Footprints in the Sand

November 22nd, 2019

An impressive piece of ‘sand art’ has appeared on the beach at Whitby (a place very close to my heart!) – two footprints represent the relative impact on the environment of petrol & diesel cars (50 metres) and electric cars (3.5 metres). The carbon footprint of petrol and diesel cars on UK roads is FOURTEEN times what it would be if all those vehicles were to switch to electric power by 2030. 

This is based on analysis by EDF (more on that later!…), which reckoned that the 32.4 million petrol & diesel cars on UK roads will emit around 69.5 million tonnes of carbon dioxide per year, when driven an average of 7,600 miles.

By comparison, the same amount of electric cars would add less than 5 million tonnes of CO2 to the environment (I’m not sure why they would emit any CO2?…) – a fall of 92 per cent, reducing Britain’s overall carbon footprint by more than 10 per cent.

EDF’s consumer research also apparently shows ‘there is a willingness to reduce our collective carbon footprint, but a lack of understanding as to how to do so…. Two thirds of Brits are unaware of how their vehicle contributes to their carbon footprint…. The average motorist made at least four trips of under 10 minutes in their car each week, with 45 per cent confessing they had a tendency to drive distances they could easily walk…

‘64 per cent are unaware of what their carbon footprint actually is, with more people knowing when their MOT is due and the mileage of their car.’

Depressing, but not surprising to me, sadly….

I had expected this to be why some people shout at well-intentioned protests (disrupting us, as climate change does & will), but at least, if we’re to believe the survey, it’s not that people don’t care and want selfishly to carry on with ‘business as usual’, just that they don’t know that they can make a difference…

EDF says: ‘there is a desire to know more about their environmental impact with more than half – 53% – of those wanting to know what their carbon footprint is. And two thirds of people questioned wished there was more information on how to reduce their footprint.’

Of course EDF has some kind of ‘vested interest’ – it wants us to see how green and concerned about the environment they are… With most of their electricity created by nuclear power, they are not exactly a ‘squeaky clean’ company; but I’m glad if they are waking some people up to the climate emergency at least.

Driving less often is definitely a simple way we can reduce emissions – buying an electric vehicle is beyond many people’s financial reach – and fewer vehicles on roads will surely be good in many ways, fewer traffic jams, less road rage etc…

It’s great news that Channel Four is scheduling a debate about the climate, ahead of the UK election – it will be on television next week, a date doesn’t seem to have been set yet… Look out for it! Party leaders will be taking part – with the likely exception of the prime minister: he doesn’t want environmental issues to be ‘siloed’….??? (So they’re at the heart of your manifesto, are they?!)

Whoever ends up running the country after December 12th, pressure will need to be kept up.

The issue of the importance of public transport has been highlighted again recently – not only should there be more of it, to reduce traffic on the roads, but what there is needs urgent attention.

Alex Hynes, managing director of Scotland’s Railway, has warned that Britain’s railways ‘can no longer cope’ with the effects of climate change. Extreme weather including storms, heatwaves and flooding have damaged infrastructure and halted thousands of services across the UK this year. As well as asking for much more investment, he is urging more work on decarbonising rail.

So, individuals’ concerns as well those of responsible industries and service providers all point to the possibility of positive change.

Great, but sadly I have a nagging voice in my head (spoken by a number of people I talk with…) –

what is the point of doing anything, when there is the problem of China?

Well, I have a few answers!

On the global level, how can it help if we continue business as usual – if a bath is overflowing (caused by China or whoever!), you don’t just keep the taps running, do you?

And on a local/UK level, let’s sort out our own air pollution at least – from homes, industry and cars it ‘kills five people a week in Bristol’….For those who know me, that statistic is particularly worrying….But something is being done about it now – there are plans to ban diesel cars from central areas, although not until 2021….Marvin Rees (whom I’m regularly in touch with), the Bristol mayor, said: ‘We have a moral, ecological and legal duty to clean up the air we breathe… to improve health and save lives in Bristol.’ He needs to start actively opposing the Bristol Airport expansion too, hugely polluting….

Back to the difficult China question, Global Energy Monitor has said the gulf between China and other countries was on track to widen as Beijing pursued plans to build more new coal-fired power stations than the rest of the world combined. The business section of The Guardian came to a very bleak conclusion about all this – globalisation has allowed western countries to outsource not just manufacturing jobs but their carbon emissions to China: at some cost. But even this analysis mentioned the importance of people-powered protests…. ‘if ever there was a country that needed its own version of Extinction Rebellion it is the world’s second biggest economy’…!

I’m going to end with a ray of hope on this ‘world stage’ subject : the GEM report said that China’s expansion of coal power is not inevitable and it urges Beijing to strengthen its policies of incentivising low-carbon energy. Jeanett Bergan, the head of responsible investment at Norway’s largest pension fund, KLP, said: ‘China’s advantage is that it is a global leader in solar and wind power, and last year sold more electric cars than the rest of the world combined. It can become the world’s foremost clean energy superpower’. Wow! Here’s hoping…

One thought on “Footprints in the Sand

  1. Sadly I think Australia is supplying a large amount of the coal that China uses, but hopefully things will change. Bikes are wonderful for short trips, I try and walk or bike to the supermarket these days, so much to be gained by doing so, it helps us stay fit and is at least a little help with the carbon footprint.
    I am following your lead and have taken to writing letters, starting with letting politicians know my objections and opposition to coal mines, especially the new Adarni mine.


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