are the worst in this respect. We need to look at the environmental costs of production as well as operation when estimating the environmental impact of automobile ownership.

  • 32.
  • At 06:56 PM on 16 Sep 2007,
  • andy wrote:

My only issue, is if the governments around the world decided to plant new trees as they chopped them, it wouldn't matter what our carbon footprint we wouldn't be in the position we are now in...
The fact of the matter is that we are having to pay for the incompetance of our world leaders...
It's ok forcing people out of their old cars... but who is going to pay for our new eco friendly car? Not everyone can afford a new car!

  • 33.
  • At 01:49 AM on 17 Sep 2007,
  • pete goswell wrote:

If we are really gonna get serious about overcoming Global Warming and the Carbon problem. Then do we really need to continue making and selling more cars??
Good public transportation High speed trains, trams, trolleys, electric or hydrogen buses seem more to the point! CHINA, used to be full of bicyclists, far more healthy and no pollution. Now look at what the auto manufacturers have wrought. Beijing, Shangai etc...., nightmares.Currently every major city on earth is a traffic Jam.

  • 34.
  • At 11:48 AM on 17 Sep 2007,
  • Bedd Gelert wrote:

This seems surreal ! Surely this only applies to European car MANUFACTURERS - therefore there is no restriction on what Europeans actually DRIVE ? So how is this going to help ?

And what constitutes an 'average' ?
Porsche and Rolls-Royce can just 'average' their emissions with the Golfs and Polos made by the Volkswagen group.

Land Rover and Jaguar will [for the time being] be able to average with the Ford Ka and Focus.

Maybe Maserati will just 'buddy' up with Fiat so they can be included in an average which includes the Fiat Panda ?

We all want cleaner cars and fewer of them, but I'm not convinced that this is going to be the answer.

  • 35.
  • At 12:03 PM on 17 Sep 2007,
  • Nadine Hengen wrote:

I also think that there should be regulation of Advertising, with any advertisement for a car having the CO2 emissions clearly displayed, similar to health warnings on fag packets.

Lexus is currently heavily advertising a hybrid model on German TV, which is more polluting than my 5 year old Ford KA.

If all had to display the information in a legible way, consumers could compare far more easily, buying habits would change, and companies would redirect R&D spending as a result.

The best car I've found so far? SMART, diesel version, 88g CO2/km. That's what I'm buying next unless I find a better one.

P.S. I agree that manufacturing has to be taken into account. Again I want labels - "xxx tons of carbon have gone into making this car" would allow me to easily compare 2 models using my average yearly milage.

  • 36.
  • At 12:06 PM on 17 Sep 2007,
  • john clark wrote:

It's the kind of arguing by Oliver in post 11 that worries me, when I ask for a proper assessment of the costs - as I did in post 5. Oliver says that cars will have to dealt with agressively regardless, for the good of the planet and humanity. Oliver starts from the pessimistic premise that individuals will never make the right choice and that government will have to protect them from their own destruction. Well, I don't know. Humanity does not have the best of experiences with authoritarian governments, and the call for the strong arm is very loud in the case of global warming and climate change.
And there is also an economical side to the argument that cannot easily be discarded. Like it or not, the car industry employs several million people in Europe, jobs that provide an income and independence to families and relatives and income also for governments to pay their bills. Jobs are scarce in Europe, with its 500 million inhabitants. And yes, new technologies will create jobs, definitely and without question, but not necessarily in Europe.
Therefore, as the car industry is very competitive - meaning they focus very narrowly on the market and their competitors - I favor strongly influencing demand towards new technologies and CO2-friendly means of transportation and the car industry is bound to follow, with competitiveness acting as leverage for investments. It could be that a couple of sticks are necessary for some reticent manufacturers, and to block a retreat to 'old-fashioned' products. I am sure the consumer will respond, most of them already have fuel-consumption high on their priority list anyway, in most of Europe however this has resulted in an enormous shift away from gasoline and towards diesel, which has incidentally significantly reduced c02 emission compared to the US, where cars run mainly on gasoline (diesel is even prohibited in some states, like California).
As for the effectiveness of the EU - both sides (NGO's and the industry) try to influence the outcome of any proposal in Brussels, whatever the subject. Transparancy is a much wider problem and issue, totally overlooked by the member states.

  • 37.
  • At 07:42 PM on 17 Sep 2007,
  • John wrote:
I haven't been in Europe in decades but when I lived there, the streets were filled with the stench of diesel and gasoline fumes.

And that was the case in the 1970s. Practically every river was an open smelly sewer. Cars were smelly and noisy. But that was then, these days the riverfronts are becoming the most attractive pieces of real estate. Cars are less smelly and noisy now, though that is countered by there being more of them. On the other hand pedestrian zones are expanding, bike lines are more common.

That is a cause for optimism. Change is not only possible, it is desirable. I think few Europeans would want to return to their grimy past.

