Thursday, November 30, 2006

More interested in pounds than planet?

Far from the bogeymen eco-extremists make them out to be, car makers are crying out for the government to provide real incentives for people to switch to their greener products.

But rather than enabling people to make an affordable, more environmentally-friendly choice, all allegedly 'green' politicians seem interested in so far is ways to increase taxes and wring more cash out of already financially hard-pressed car users.

Saab MD Jonathan Nash is the latest to appeal for the government to take action to boost the emerging bioethanol fuel industry. Speaking at the launch of Saab's second flex-fuel car – the Saab 9-5 2.3t BioPower – Nash said that CO2 emissions could be cut by as much as 70%. Yet incentives for buyers in the UK were not available.

He has joined Ford, which makes the Focus FFV, Morrisons Supermarkets and the National Farmers Union in asking for the Chancellor to include incentives in his 2007 budget.

Joining the growing chorus pointing out the government's hypocrisy, Nash said, "Upon publication of the Stern Review the British government claimed to be leading the global debate on climate change. Well I don't see much evidence of that.

"What I see is the Swedish government taking progressive measures, such as major tax relief at the pump and for company car drivers, and free parking in Swedish cities to encourage drivers into environmentally friendly cars, instead of penalising them."

Those politicians professing concern about the environment but only proposing ramping up taxes on car use to ridiculous levels can only be trying to pocket more of our pounds rather than save the planet.

A real demonstration of their professed conviction about the dangers facing the planet would be acting on the fact that a far more speedy and effective reduction in carbon emissions could be achieved if they reduced their tax take on environmentally-friendly products to make them more affordable. And not just in transport.

When they show a willingness to do this, then maybe they can expect their lectures about global warming to be taken more seriously.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

London Low Sense Zone

The likely harmful effect on Londoners' health of Livingstone's policy of piling more and more buses onto London's overcrowded streets is admitted in the info on his latest scheme - a London
Low Emission Zone.

Announcing a 'consultation' on the plan, the press release says "A Low Emission Zone scheme would aim to improve London's air quality - and thereby improve Londoners' health - by encouraging operators of large diesel vehicles to clean up their fleets".

Later, Ken himself is quoted as saying "The proposed Low Emission Zone is the most effective way of quickly reducing pollutants that are among the most harmful to human health."

But who's causing all the emissions of diesel pollutants, as Ken says, 'among the most harmful to human health'? Is it really private operators of 'large diesel vehicles'?

A main culprit has to be the 8,000-strong fleet of London buses which travel millions of miles in London - stopping, starting and lingering in densely populated areas - for which Livingstone himself is ultimately responsible. A fleet that has rapidly increased in number since he came into office.

More buses, more emissions

Increasing the frequency of service on bus routes inevitably increases the amount of diesel exhaust in the air. Even using newer buses with cleaner diesels can produce similar total exposures as the old, less frequent service with older engines.

It's also the case that finer particles from newer diesel engines can enter the body much more easily than the coarse particles from older engines, so may actually represent a greater health risk.

But what's Ken's response on seeing that health-threatening diesel pollutants are predictably on the rise as a result of his actions? Launch a study into whether further expansion of bus services is really necessary or worth this cost to human health, and moderate his actions accordingly? Regardless of the health implications, many may see this as a good idea anyway, given the number of buses trundling around these days with next to no-one on board.

But no. In typical Ken style, someone else is getting the blame - and their wallets raided for their 'crimes'.

Just like with ordinary car users and the 'congestion' charge, under the LEZ scheme private operators of larger vehicles are going to find themselves slapped with fines or the costs of changing their vehicles in order to compensate for Ken's unnecessary pollution.

Not taking responsibility

As usual, the most "effective" action to Livingstone is apparently not doing more in areas that are his own responsibility - a massive and increasing source of diesel emissions - but setting up elaborate and expensive schemes to confuse, interfere with and pocket cash from everyone else, delivering large profits to his new corporate 'comrades' like Capita in the process.

Showing at least an awareness of this hypocrisy, lurking at the bottom of the press release is the claim, "Through the fitting of particulate traps, all London buses under contract to Transport for London now meet a minimum of Euro III emission standards for particulate matter."

