This is a tricky post to write; let me say at the outset that I am not denying the reality or impact of man-made climate change. I know that scientific opinion is practically unanimous and I know that cars are playing a large part in generating green-house gases, how could they not be?
However this is almost the only mention of CO2 that you will find on Man’s Greatest Mistake.
The reason? In my view the CO2 argument lets the car industry off so many other hooks that it is self-defeating. And importantly those other hooks are the ones that most people are much more likely to really connect with, the ones that are much more likely to actually change behaviour.
Let’s look at some examples:
First Order Motivators – personal benefits *
Cutting a car out of your life will save you a heck of a lot of money.
Walking, cycling and public transport will make you slimmer and healthier.
Doing without a car has its challenges, but overall it actually makes life less complicated and easier.
With portable technology on chauffeur-driven transport you can do much more texting, twittering, working, learning, movie-watching and game playing. (I’m writing this whilst travelling on a bus).
You can have a drink at the pub when you are going home by bus or train. (Maybe later).
You are much more likely to meet someone you like when you travel without the cage around you.
Second Order Motivators – personal dangers avoided *
You are much less likely to end up with a criminal record if you don’t drive.
You are much less likely to be killed or seriously injured.
You are much less likely to kill or seriously injure somebody else.
You are much less likely to be involved in a road-rage incident.
You are much less likely to be the victim of crime.
Third Order Motivators – for the good of your community
You will create less noise in your neighbourhood.
You will create less pollution in your neighbourhood.
You will help to foster more play and friendship in your neighbourhood.
Fourth Order Motivators – for the good of your country
You will make a measurable reduction in economic waste and reduce your country’s debt, and probably its trade deficit.
You may make your country less dependent on imported energy.
You may, therefore, help to reduce conflicts with other countries over resources.
Fifth Order Motivators – for the good of the planet
You may help to reduce by a tiny proportion the impact of climate change.
* Advertisers will usually focus on these first two categories because these are the ones that are most likely to change behaviour. Imagine what a good advertising agency could do with some of those messages.
In my own family’s case we have given up two cars and although we like the idea of ‘doing our bit’ for the planet our real motivations are very much in the first two categories.
If I’m absolutely honest, I find it embarrassing when someone assumes we don’t have a car because of climate change, it implies they take me for a bit of a nutter. Because you would have to be a bit of a nutter to give up your car because of global warming when everybody else is carrying on as normal. (Apologies if that’s you, it’s very noble of you, but nuts).
So, irony of ironies, the only people that really benefit from all the banging on about cars and CO2 are the motor industry. And the proof of that is how much banging on about it they do themselves.
‘Green’ is just a great new feature for them to sell, another market segment to sell to, and a high-value market segment at that. ‘Green’ is a great new reason to upgrade your vehicle. Another reason to take out another loan and invest in another shiny new motor car. And look, it’s got a slot for your iPhone!
Unfortunately this message suits the traditional media too, so a deadly alliance is formed. Newspapers rely on advertising from the car industry to prop up their failing business models and have taken to this new opportunity with gusto. Look at the Metro’s high-profile support for ecovelocity. And at the Guardian, motoring journalism has even been re-branded as environmental journalism. Its scandalous, when you think about it.
Any environment journalist who was really serious about reducing CO2 emissions would be talking an awful lot less about new cars and nuclear power and an awful lot more about truly low-carbon modes of travel. Or, get this, less travel altogether.
Because the only way we are really going to arrest the damage to the planet is by using less of the world’s non-renewable resources. It is a fiction that the way to improve the environment is by expending our economic wealth on a new stock of motor cars and a new infrastructure and new nuclear power stations to support them. This is clearly nonsense but it is gaining credibility because it is being so widely peddled by the industry, the media and even some members of the environmental movement. True sustainability actually means less industrial activity, not more.
The giant new economies of China, India and Brazil are currently copying our mistakes so they will be amplified several times over. The countries that went through the first wave of industrialisation should be taking a lead and showing how a post-industrial society can use communications technology to give its citizens happy, healthy lives without each one personally owning two tons of highly worked metals, plastics and chemicals.
I think people have been through so much upheaval in the last few years that we are in a mood for much more radical solutions. A whole new deal. But to date neither the politicians nor the traditional media have felt able to take on the vested economic interests and show us the next step forward.