Blog: Dave LeggettCO2: can of worms

Dave Leggett | 12 June 2006

One thing about greenhouse gas emissions that is becoming clearer to me is that the whole thing is rather a can of worms. For example, the CO2 generated by vehicles in use is one thing, but what about the CO2 generated in a vehicle’s manufacture?

How significant is it and how would you set about measuring it (bearing in mind that there is a long list of brought in components and materials from suppliers); how transport intensive was the whole production process and how much energy – in total - was needed in manufacture (and distribution, end of life disposal)?

But what about the other CO2 culprits? Is the focus on the automobile out of proportion to its significance in the overall picture? Are our efforts to reduce CO2 emissions token at best anyway in the face of a surge in greenhouse gas emissions from China and India?

Let’s not go too far with those thoughts that can, if you take them to their logical conclusions, send you to one of two rather depressing scenarios: 1) let’s all ride bicycles, wear sackcloth, live in tents and forget about maximising economic growth; or 2) realistically, we’re doomed anyway, so let’s carry on polluting and at least enjoy ourselves while we can.

It perhaps is reasonable for all of us to take a little responsibility to do what we can in terms of our own lives and consumption decisions that we make every day. Recycling things where possible makes sense and so does minimising waste. I ride a bicycle sometimes because it is practical and fun.

What about the role of the authorities in pulling incentives levers to encourage people to do certain things, make a greener course of action more attractive?

Carbon-efficient alternative fuels are one area where incentives can be important in generating a volume shift that makes the provision of the fuel (refuelling infrastructure or alternative fuelled vehicles) more commercially viable so that nascent technologies can develop. That has been the experience with bio-ethanol in Sweden, for example.

But companies frequently have to work in a tough market environment with little government support. In such circumstances the commercial pay-off may be way in the future when the product has gained market acceptance and technology preferences have shifted. And in the meantime, progress to a lower CO2 vehicle fleet is slowed.

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