  • 38.
  • At 06:34 AM on 18 Sep 2007,
  • Steven Moens wrote:

Will we all wake up and realise that incredibly fuel efficient cars are around for the last couple of years and that they fit the bill perfectly for the day to day ordinary car user.
Forget about Prius and hybrid Lexus and all that sort of fashion statement. The cars I'm refering to are the likes of 1.4 D4D Corolla's, 1.4 TDI Polos and Fabias 1.6 HDI Peugeots and Citroens and my apologies if I'm forgetting to refer to a brace of other makes and brands.

For a start I think it wouldn't be a bad idea to incentivise the use of these vehicles on a European level while investing in expansion and upgrading of public transport systems in order to make it a bit more attractive to the travelling public. Unfortunatly using trains and busses in many parts of Europe today is still too much like queing for oranges in the Soviet Union.

  • 39.
  • At 08:51 AM on 18 Sep 2007,
  • Mirek Kondracki wrote:

There's even a better proposal! :-)

The leader of British Lib Dem Party has just proposed eliminating gasoline burning automobiles by 2040 entirely.

Interestingly, he has not pointed out to any working alternative.

Just as Lib-Dems have not proposed any realistic alternative to nuclear power, although they reinterated their opposition to it, while simultaneously expressing deep concern about climate change and environmental damage caused by burning fossile fuels to generate energy.

  • 40.
  • At 09:09 AM on 18 Sep 2007,
  • Mirek Kondracki wrote:

"In the spirit of Henry Ford you can have any fuel you like as long as it's oil."[#9]

It may surprise you (and many others) but Henry Ford originally intended for his cars to run on ALCOHOL!

He resigned himself to petrol, after his acountants explained to him that
oil was cheaper than alcohol.

And so it was. But today, with oil prices reaching $80.00 per barrel market forces alone will force manufacurers to move increasingly to 85/15 ethanol, and in the long run, to, most likely, hydrogen (fuel cells).

And this will occur even in the absence of all imaginable legally imposed limits and regulations.
As usual.

  • 41.
  • At 09:29 AM on 18 Sep 2007,
  • Mirek Kondracki wrote:

BTW, some months ago, BBC reported that the EU is on target to miss its Kyoto reduction agreements by over 90%. Any further update? Why should anyone think that the EU will be any more likely to meet its new more stringent voluntary reduction targets next time than it was under Kyoto? [Mark, #19]

It may interest you (and others) that Suzuki has just designed a Diesel engine which, while as clean as most recent mutations of it, which meet EPA standards - burns 40% less fuel than current diesels.

So as you can see, the light seems to be coming from the East, not from EU. As usual.

* 24.
* At 03:46 PM on 15 Sep 2007,
* Rob wrote:

"What I find even more troubling is the biofuels issue..........

.........Or more simply, why not use nuclear power plants to produce electricity to power the hybrid cars above? Nuclear is a proven technology. It can be made safe, scare mongering aside."

A few years ago, by chance, I came in contact with somebody who claimed (then) that when the Democrats got re-elected (after Clinton) the next big issues would be the large scale introduction of small scale nuclear technology -such as already used in US subs and satellites. One wonders how much Oil-industry orientated president Bush has exploited the "terrorist problem" in order to shift the focus away from nuclear (dirty bombs, etc.)

Of course, nuclear sounds ideal: cheap non-polluting energy -endlessly on tap. Except for the fact that despite Rob's optimism, there are many problems that need to be solved. For example, storage and re-processing, proliferation, etc... as well as normal operating safety (including seismic and terrorist activity -or normal accidents). Unfortunately, it is also highly political -with the west bullying Iran (for example) while reneging on its own disarmament deal (as described in the UN report by Hans Blix). One might also suspect that Tony Blair allowed the running-down of alternative energy sources -so that nuclear might be the only available "quick fix".... a frightening prospect -considering current nuclear and non-nuclear pollution levels suggest that mankind cannot be trusted to keep thing clean and safe. Also, keeping a western monopoly on nuclear will presumably only create further international imbalance and therefore increase terrorism (perhaps allowing for a final "armageddon" solution -as some would seem to desire).

Biofuel is another complex issue -and indeed may seriously effect human food supplies, while feeding cars and the car industry. To say nothing of possible corruption under those who are involved in developing the industry in some less well developed countries (and perhaps even developed ones).

All of these problems involve decisions that are difficult to make without the ability to balance complex interactions and value judgements regarding the outcome(s).

"Systems Theory" is the name given to the study of such complex systems (both in the abstract and as manifest in concrete situations). It has proven to be a valuable tool of science -and yet our culture has developed and propagated the idea of "lasse-faire" individualism that takes no interest in -or heed of -such complex interactions. Our everyday (political and social) thinking is based on isolated thoughts, concepts and ideals -without any real understanding of how they interact in concrete situations.

This is the result of an educational and commercial system that encourages the use of technology -without any understanding of it by the public.

The world is getting too dangerous and too complex to continue allowing politicians (and companies) to manipulate democracy on the basis of misinformation and lack of public education and knowledge of the fundamental issues involved.