However, that statement
rather contradicts this BBC article from September, saying that the traps that had been fitted have made harmful bus emissions massively worse, quoting a Mike Weston of London buses saying that the problem won't be corrected for two years yet.

So who's telling the truth?

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Mayor's lip service to tackling health threatening bus pollution

Also interesting about Livingstone's recent press release announcing the complete transformation of the London congestion charge into an emissions charge scheme, and its £25 daily top rate for many ordinary family cars, is the self-conscious mention in the last paragraph of London's buses.

Diesels may well emit less CO2 than petrol vehicles and this is what blinkered adherents to the global warming theory obsess about at any other cost.

But they are far worse for ground-level pollution, emitting greater quantities of substances like nitrogen oxide and far more particulates that have a direct negative effect on human health, particularly on those already ill or suffering respiratory problems.

Is the global warming theory, or even the human influence on climate change, well proven enough to justify this harmful trade-off? We'd better be sure, as it's undoubtedly costing lives.

In London, buses are the worst culprit of all for such pollution. Now numbering 8,000 - many more since Livingstone became mayor - they travel tens of thousands more miles a year each than any private car, they frequently stop and start, and often stand stationary for extended periods in densely populated places.

They are also a singly managed pollution source - proprietor, one Ken Livingstone.

So what's he doing about his rapidly growing 'fleet' of heavy-use polluters before lecturing families about their cars and hitting them with absurdly high charges for daring to use them?

In the press release he grandly announces that "We are already cleaning up London's fleet of public vehicles through measures like the introduction of Hybrid buses". Really? So how many of London's 8,000 buses are currently hybrids? Well, according to an earlier press release, a grand total of six.

Sorry, but such paltry efforts are no excuse for continuing to hammer car users as the big culprits for harmful emissions. Far greater progress must be made to tackle the massive source of visible ground-level pollution under Livingstone's control that is these 8,000 buses, before ramping up the costs for ordinary family car users to extraordinary levels like £25 a day can possibly be justified on 'green' grounds.

Has Livingstone now become so obsessed with meddling in other people's lives to get the responsibilities of his own job in order? The evidence is certainly mounting.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Livingstone writes off family vote with £25 'congestion' tax plan

Not content with offending both London's
gay and Jewish communities, along with being accused of making other racist jibes, Ken Livingstone now intends to finally dispense with the vote of London's family car users.

Today he formally announced his plan to
treble the London congestion charge to £25 for cars in tax band G - those emitting more than 225g/km of CO2. He'll also be ditching the 90% resident's discount for users of these cars, meaning that if any moves their car past one of the cameras within the charging times they will be hit with the full £25 tax.

The charge is expected to be possible from 2009, but Livingstone apparently wants to start it earlier.

Another 'green' tax misdirected

But far from targetting the 'wealthy', owners of large and expensive cars, or the oft-mentioned '4x4s', this extreme charge plan will in reality hit many owners of ordinary small to mid-size family cars and, particularly, people carriers.

Even some models of the following very average cars with certain engine sizes - just two litres in some cases, especially if automatic - will be hit by these extreme charges: the Audi A3 hatchback & A4 saloon, BMW 3-series upwards, Citroen C8 MPV, Kia Sedona MPV, Lexus IS small saloon, Mercedes's C-class smallest saloon model upwards, Peugeot 407, Renault Laguna & Espace, Seat Alhambra MPV, Toyota Previa MPV, Vauxhall Zafira MPV, Volkswagen Sharan MPV, Volvo V70 estate and others. The SMMT have produced a more precise list of examples.

So contrary to the media hype about 4x4s, this new congestion charge is actually more of an attack on family cars and MPVs.

New £25 charge hits families hardest

This of course makes a complete mockery of Livingstone's claim that "Most vehicles that will be charged £25, in vehicle excise duty band G, are high-priced models."

And it's hard to see why this warrants the glee of the London Green Party in calling this excessive financial persecution of families "fantastic news" or of Richmond Council (of 'green' parking permit con fame) in calling it "tremendous news". What planet are these people on - and who votes them in?

