Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Scrappy thinking?

One of the Chancellor's cunning schemes to benefit both the economy and the environment in his recent budget - the introduction of a £4,000 bribe to persuade drivers to scrap their cars and instead buy new, cleaner, ones - sounds all well and good: but, as usual for a Labour Government that's lost its way, it's little more than scrappy thinking.

It increases the demand for the energy and resources needed to build new cars far faster than it improves the efficiency of the vehicles on our roads, so it won't benefit the environment at all.

It will increase demand for cars - but probably at the expense of reducing demand in other sectors of the economy. That'll be good news for car manufacturers, and their workers, but make little or no difference to the UK economy as a whole. In fact, those companies and workers making anything except cars stand to lose: businesses will fail, jobs will go.

It will only be taken up by the relatively few who can afford to buy a new car - even with the £4,000 subsidy. Those who are already fairly well-off, in other words. So it won't really strike a blow for fairer society either.

In short, paying people to scrap old cars and buy new ones will not
create jobs, will not cut emissions, and won't lead to a fairer society.

I'm reminded of a wonderful Adbusters slogan: You wouldn't buy our crappy cars. So we're gonna take your tax dollars instead.

It's no wonder Green London Assembly member Darren Johnson says the policy is "fundamentally flawed".

Professor John Whitelegg, the Green Party's spokesperson on
sustainable development, had it right, to my mind. He said:

"Cars - like most things - should be quality-built to last. They should be capable of being upgraded and retrofitted as technology improves.

"Some years ago a study showed that if a car's life was extended from
ten years to twenty, there were significant benefits in terms of both
pollution and employment. Specifically, doubling the car's life
reduced its lifetime energy-use by 42% compared with scrapping it and
building a new one, because repair and maintenance were more
energy-efficient than new manufacture. And at the same time it
increased the labour involved by 56%, because repair and maintenance
were more labour-intensive than new manufacture."

"This is a very important factor as we try to tackle both a recession
and the climate crisis - we need jobs and we need reduced emissions -
so we need to go with the processes that involve more labour and less
energy use. And that ultimately means building cars to last, then
looking after them."

"Scrapping a perfectly good car is an outrageous thing to do. Some 15% of the total energy associated with the car is in its manufacture - what's called the "embodied energy" - and when you scrap the car before its useful life has ended, that's energy thrown away."

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