  • 43.
  • At 02:08 PM on 18 Sep 2007,
  • steveh wrote:

Replying to Tony's comment, I wasn't sure about the rules on quoting 3rd party links, but try these:

How many people were helped by 4x4 vehicles during the recent floods? How many were rescued by Toyota Prius? It's a matter of having the right tool for the job. If the Prius technology was available in something useful, like a 1-ton van, and at a sensible price, then I would be interested. In the meantime I'll stick with my 25 year old reliable, repairable, reuseable non-depreciating (4x4) pickup.

  • 44.
  • At 02:09 PM on 18 Sep 2007,
  • Budgie Sargent wrote:

One of my closest friends owns a Porsche, he also devotes a massive amount of his spare time to helping underprivileged kids. So, Mr Gruenbaum... other than wearing your contempt for those you do not know - and whose moral high ground I doubt you could attain - on your sleve, what do you do for society that permits you this arrogance? Frankly, Ronals Gruenbaum's intemperate comments do little to persuade me that his motives for NOT owning a Porsche are anything other than sour grapes.

  • 45.
  • At 12:20 PM on 19 Sep 2007,
  • Mirek Kondracki wrote:

"One wonders how much Oil-industry orientated president Bush has exploited the "terrorist problem" in order to shift the focus away from nuclear (dirty bombs, etc.)"

1.It may surprise you but president Bush has been pushing for a construction of new atomic plants for a long time. [Now I hear that 37 new ones are going to be finally built, for the first time since Chernobyl], just as he was pushing for fuel-cell cars since early days of his first-term administration. [and in the meantime has given a tax credit to buyers of hybrid cars]

2. Nuclear waste storage issue has already been mostly solved through a development of the vitrification process.

3. There are already INTRINSICALLY SAFE fission reactors (liquid fluoride thorium based), as somebody else has already pointed out.

  • 46.
  • At 12:23 PM on 19 Sep 2007,
  • Rob wrote:

Trevor # 42, the problems you mention about nuclear energy vs my optimism apply to the currently dominant reactor types. You are quite correct about all of them. However, I want to EMPHASISE, I was not suggesting an increase in the numbers of the current uranium reactors.

I guess I have to say this again, more directly and clearly, because most people are not aware that there is another option for nuclear energy. This other option is fueling nuclear reactors with thorium.

Thorium is only weakly radioactive, and more abundant than uranium. If thorium were to be used as fuel, we would not run out of energy for many thousands of years, based solely on easy to reach terrestial deposits. I have heard various estimates, but large scale uranium use could lead to its depletion as a fuel source within a century by comparison.

There are various possible types of nuclear reactors fueled by thorium. Some will produce the nasty very long lived waste that you mention in the context of disposal and storage. However, all of this can be manipulated with the fuel composition... a right fuel mixture WILL NOT produce long term waste. Yes, it will produce some nuclear waste, but because of the different elemnts used as fuel, the waste will decay to neutral (it will become non-radioactive) in no more than 200 to 300 years. In case of waste from uranium fueled reactors the same happens only after tens of thousands of years... and thus arise the problems with long term storage. It is relatively easy to store radioactive waste for a few hundred years. Most of the problems with current nuclear waste arise from the length of time it needs to be kept safe... how do you guarantee safe storage for say 20,000 years into the future?! How much does it cost to guarantee it? On the other hand, with proper FUEL and DESIGN a thorium reactor DOES NOT produce the very long lived waste.

Finally, but not least, thorium based reactors do not produce a proliferation risk. Thorium itself does not undergo a nuclear explosion. There is no thorium bomb. Thus you can not redirect the fuel for military use. Theoretically some of the isotopes produced and used up during the thorium fuel cycle could be extracted and used for a bomb, but it is very hard to do, AND would involve essentially shutting down the reactor... as removing these elements from the fuel cycle would break it, and somebody would notice. I also wonder how your economy could handle losing a nuclear power station for each bomb you needed. Similarly you could take out some of the fuel and use it in a dirty bomb, but with the above caveats.

The thorium reactors would be much more immune to a terrorist attack because their fuel is a liquid salt. Thus even if one were destroyed with a rocket strike, or a plane strike, the fuel would not spread like from a current reactor which contains pressurised water that explodes and turns to steam in such an event.

No meltdowns either - as with a properly designed thorium reactor they simply can not happen. If the reactor overheats, it simply shuts itself down by the nature of its fuel: the fuel becomes less reactive and cools; or it melts through safety valves, and drains from the reactor.

Seismic activity is a possible problem, but less so again because of the nature of the fuel used. Even if the worst happens, the fuel and the radiation does not spread like from a reactor that explodes with superheated steam or gas when breached. Plus there are many places in the world geologically stable to build nuclear reactors.

There would be no need to keep thorium based nuclear technology from the Iranians. In fact, you could offer them the technology in exchange for abandoning uranium reactors and uranium enrichment fuel cycle. Or offer to develop it with them (we do not have currently running thorium reactors)... and if they refused, we would know for a 100% what the reasons are behind their nuclear program.