Worst of the bunch, This is London reports, has to be some non-entity called Geoff Pope - apparently Liberal Democrat (surprise, surprise!) chairman of the London Assembly Transport Committee. He proudly displayed his ignorance by saying, "Urgent action is needed to tackle the growing number of 'Chelsea tractors' coming into central London. They are damaging and unnecessary vehicles in a densely urbanised 21st century city."

Why, Mr Pope? When most are no bigger (except in height - is that terribly 'overcrowding'?) and no more polluting than many average family cars?

Is it too much to expect the chairman of the Transport Committee to scrutinise a car magazine and get the facts about sizes and performance of 4x4s relative to other cars? If he can't manage even that, who knows what other damage he's doing in his position. The man should be removed from his post for gross incompetence.

It was left to the National Alliance Against Tolls to make a sensible and practical point in the BBC report, in saying, "Band G cars will pay more from 2009, but that band only relates to cars registered after 23 March 2006, so it could have a perverse effect by encouraging the use of older vehicles."

Congestion charge or local car tax?

This latest move also signalled a conversion of the charging scheme away from focussing on congestion into more of an additional London car tax operating on similar emissions-based lines to the national car tax system. Is this what Livingstone was elected to impose on London?

In targetting people-carriers worst of all, this £25 charge plan is likely to actually make congestion worse.

Take school runs in the congestion charge zone. The school run is a major factor in road over-crowding, its absence at holiday times having a noticeable effect on how busy roads are.

Instead of those with larger cars like MPVs being able to do a school run for several families and take up to six kids to school, they will likely have to ditch their MPV to avoid the extreme charge and use a car with far less space. So more than likely multiple extra cars will be on the road doing the school run, to ferry the same number of kids.

More cars on the road

And if the scheme is 'successful' (on its own terms) in encouraging people to take advantage of the proposed zero charge for tiny or hybrid cars, then free access to central London roads would surely make them busier.

So it's hard to see what this new 'emissions-based' congestion charge will have to do with congestion at all. It clearly needs a new name too.

The widespread oppressive effect of this plan will be compounded by the westwards extension of the 'congestion' charge zone from February next year, targetting thousands more families with the extreme £25 charge.

We're supposedly reassured that this planned change is all 'subject to consultation'. That's of course what was said about the plan to extend the original charge zone. More than 80% of businesses and 70% of residents spoke out against the extension in that 'consultation', yet Livingstone is doing it anyway.

That's democracy in Livingstone-land. Ignoring the clearly expressed views of the people and imposing his ill-considered and un-wanted schemes regardless. No wonder he's such a fan of Cuba.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

The BIG question

Two contributions to the debate on climate change on last week's edition of BBC1's Question Time deserve to be recorded in print.

First Peter Hitchens, who courageously read the riot act to the QT audience and left them reeling when they dared to groan at his questioning of the cosy climate change 'consensus'. He said:

"There is as yet no firm knowledge among scientists - no agreement among scientists - as to whether global warming is connected with human activity... (audience groans)

"...I'm is...I've stated a simple fact. Scientists disagree about this. And if you can't accept it, and if you howl about it, you're in the grips of some kind of religious mania. There is no proof. It doesn't exist.

"There is an argument among scientists, and those scientists who object to the idea that there may be a connection between global warming and human activity are actually persecuted by other scientists, and subjected to inquisitions, such as Bjorn Lomborg. And it is very difficult for them to do so and their courage is to be applauded.

"But to moan and groan when somebody says something unfashionable is just to use the mentality of the herd of sheep. It is the case that we do not know.

"And we are being.... Just as Charles Clarke here tries to panic you, or tried when he was in office, to panic you into abandoning centuries of English liberty on the grounds of a terrorist bogey, the climate change people want to panic you into handing over large amounts of your money on the grounds of a climate change bogey.

"Be very, very wary of it. Be sceptical. Think about it. Don't accept what you're being told simply because somebody says 'I know'."

And a bit later...

"All that you will do if you try and restrict industry here on the Kyoto basis and on heavy taxation is you will transfer more industry to China and India and impoverish the West.

