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Should petrol and diesel cars be banned?

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By 2040, all petrol and diesel cars may be banned from UK roads – according to a recent Lib Dem proposal. This controversial idea, which was discussed at the party’s conference in Glasgow recently, will mean that drivers (excluding those using freight vehicles) will only be permitted to use ultra-low-carbon cars such as hybrids or electrics.

The ban is part of a larger vision for the future – that of a zero-carbon Britain. As well as removing petrol and diesel vehicles from the roads, it includes plans for road pricing in congested areas, investment in low-carbon technologies and infrastructure, and a target to halve total energy demand by 2030.

But will it work? And even if it does – how much of a positive impact will it have?

Who are the proposals going to affect?

These proposals will affect almost everyone. According to DVLA reports, there are 28.7m cars on the road and whilst there has been an increase in the number of low-emission vehicles, in 2012 over 99% of newly registered vehicles were petrol or diesel.

Of course, by 2040 many of these vehicles will be on the scrapheap. However, these figures show that the UK still has a very long way to go where the environment is concerned. For many, the switch from fossil fuels to low-carbon technologies is a major lifestyle change and this impacts the number of people committing to environmental transportation.

What’s the alternative to petrol and diesel? 

In the UK, the two biggest alternatives are electricity and LPG (Liquefied Petroleum Gas) – a mix of butane and propane. LPG is cheaper than both petrol and diesel and the good news is that petrol cars can be easily converted. As it stands, diesel engines cannot but this technology is in development.

Whilst the choice for electric vehicles is still quite limited, the demand for hybrid is increasing. Switching to electricity is also more convenient thanks to local government grants that aid councils in installing more electric vehicle charge points. This is great if you live in a city but perhaps not as workable for those in rural areas as it’s unlikely that there’ll be charging points on country roads for quite some time.

Is this too little too late?

Legislation will be unnecessary if oil supplies run out. So exactly how much petrol and diesel will be left by 2040? Predictions about this vary considerably, from an optimistic 140 years to seriously worrying estimates that we may already have reached maximum oil production.

More realistic are reports from BP and HSBC that estimate that we have between 40 and 50 years’ of known reserves available – if we continue to use oil as we are. With this in mind, by 2040 there’s a fairly good chance that petrol and diesel cars will have been replaced simply because petrol doesn’t exist anymore.

So how would you vote?

Given the chance to vote on the ban, what would you decide? In a recent Guardian poll, it was a fairly close run thing with 59% of voters saying that they agreed with the idea. Bearing in mind that the Guardian readership is typically an environmentally-minded demographic, it’s safe to assume that the ban is unpopular due to the above. After all – what’s the point in wasting political resources on a law that will be meaningless by the time it’s implemented?

Whilst ecological development is still not a primary concern for many people, change will eventually be unavoidable. As petrol resources run out and prices continue to increase at the pumps, simple economics will push drivers to switch to electric. Sadly, we will likely not witness a major cultural shift towards motoring until then.

Of course, there are bigger issues that need addressing here, such as the political agenda and how environmental legislation sways voters. However, there will inevitably come a time when a total lack of resources will force people to think differently, regardless of a change in law.

Emily Buchanan lives in Norwich and is an ardent advocate of all things natural. She doesn’t drive, instead choosing to travel the world on her trusty, zero-carbon bicycle. Follow her or check out her blog.

Further reading:

Government prepares for major rollout of electric car chargepoints

Can the UK mimic the French EV revolution?

British motor industry to get £1bn to build vehicles for the future

Electric vehicle sales predicted to soar to £2.8bn by 2020

The truth behind environmental cars

Economy

Will Self-Driving Cars Be Better for the Environment?

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self-driving cars for green environment
Shutterstock Licensed Photo - By Zapp2Photo | https://www.shutterstock.com/g/zapp2photo

Technologists, engineers, lawmakers, and the general public have been excitedly debating about the merits of self-driving cars for the past several years, as companies like Waymo and Uber race to get the first fully autonomous vehicles on the market. Largely, the concerns have been about safety and ethics; is a self-driving car really capable of eliminating the human errors responsible for the majority of vehicular accidents? And if so, who’s responsible for programming life-or-death decisions, and who’s held liable in the event of an accident?

But while these questions continue being debated, protecting people on an individual level, it’s worth posing a different question: how will self-driving cars impact the environment?

The Big Picture

The Department of Energy attempted to answer this question in clear terms, using scientific research and existing data sets to project the short-term and long-term environmental impact that self-driving vehicles could have. Its findings? The emergence of self-driving vehicles could essentially go either way; it could reduce energy consumption in transportation by as much as 90 percent, or increase it by more than 200 percent.

That’s a margin of error so wide it might as well be a total guess, but there are too many unknown variables to form a solid conclusion. There are many ways autonomous vehicles could influence our energy consumption and environmental impact, and they could go well or poorly, depending on how they’re adopted.

Driver Reduction?

One of the big selling points of autonomous vehicles is their capacity to reduce the total number of vehicles—and human drivers—on the road. If you’re able to carpool to work in a self-driving vehicle, or rely on autonomous public transportation, you’ll spend far less time, money, and energy on your own car. The convenience and efficiency of autonomous vehicles would therefore reduce the total miles driven, and significantly reduce carbon emissions.

There’s a flip side to this argument, however. If autonomous vehicles are far more convenient and less expensive than previous means of travel, it could be an incentive for people to travel more frequently, or drive to more destinations they’d otherwise avoid. In this case, the total miles driven could actually increase with the rise of self-driving cars.