I guess this was my point, one of my questions... how in this complex system of decisions did we arrive at far less than optimal form of nuclear energy? And why, if this self-regulating system is so well tuned, does the solution still elude us? Perhaps, like any logic system, or a computer, the old programming addage applies "if you put garbage in, you will get garbage out". At some point we were not basing our decisions on logic, or the best reasons. The markets are not some benevolent sentient God that will always arrive at the right decision for us, sometimes they need intervention and input of logic, to produce a non-garbage output.

G. W. Bush got at least one thing right - with the correct technology there is no more problem with the greenhouse effect. Just why does he not know he is actualy right this time? ... in practice as well as in theory :)

This issue is ntereting for so many reasons. Many people I know and myself are in love with cars and mobility and freedom of choice at the same time, and are disenfranchised with these type of politically motivated issues rather than deaslinhg with the reality that we all know exists and is the case. we just let the politicians do their own thing and we are all quoted as saying that this is 'what we want' or what 'europeans have decided'. No they have decided for us..

I accept that must be change and progress to reduce pollution but not just from cars but as a whole from any source.

My problem with these latest pressure rules on CO2 is that noble as they may appear to be they seem to ignore some fundamental points that are worrying.
Co2 is produced quite naturally by both forests and human beings oddly. .

If we start to produce cars that on average release 120 by 2012 what are we doing today and tomorrow to cope with the massive pollution being produced by all the older and old cars that are on the roads right now that are not touches by these rules or ideas especially as cars are often not mnaintained as well as polution issues wouzld require.

The new car population in reality accounts for a quite small part of the 'park' of cars in use today and hence these rules are more political motivated that realistic.

Would it not be more effective if the polticuians concerned themselves with the less glamorous or less career development issues of cleaning that up and possibly introducing effective politics regarding self transport ( walking , cycling) and facing the powerful unions that allow such ectensive truck use on our roads ffirstly ? That would be some realism

The Co2 figures produces by trucks would make this 120 issue re cars seem as sublime as it is riduculous in comparison. All the trucks and cars from eastern Euriope etc.are just one small part of the problem. But of course that does not build careers in Brussles does it ?

It seems we do not need evangelists like Mr.Chriss Davies but a bit more pragmatic non political realism

sincere regards

Richard Hawel

  • 48.
  • At 09:18 PM on 19 Sep 2007,
  • Jeremy wrote:

Firstly this is not far off what I was achieving from a well maintained 1970 VW Beetle 1200, driven carefully. This points to very slow progress in trying to reduce the impact of car use on the environment. Both the numbers of cars and, as has already been pointed, out their embodied energy is the real issue - people MUST be pursuaded away from car ownership. Having lived without a car for 8 years and with the aid of a government sponsored carpool system in Norway for journeys that could not be undertaken by public transport it is not that difficult.

Whilst it has been necessary this year for me to buy another car - I have chosen a 100% electric car (5 seater van) - the only annoying thing about this car is that it went out of production in 2003 after the US repealed the CA law for the proportion of electric cars that must be sold. Whilst containing a similar amount of embodied energy as a fosssil fuel car it is zero emission and has the added benefit of forcing the driver to drive with care.

Rob, # 45: Yes, I have to admit that I've not heard of Thorium. Perhaps it is the perfect fuel. I'm certainly prepared to accept that if there are (entropic) "nuclear" reactors and (anti-entropic) "fusion" reactors -then presumably a balance could be struck which might be totally non-proliferating (and safe).... Indeed, the whole universe seems to be based on a complex balance between (organic) anti-entropic and (inorganic) entropic forces. On the other hand, the idea of "getting something for nothing" seems to be against the laws of both physics and economy (and perhaps politics too) -so we might need to seriously reconsider a few of our basic principles. This then leads us into philosophy -but philosophy is generally considered a worthless area with regard to money making.

However, even if we assume that Thorium is the perfect fuel -then to my cynical mind there is still a very serious problem: The technology/knowledge gap.

In June 1953, Ethel and Julius Rosenberg were executed for treason under the U.S. Espionage Act. Members of the communist party, the Rosenbergs were convicted of passing secret information about the atomic bomb to the Soviet Union in 1945. "History will record. . . that we were victims of the most monstrous frame-up of our country. . . .We die with honor and dignity -knowing
we must be vindicated by history." Ethel and Julius Rosenberg. (quoted from a web search on "Rosenberg + Treason"). Considering the "balance of power" in the cold war, and the recent effects of its apparent end -this might lead one to ask if, even when actually guilty as charged -perhaps the Rosenbergs should be seen as international heros.

Reading between the lines of the media reports, one might see an enormous bullying of underdeveloped countries by the west (under the US military umbrella). Many countries are justifyably worried of a US anti-missile shield that would make it invincible, while free to attack others at will. We have seen where this attitude has lead (in Iraq and Afghanistan -and is leading to in other places such as Iran, North Korea and Palestine, etc). What kind of a world would we be living in when one group of countries has not only the largest military force in the world -but also access to almost infinite energy, virtually free? Despite the propaganda, practical evidence forces me to suspect that this would be the end of freedom in the world.