"If that's what you wish to achieve, great. But it doesn't seem to be - on the basis of an argument which is by no means resolved, is very complicated, and which most people think they know about and don't - it doesn't seem to me to be very wise to embark on a huge economic revolution on the basis of an undecided argument in science."

Second, notable in contrast only for its blatant hypocrisy, Lib Dem leader Menzies Campbell said: "There is no need to increase the overall tax take".

Really Ming? What's this all about then?

Friday, November 03, 2006

Honda hits back against anti-4x4 lobby

Car makers are starting to fight their corner against the irrational victimisation of 4x4s and their drivers being encouraged by a small minority of anti-capitalists masquerading as 'green' campaigners.

In the first case of a car maker communicating with their customers on the 4x4 debate, Honda have revealed that they will be sending a special campaign pack to all owners of their new CR-V (pictured).

The pack will demolish some of the key complaints of the anti-4x4 lobby and provide a special window sticker for them to display, promoting the message that 'Not all 4x4s are the same'.

Tallying strongly with earlier postings on this blog (What's Ken's real problem with 4x4s?), the campaign pack hits the 4x4-obsessives with some killer facts:

Too dirty?
The new Honda CR-V is not only cleaner than other SUVs - its exhaust emissions are lower than some large estates, hatchbacks, MPVs and even a Mini Cooper S!

Too big?
The CR-V has a footprint that's a similar size to a Ford Mondeo (and smaller than a BMW 523iE).

Too dangerous?
The current CR-V achieves a 3-star rating for pedestrian safety - which, according to industry experts Euro NCAP, puts it in the top 10 per cent of pedestrian-friendly cars on the road. Also, the current model gets 4-stars for occupant safety.

Commenting on the new campaign, John Kingston, Environment Manager at Honda UK, said "The 'one size fits all' approach of Anti 4x4 protesters is confusing. Some customers have expressed their concerns and frustration about being criticised for driving a CR-V - no surprise when you consider this Honda is incredibly clean, not a gas-guzzler, smaller than most 4x4s and is remarkably safe for both passengers and pedestrians."

Now all that's needed is for the mainstream media to wake up to the facts on this issue and to stop mindlessly repeating the baseless rhetoric of the anti-4x4 brigade.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Green car industry leads the way

It's never mentioned in the gloom and doom stories about the environment, and eagerness to blame cars and their users for the alleged looming climate problems, but Britain's car industry is in fact leading the way in making their manufacturing activities and products kinder to the environment.

According to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) Report on the 2005 Market, the average new car sold in 2005 emits 10.7% less CO2 than one registered in 1997. What's more, the percentage of new cars with CO2 emissions of under 140 g/km has risen to 18%, up from 3.9% in 1997.

Over half the new car market is now under the 160 g/km CO2 level, having fallen by more than 20 g/km per new vehicle since 1997. And despite a 15% increase in the total cars on the road since that year, total emissions from cars has fallen by 1%.

Those really concerned with improving our environment - as opposed to those who merely use it as an excuse to demand higher taxes or have a pop at the 'wealthy' - will be delighted to learn that improvements at Britain's car manufacturing sites have been even more significant.

Another SMMT study, Motorfacts 2006, reveals that energy used to produce each vehicle in the UK has been almost halved in just four years and, even better, the waste per vehicle produced sent to landfill has been cut by more than 70%.

Specific projects also show how hard car-makers are working to reduce their impact on the environment. As noted in a previous posting on expansion of the UK car industry, Ford is investing
£1 billion in developing new fuel-saving engines and systems at their UK technical centres, towards creating cars capable of 70mpg and emitting less than 100 g/km of CO2.

Last month, Auto Express reported that Toyota is joining in by switching the transport of raw materials to its Burnaston plant in Derbyshire from lorries to trains. And since last year Nissan's plant in Sunderland has been generating 5% of its energy needs with
wind power. Though the six 200ft turbines installed at a cost of
£2.3 million were reduced to five in December last year when one
burst into flames and its 75ft blades dropped off.

So rather than victimise the car industry and make extreme tax proposals that would likely harm a significant British industry and put thousands of people out of a job, those concerned about the environment and climate change should be offering congratulations and encouragement for this clear progress.