As an added consideration, the increase or decrease in drivers on the road could result in more or fewer vehicle collisions, respectively—especially in the early days of autonomous vehicle adoption, when so many human drivers are still on the road. Car accident injury cases, therefore, would become far more complicated, and the roads could be temporarily less safe.

Deadheading

Deadheading is a term used in trucking and ridesharing to refer to miles driven with an empty load. Assume for a moment that there’s a fleet of self-driving vehicles available to pick people up and carry them to their destinations. It’s a convenient service, but by necessity, these vehicles will spend at least some of their time driving without passengers, whether it’s spent waiting to pick someone up or en route to their location. The increase in miles from deadheading could nullify the potential benefits of people driving fewer total miles, or add to the damage done by their increased mileage.

Make and Model of Car

Much will also depend on the types of cars equipped to be self-driving. For example, Waymo recently launched a wave of self-driving hybrid minivans, capable of getting far better mileage than a gas-only vehicle. If the majority of self-driving cars are electric or hybrids, the environmental impact will be much lower than if they’re converted from existing vehicles. Good emissions ratings are also important here.

On the other hand, the increased demand for autonomous vehicles could put more pressure on factory production, and make older cars obsolete. In that case, the gas mileage savings could be counteracted by the increased environmental impact of factory production.

The Bottom Line

Right now, there are too many unanswered questions to make a confident determination whether self-driving vehicles will help or harm the environment. Will we start driving more, or less? How will they handle dead time? What kind of models are going to be on the road?

Engineers and the general public are in complete control of how this develops in the near future. Hopefully, we’ll be able to see all the safety benefits of having autonomous vehicles on the road, but without any of the extra environmental impact to deal with.

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Economy

New Zealand to Switch to Fully Renewable Energy by 2035

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renewable energy policy
Shutterstock Licensed Photo - By Eviart / https://www.shutterstock.com/g/adrian825

New Zealand’s prime minister-elect Jacinda Ardern is already taking steps towards reducing the country’s carbon footprint. She signed a coalition deal with NZ First in October, aiming to generate 100% of the country’s energy from renewable sources by 2035.

New Zealand is already one of the greenest countries in the world, sourcing over 80% of its energy for its 4.7 million people from renewable resources like hydroelectric, geothermal and wind. The majority of its electricity comes from hydro-power, which generated 60% of the country’s energy in 2016. Last winter, renewable generation peaked at 93%.

Now, Ardern is taking on the challenge of eliminating New Zealand’s remaining use of fossil fuels. One of the biggest obstacles will be filling in the gap left by hydropower sources during dry conditions. When lake levels drop, the country relies on gas and coal to provide energy. Eliminating fossil fuels will require finding an alternative source to avoid spikes in energy costs during droughts.

Business NZ’s executive director John Carnegie told Bloomberg he believes Ardern needs to balance her goals with affordability, stating, “It’s completely appropriate to have a focus on reducing carbon emissions, but there needs to be an open and transparent public conversation about the policies and how they are delivered.”

The coalition deal outlined a few steps towards achieving this, including investing more in solar, which currently only provides 0.1% of the country’s energy. Ardern’s plans also include switching the electricity grid to renewable energy, investing more funds into rail transport, and switching all government vehicles to green fuel within a decade.

Zero net emissions by 2050

Beyond powering the country’s electricity grid with 100% green energy, Ardern also wants to reach zero net emissions by 2050. This ambitious goal is very much in line with her focus on climate change throughout the course of her campaign. Environmental issues were one of her top priorities from the start, which increased her appeal with young voters and helped her become one of the youngest world leaders at only 37.

Reaching zero net emissions would require overcoming challenging issues like eliminating fossil fuels in vehicles. Ardern hasn’t outlined a plan for reaching this goal, but has suggested creating an independent commission to aid in the transition to a lower carbon economy.

She also set a goal of doubling the number of trees the country plants per year to 100 million, a goal she says is “absolutely achievable” using land that is marginal for farming animals.

Greenpeace New Zealand climate and energy campaigner Amanda Larsson believes that phasing out fossil fuels should be a priority for the new prime minister. She says that in order to reach zero net emissions, Ardern “must prioritize closing down coal, putting a moratorium on new fossil fuel plants, building more wind infrastructure, and opening the playing field for household and community solar.”

A worldwide shift to renewable energy

Addressing climate change is becoming more of a priority around the world and many governments are assessing how they can reduce their reliance on fossil fuels and switch to environmentally-friendly energy sources. Sustainable energy is becoming an increasingly profitable industry, giving companies more of an incentive to invest.

Ardern isn’t alone in her climate concerns, as other prominent world leaders like Justin Trudeau and Emmanuel Macron have made renewable energy a focus of their campaigns. She isn’t the first to set ambitious goals, either. Sweden and Norway share New Zealand’s goal of net zero emissions by 2045 and 2030, respectively.

Scotland already sources more than half of its electricity from renewable sources and aims to fully transition by 2020, while France announced plans in September to stop fossil fuel production by 2040. This would make it the first country to do so, and the first to end the sale of gasoline and diesel vehicles.

Many parts of the world still rely heavily on coal, but if these countries are successful in phasing out fossil fuels and transitioning to renewable resources, it could serve as a turning point. As other world leaders see that switching to sustainable energy is possible – and profitable – it could be the start of a worldwide shift towards environmentally-friendly energy.

Sources: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-11-06/green-dream-risks-energy-security-as-kiwis-aim-for-zero-carbon

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-france-hydrocarbons/france-plans-to-end-oil-and-gas-production-by-2040-idUSKCN1BH1AQ

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