In the meantime -powerful protectionist Intellectual Property Rights laws and global ant-piracy actions (together with anti-terrorist laws and nuclear anti-proliferation treaties) ensure that all countries around the world are legally bound to support western interests (so they can be "criminalised" if they do not comply). On the other hand, international law was easilly set aside in western interests for the invasion of Iraq.

"I guess this was my point, one of my questions... how in this complex system of decisions did we arrive at far less than optimal form of nuclear energy?". Yes Rob -this exactly parallels my question(s) with regard to the current commercial and cultural dominance of Microsoft. A question that is equally valid with regard to the motor car, consumerism, etc. -and perhaps even national security.

There seems to be some kind of law: If technology can be used for good or for bad -then (the most) powerful humans will exploit it as much as possible in their own (somewhat evil) interests. If Power corrupts -then presumably nuclear power would corrupt the very nucleus of our existence..... unless we learn to become saints first.

Are you a nuclear scientist?

  • 50.
  • At 10:08 AM on 20 Sep 2007,
  • Windy Miller wrote:

Blog 24 – Rob – Electric cars are a good aspiration for the future however I see things differently. I suspect that renewables (wind, solar) will become irresistible as costs reduce and these energy sources will satisfy an increasingly greater proportion of our energy needs. Vehicles will be powered by hydrogen fuel cell technology due to its real potential to be a direct replacement for hydrocarbons and its ability to be produced by lots of energy sources including renewables.

The diesel and bio-fuels issues are “easy answers” that do not add up. They just delay (perhaps harmfully) the inevitable change. Perhaps they can be viewed as bridging technologies but conflict between food & fuel production is inevitable.

  • 51.
  • At 12:01 PM on 20 Sep 2007,
  • daniel billinton wrote:

To all those that say 'why target cars emissions and lets tackle all the other easier sources of CO2 - you are missing the point.

All other sectors (except aviation), such as energy production and manufacturing have reduced their CO2 emissions in the past deacde. Emissions from cars have risen by 32% because of a trende to larger heavier cars, arising car ownership and increased mileage.

The European Union has signed a binding commitmnet under the kyoto protocol to reduce CO2 emission by 20% by 2020.(aviation and shipping are not included in kyoto)

Car emissions are undermining the efforts in all other sectors, and european car manufacturers are the only region without CO2 regulation ( even america and japan have limits)

therefore the issue is how you reduce emissions when consumer trends are towards heavier, safer, more powerful vehicles.

Studies have shown that lightening vehicles ad removing optional extras can make a drastic reduction in emissions, but many manufacturers have to pander to consumer demand for heavier cars and more optional extras - so it is consumer choice that is the problem - and CO" based taxation is the key here to sghape consumer demand.

People are right in saying that changes to the new car fleet will take a long while to affect the overall emission of europe's car 'park', but that is perhaps all that is politically possible at present.

To achieve an immediate and tangible effect you would overnight introduce 50 or 60mph motorway speed limits (as they did in the US oil crisis of the early 1970'3)that would improve fuel economy of all cars - but again this would be politically dynamite that the public wouldn't accept.

So as you can see it is the consumer that is the problem and the manufacturers simply follow demand.

The public need to be forecfully educated about how shockingly inefficient the average car is - it is possible to make amn carrying vehicle 300 times as efficient as a typical car - yes 12,000 miles per gallon.

Whilst you have a moronic car culture where people expect to do 100mph in complete comfort you will have grossly inefficient cars on the roads.

Ssociety has a choice - and it has made that choice - and selfish indulgence is the way of the world.

  • 52.
  • At 04:42 PM on 20 Sep 2007,
  • Rob wrote:

Trevor # 46, I suspect, do not know for sure, but have an educated guess, that the real reason for us being stuck with current nuclear reactor technology is... or perhaps was the nuclear arms race. Early on in the history of this technology research into thorium was abandoned in favour of uranium precisely because the uranium fuel cycle was adaptable for both energy and weapons. Thus in a way it was about power. Perhaps it is now a time to change.

You are not getting something for nothing with Thorium - you are producing energy from fission. Same principles and similar conversions as with uranium, but with a different fuel. Just as there are multiple possible chemical reactions, so there are multiple nuclear reactions.

The only catch to the technology is that it uses an isotope of uranium as a kind of "nuclear catalyst" (my own term in this context, meaning the fuel cycle uses up as much of it as is produced, so no net production of the isotope occurs). Thus to start the reactor fueled with thorium you need a kind of ignition charge of that uranium isotope. This is the only thing that can be used for a bomb in the whole cycle, but its removal destroys or rather defuels and stops your reactor... plus it is relatively short lived isotope, so a bomb would have to be made quickly and used immediately, or the fuel would decay. The catch reduces to needing one reactor of a different type (or a sufficient number of them, but just a small number compared to the number of thorium reactors you needed) to produce the starting catalyst for each new thorium reactor. However, once initially fueled, a right type of thorium reactor does not need additional fuel inputs beyond thorium. Plus it is possible to use old nuclear waste from the old uranium reactors to produce the needed catalyst - you would be also solving the problem of the nuclear waste we have already accumulated, producing additional energy, while changing it into a useable and much safer material. Eventually particle accelerators could make the required catalyst. Though I guess the reactor/s needed to produce the catayst do pose some proliferation risk.

