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The exhausting job of carbon-counting. The Green Piece

Tuesday 11 November, 2012. The Green Piece Column.

Much like calorie-counting, carbon-counting is an annoying and tedious job designed to make you want to pull your eyes out through your ears.

One of the things that supporters of combustion car and electric cars often throw at each other is whether the full carbon and environmental impact of their respective vehicles is fully assessed.

Even with the full well-to-wheel emissions fully The carbon-banishing fairy-not real we're afraidaccounted for, there a still a million things that can skew the end figure; such as just what your local electricity mix is like, what time you charged your electric car and even how you personally drive and use your car.. and whether or not you remembered to pray to the carbon fairy before you set off (OK, that last one is not real, but you get my point).

Then there is the use of rare earth minerals, particularly in hybrid and electric cars, recyclability and end of life to consider..the list goes on.

That’s why even though it makes sense to generate electricity at a plant, you can always find a situation or slant that will make battery electric cars look like they don’t make environmental sense.

Carbon-only story

When it comes to diesel v petrol, with diesel cars usually beating petrol equivalents for CO2 emissions, the true cost of oil burners is not fully accounted for because we only consider CO2 emissions and overlook their higher levels of particulates and NOx. In measuring CO2 emissions from these cars, we don’t account for the impact of extraction, processing and distributing the fuel to petrol stations.

Filling up or plugging in: which is worse for the environment? Just thinking of all the different ways in which we fail to properly assess our environmental impact is enough to give anyone a headache. As such it is hardly fair to expect consumers to accurately make these arduous assessments, not to mention that you can hardly expect them to care to make them.

It is has to one of the hardest things that the environmental movement faces; consumer apathy coupled with the extremely complicated job of making accurate assessments of environmental impacts (which in itself extends well beyond just carbon-counting). Get it wrong, even a little, and you leave yourself open to accusations of hypocrisy and deliberately misleading your customers.

Filling up or plugging in: which is worse for the environment? For the car industry, the focus has to ultimately be on other benefits beside this abstract art of carbon assessing.

For electric and hybrid cars that should be easy, once driven, motorists quickly realise there is plenty that they offer other than a vague feeling that you might be doing something to responsible.

For example, in an electric car, the smooth, quiet operation and instant torque makes it a nippy joy to drive. And as we’ve already seen, it is not just the low cost of recharging that makes EV drivers grin smugly, there is also evidence that in the long-run, they are cheaper to maintain and repair (see story)

Future cool

We’ve seen this switch in the car industry as consumers show signs of fatigue when it comes to green messages, driven, at least in part, by the economic downturn. As consumers respond by tightening their belts, carmakers have wooed them with promises of lower fuel consumption from their ‘greener models’. The marketing message has been slowly switching from ‘eco’ to ‘efficient’, to impress customers with promises of reduced fuel bills.

Future Drive Motor Show

This change in focus is even reflected in one of the UK motor industry’s most important shows; Ecovelocity, which revealed in October it was changing its name to the Future Drive Motor Show (see story). Ditching the word ‘eco’ in favour of a name almost fit for a Star Trek convention perhaps shows more than ever how green is just no longer cool. Like an episode of Tomorrow’s World, the re-born show which heads to the London Excel next May, will refocus itself on showcasing cutting-edge technology and the latest vehicles, rather than necessarily focusing on eco-credentials.

One things for sure, the show will still be crammed with the latest electric, hybrid, fuel cell and fuel efficient combustion cars, it is just that the focus will be on why these cars are cool rather than trying to suggest they’ll save the planet.

Will this keep motorists engaged in the idea of greening up their transport? With expect so, after all being excited about the future comes a hell of a lot easier than obsessing with numbers.

You heard it first here folks, carbon-counting is dead. Like a binge-diet coming to an ugly end, we’re no longer even looking scales. We want just futuristic solutions to our problems, that take away the effort. So look out for those domestic robots we were promised sat alongside the latest fuel cell and plug-in cars.

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Faye Sunderland

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