Whatever happened to “environmental awareness”?

I took the plunge and bought a car a few months ago, and was faced with a choice between diesel and hybrid.

A car is typically the second biggest thing you’ll buy, so I researched and checked every conceivable review under the sun before committing. Universally, the choice between diesel and hybrid was presented in terms of fuel consumption and driving pleasure.

Diesel and hybrid “official consumption” figures are quite similar. Most reviewers in the UK refused to believe the published figures for hybrid (and they are right not to, typically overstated by 10mpg), but then mysteriously did believe the diesel cars’ figures (which are in fact, after tests, even further out from those published, typically overstated by 12-15mpg). Some savvy reviewers noted that the hybrid will not require a filter replacement in later life, bringing down overall running costs considerably. Most reviewers preferred to drive the diesels on the grounds they were more familiar (not just in terms of basic usage, but also in terms of sound and feel); some nevertheless felt hybrid had the edge because it is ultimately petrol, with arguably smoother acceleration. All accepted that hybrid still has a job on its hands simply explaining what it is, whereas people are now well used to diesel. Ultimately, I’d say most reviewers put it at a draw, with diesel winning on away goals for private users simply because it is more familiar; but something of a penalty shoot-out for business users because the UK tax advantages of hybrid over diesel – zero road tax (versus 200-250 pounds per annum); fully reclaimable lease rental (versus 85%); much lower BIK rate (c. 12% versus c. 30%).

There’s something missing there. Oh yes, emissions. The reason hybrids are taxed lower is emissions. So you may consider hybrids on that basis.

Ahem, there’s something still wrong there. When did reducing car emissions become solely a matter of tax advantages to businesses? What on earth happened to the environmental awareness argument?

You could say, of course, that the fact the hybrid with its lower emissions enjoys distinct tax advantages is a triumph for environmental campaigners. Nevertheless, the fact is that in all my research – and it went on for months – I never once heard the purely environmental case being made for hybrid over diesel. No, if the case for hybrid over diesel is made at all, it is about fuel consumption, driving pleasure or perhaps tax benefits – but never the environment.

Even those attempting to sell me the hybrid never made any reference to the idea I might want to drive one simply to be kinder to the environment. You know what that means? Environmental awareness doesn’t sell any more.

On the basis of this, I put forward the contention that environmental awareness has been removed completely from civic and political debate since the “Credit Crunch”. It was already the case that it had only caught on among the prosperous – predominantly in the richer EU countries and even specifically the richer German states and even then among the richest in those countries and states (German studies show that the party whose voters have the highest average income is the Green Party, and I have little reason to doubt that is replicated elsewhere).

Ultimately, being environmentally aware is all very well, but only if you can afford it. Now, no one can. As it happens, a poorer Western world has seen Western governments begin to hit environmental targets, but to little avail as China, a non-Western country with a fifth of the global population, has trebled its output to become by far the largest producer of cars in the world (never mind the fastest growing consumer of them).

This is not to dismiss the Green argument. It is to say that, when push comes to shove, 90%+ of the population of your average Western country and 99% in your average non-Western country couldn’t give a damn about it (rightly or wrongly). That’s a fact, and no amount of letter writing and no number of keyboard warriors will change it. The environmental case has to be put while accepting this reality.

I bought the hybrid, by the way. I’d like to think environmental considerations had something to do with it. But then, I once liked to think that one day I’d play for Arsenal…

 

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7 thoughts on “Whatever happened to “environmental awareness”?

  1. A rose by any other says:

    It’s quite simple. Environmental awareness was all the rage about seven or eight years ago. The economy was booming, and everyone wanted to feel good about themselves. And how was the best way to do that? Pretend to selflessly care about the planet.

    LiveEarth anyone?

  2. factual says:

    It is quite exciting to walk down the street in London now and see electric cars “plugged in and recharging”. In a few years it will be common.

    • A rose by any other says:

      But where does the electricity come from?

      • It’s a good point, that!

        For reference, my own car charges using “regenerative breaking”, meaning that when you brake (strictly speaking, when you put the system into deceleration, you don’t actually brake at all until under 5mph) the car uses the energy to recharge the battery. No “charging points” required.

      • factual says:

        Its free to the user on London powerpoints anyhow.

  3. Kaido says:

    .Read your article with interest as changing car later this year and like the idea of an environment friendly vehicle, but seeing as I live in south Down the appeal of crossing the border for cheaper diesel currently trumps all other options – so diesel it is

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