Yes, it would be an effectively limitless form of energy, with the amounts of thorium we can get at. It would not be free energy because of production costs.

As to your concern about the rich getting richer and the poor not being able to afford this new power source. As far as I gather, a thorium reactor would be in the same cost/difficulty league as a uranium reactor, if not cheaper. Thus this energy would be available to everyone... or just about. The Chinese and the Indians could definitely do it, both technologically and financially. The same can not be said for fusion power... another reason for the propagation of one over the other?

One initial difficulty would be stopping say the Iranians from building the reactor necessary to produce the catalyst. Though considering that a single initial charge is needed, and a reactor is set for life, perhaps they could be convinced to accept the catalyst from some international and well controlled facility.

As for my background, let's just say I do not specialise in nuclear physiscs, but know something about it. I do not want to reveal too much personal information on the net. I have found about thorium while reading up information about fusion, initially about the concept of the particle driven thorium nuclear reactor, and then about the molten salt liquid fluoride thorium concept. A result of the power of Google and the internet information age. Otherwise, in an earlier time, I would probably not know about it. Probably the best starting site on the topic, by someone working directly in the field is

Windy # 50, we will need some next generation nuclear for the so called baseload power. Wind and solar will always be intermitant. In the end the final composition of the mixture depends on the costs of each energy source... if clean nuclear power is the cheaper, it will dominate... and if not, we will have it to provide the baseload.

Personally I think hydrogen as a fuel source is a blind alley we have no need for. The technology for sufficient hydrogen storage does not yet exist. Hydrogen distribution networks would have to be build at a high cost. Safety is a concern with hydrogen, as is energy efficiency with producing and using it. In contrast, electric or plug in hybrid vehicles are a technology we have right now and working. There is no need to build a new fuel distribution network, we already have one, the electricity grid. However, if in the future, hydrogen becomes the better option, I have no philosophical difficulty with it... I just don't see the need for the technology right now, or maybe never.

As for the bio fuels, I agree 100 % that as they are being used right now, they "do not add up". Bio fuels have become a problem rather than a solution. Pressure on food availability and prices, especially in a changing climate is one problem... but not the only one with the current system. On the other hand there maybe better ways to produce bio fuels. Algae is one source that would not only produce oil, but could potentially produce food at the same time... at least for animal feed and aquaculture, freeing up grains and other food stuffs for human consumption. However, the technology for algae oil is not quite there yet. We can always produce some bio fuels from waste, and this is what we should stick to in my opinion... not turning food into car fuel for the Porsche driving (if the rich want a sports car, they can always buy the Tesla).

Plus we will always need some bio oil for aircraft, ships, and perhaps trucks. The rest of transport, and cars should be electric or the next best thing. Hopefully, if algae oil production works out in practice, there is no reason why it should be a stop-gap measure, we could power our cars with bio oil indefinitely. Again, costs of renewables\nuclear-electric vs the right bio oil would have to be compared, and the right one chosen, but I do not have a philosophical preference.

To get back more to the topic... why doesn't EU require the production of electric cars and/or plug in hybrids... better than fighting with the car industry on standards for technology we should be trying to discard. In addition that hybrid diesel-plug in electric cars are in production elsewhere, we have a solution... again... just have to use it.

* 52.
* At 04:42 PM on 20 Sep 2007,
* Rob wrote:

"One initial difficulty would be stopping say the Iranians from building the reactor necessary to produce the catalyst."

Personally, i suspect that an even bigger problem is to stop the bullying attitude of the west towards others.... Surely, it is simple psychology that anybody who is "seen" to be a "problem" quickly "becomes" one.

Perhaps that is why we bully others -because it creates a "them and us" situation which distracts from our own shortcomings. Surely a rather childish approach -which becomes extremely damgerous when it involves the possibility of unlimited power (politically or physically) -including nuclear weapons......

Which country dropped two nuclear bombs on its enemy? Which country loves to cry "Nuke em!" -whenever things get tough? Which country cries that we are iether for them or against them? So why exactly is it the Iranians that are the problem?

  • 54.
  • At 01:17 PM on 21 Sep 2007,
  • Rob wrote:

Trevor # 53, I would not trust the current Iranian government with nuclear weapons. I may disagree with the methods used by the West to stop them acquiring these weapons, but I support the principle. I would not want North Korea to have nukes.

The US is not perfect. However, I would trust them, if trust I must, many times over a country like Iran or North Korea. I am also 100 % that if Hitler managed to finish the construction of a nuclear bomb in WWII, he would use it. I am equally sure Japan would do it as well.

Another country threatening the use of nuclear weapons, and basing their defence doctrine around them, is the current Russia. I am pretty sure if other countries could, they would do same.

Pperhaps I have been indoctrinated, or perhaps I trust the US not to use these weapons on my own country. I am also pretty sure the US will not start giving out nukes to terrorists.

As far as I am concerned we do not need nukes at all (unless it is for asteroid defence or some such). I just do not think there is a practical way of forcing the governments to give them up.

The TRUELY BAD thing is that nuclear weapons colour people's view of nuclear energy... at a time when we could use it for everything from powering our cars, to industrial production. If it was up to me, I would make everyone give nukes up... and resuse them as a ractor fuel :)

  • 55.
  • At 01:48 PM on 21 Sep 2007,
  • Mirek Kondracki wrote:

"If Power corrupts -then presumably nuclear power would corrupt the very nucleus of our existence..... " [#49]

On the contrary, Trevor. Nuclear power was, has been and shall be always the nucleus of our existence. Whole Universe, our worlds, and indirectly, ourselves have been born thanks to nuclear fusion reaction.[Perhaps even Big Bang itself has been caused by it]

2. "Indeed, the whole universe seems to be based on a complex balance between (organic) anti-entropic and (inorganic) entropic forces."

I wish you were right, but scientific experiments (as well as common experience) informs us that entropy always wins in the end (its vector is not reversible), and all organic "anti-etropic" successes are always merely local and temporary.
[Henceforth growing shortage of cemetery plots, for example.]

3. Don't even start me on Iran issue.
All I'll is this: if Iranian ayatollahs want nuclear warheads really badly, US may finally take pity on them and ship them some free of charge by USAF or other reliable express air delivery service. Although I'm not sure they'll appreciate it.

Thanks Mirek(#54).

1: I must congratulate you on providing us with a potentially scientific explanation for the Catholic doctrine of "Original Sin". Indeed, perhaps the whole of nature was already corrupted at its conception..... although this does raise interesting theological questions as to the perfect or imperfect nature of the creator's original creation.

2. "Scientific evidence" has "proved" many things which are now viewed differently (from Phrenology to the impossibility of the techtonic plate theory). Indeed, the once held belief in the absolute nature of Euclidean geometry is actually a belief that the world is flat. Scientific knowledge is not absolute -but based on the best available evidence (at any one time). So without discussing your (or my) "evidence" in detail -the nature of the Universe must remain a question of "belief" more than "proof". Incidentally, the dead don't just lie there -they decompose and become part of other organisms and organic matter..... from ashes to ashes, the cycle of life continues.....

3: I assume that you would be extremely opposed to some other power taking a similar position as yours towards the dignitaries of the western church. After half a century of eastern European feudal relationships with the Soviet Union -one would expect that the world would be rather less enchanted with the thought of putting itself in a similar relationship with the US.

  • 57.
  • At 06:03 PM on 22 Sep 2007,
  • Mirek Kondracki wrote:


Of course, scientific knowledge is not absolute, ex definitione.

However a fact that all elements essential to life have been created
within cores of stars, including exploding supernovae, has been established beyound so called reasonable doubt. Just as fact that our species survives only thanks to the nuclear fusion reaction of Sun.

If it stops, or significantly increases - we're doomed.
[unless we move in time to a windmill-powered planet]

Mirek, #57

I'm sorry but I really don't understand what you are trying to say:

Does the (likely) fact that the universe is powered by (an apparently anti-entropic) "fusion" process "prove" that we humans can use it safely and wisely on earth?

If it was scientifically proven that a supreme creator exists (or exiasted) would that "prove" that all humans are godlike?

To be honest, your own attitide towards "Iranian ayatollahs" seems to me one of the best arguments against the use of nuclear power by anybody on this planet.

  • 59.
  • At 10:08 AM on 24 Sep 2007,
  • Mirek Kondracki wrote:

Trevor, #57

1.Nuclear fusion process is not "anti-entropic": as its nuclear fuel depletes a planet decays and eventually dies.

2. Science by definitition (Occam's Razor) cannot ever prove (or disprove, for that matter) the existence of a supreme creator or any other unfalsifiable entity. Its a privy not of physics but of METAphysics.

3. Try and understand a concept of INTRINSICALLY-SAFE reactors which simply cannot generate (breed) plutonium or enriched uranium. That's the point Rob has made earlier as well.

If ayatollahs and other assorted lunatics in Tehran agreed to install those(just like North Korea's dictator has apparently recently done)- Iran could safely have as much commercial nuclear power as it wants - without being able to threaten "infidels" with a holocaust.

* 59.
* At 10:08 AM on 24 Sep 2007,
* Mirek Kondracki wrote:

"3. Try and understand a concept of INTRINSICALLY-SAFE reactors"

I would think that by now it was abundantly clear from your answers that the biggest danger is not from "inherently safe" reactors -but from apparently inherently unsafe people.

  • 61.
  • At 02:17 PM on 26 Sep 2007,
  • Iain D wrote:

Whatever or whichever argument you pick towards reducing pollution from our activities on this planet, one thing is for sure, our ability to travel from A to B, in the style we want, at a time we want, is sacrosanct and unalterable, politically or socially. That genie has already left the bottle.

You will notice that I haven’t stated ‘How we want’. The method of travel is still up for negotiation.

As stated by others in these answers, we don’t all live in cities, and we don’t all perform our normal daily lives with little or no luggage. These people need their larger cars for transporting the things they need to run their lives, or need their 4X4 to get to their farms &etc. these people are not bad people, and should not be vilified because of their needs.

But what amazes me is the almost total lack of interest around the total energy consumption of a vehicle throughout it’s design, manufacture, usage and destruction.

This new policy for reducing the Average CO2 output of the entire range of cars produced by a single manufacturer, will be good for the local environment where the car is used, but must raise the energy consumed during the design, manufacture and destruction stages of the vehicles life, as more exotic metals & plastics will be needed to be used to effect a lower fuel consumption during the life of the vehicle. It will also increase the number of parts that would need to be replaced if they break, which, due to the tighter tolerances required for an engine to work at higher efficiencies, will not be capable of being fixed at the garage. Couple the subsequent higher parts prices (!) with the need to replace rather than repair, we will (proobably) be decreasing the life expectancy of a car as it becomes less economically viable to have the vehicle repaired, raising the ratio of Build:Usage energy consumption still further, and further pushing up the running costs of a vehicle, away from the poorer elements of society.

If you then compare these changes in energy consumed with the statements made by the environmental bodies which state that the pollution from cars is generally going down (as old cars are removed from our roads) and that we are now in the situation where the majority of pollution in cities is created by heating, buses, lorries and taxis, not the private car, you have to start asking the question “why is the car being treated in this way?”.

Surely we should be doing something about the global warming gases output from the power stations so we can reduce the pollution caused during the manufacturing process and not have to worry about any extra energy consumed during the usage of the vehicle as (overall) we are moving in the correct direction in that argument. I agree that any improvement in the quality of life in our cities must be welcome, but please remember, we don't all live in cities.

Every replacement to the internal combustion engine, muted by the manufactures, will ultimately also rely on the ability to convert Electricity into some form of stored energy, whether it’s electricity itself, Hydrogen gas or compressed air !. To make the most of these alternatives we must make sure our future electricity production is clean and friendly, if we are to find a long term answer to this whole dilemma.

If we get the electricity generation technology right we could even be selling it to India, China and USA to stop their levels rising in the first place.

Please stop pointing the finger at the usage of these devices but look at the whole life cycle while realising that some people do not have a choice.

All we’re doing by changing the energy consumed during usage is tinkering around the edges.

  • 62.
  • At 04:27 PM on 28 Sep 2007,
  • daniel billinton wrote:

I profoundly disagree with your analysis there as uit seems to be contradicted by the evidence.

According to reliabel data from the ACEA, the european automobile manufacturers association, the percentages of an average cars CO2 emission sare as follows : 10% manufacture, 85 % consumer use, 5% recycling.

Therefore the manufacuring stage is a very small part of the whole CO2 footprint. furthermore this percentage is getting smaller as manufacturers try to save energy to lower costs, and also because cars now last a minimum of 200,000 miles and so their 'in use' phase is much longer than it used to be.

The reason the car industry is being targeted is not prejudice but is for a simple reason. Since 1995 european car emissions ahve risen by 32% and are the fastest and only rising sector due to increasing car ownership, increasing average mileage and increased congestion exacerbating the CO2 emissions. other sectors such as manufacuring, energy production, water and waste management have all reduced emissions. it is therefore car emissions which are making it difficult to meet kyoto CO2 commitments.

As for the point about peoples 'need' for cars i have to laugh.
need = something necessary to live
want = something to increase comfort

People 'expect mobility because they simply don't know any better. The current generation cannot imagine what it was like before the car existed so they take it for granted.

We have created a commuting society and shopping culture around the car - out of twon shopping, working, going to school miles from home. peopl'es expectations have risen without being aware of the damage they are doing.

And that is the problem - people are so totally detached from the emissions that they produce that they choose vehicles for their own selfish requirements.

And that is why tax regimes, congestion chraging, road pricing and now co2 legisaltion are necessary to make people choose vehicles in a more responsible manner.

  • 63.
  • At 05:15 AM on 01 Oct 2007,
  • Ian Jefferies wrote:

Daniel Billinton - spot on.
Budgie Sargent - I don't think it's sour grapes.... lots of people could buy a Porsche but don't feel the need to have one.

  • 64.
  • At 04:14 PM on 08 Oct 2007,
  • daniel billinton wrote:

I note a recent report by a welsh university that developed a system of measuring a car's total lifetime carbon footprint(LCF) and showed that a lotus elise had a similar lifetime CO2 output to that of a toyota prius hybrid.

This shows that you can have porsche performance if you really need it and low emissions. Lightweighting is the key - across all classes of cars from superminis to supercars - they are all much too heavy- and the increasing average weight of vehicles (1320kg at present in europe) is one of the main reasons that manufacturers are stuggling to bring down emissions despite improving engine technology.

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