Thursday, 19 June 2008

Chicken Licken and the motorist

The modern day Chicken Licken tells us that the sky is about to fall in and a major cause is nasty people driving motor cars. Why is that a major cause? Because motor cars emit Chicken Licken Gases and the more Chicken Licken Gases there are the quicker the sky will fall in. It's a terrible problem. Something must be done! What are we to do about it? That's obvious. We must prevent people from driving motor cars. One simple law is all that is required. Ban the lot of them. The sky will be saved, Praise Al Gore and pass the gin and tonic.

For some reason that hasn't happened. Why not? Let me think ... oh yes, anyone who did such a thing would never get re-elected. So what have they chosen to do instead? They have increased taxes on motoring. This has been done in two ways, first by simply upping taxes all-round and secondly by adding additional tax to cars which produce the most Chicken Licken Gases.

Let me now say two things which are blindingly obvious. First, increasing taxes on motoring will only reduce Chicken Licken Gases if they reduce the total amount of such gases associated with motor cars. Secondly, increasing taxes on motoring will only reduce Chicken Licken gases if they reduce the overall Chicken Licken Gases associated with travel.

In order to see what gases are associated with motor cars we need to ask what motor cars are. I am no expert, but I believe they are machines comprising assorted metals, plastics and fabrics. There are three stages to their life - they are manufactured, then they are used, then they are scrapped. At each stage Chicken Licken Gases are produced.

Lots and lots of Chicken Licken Gases result from manufacture. I claim no direct knowledge but have read that more are produced during manufacture of a motor car than during the average lifetime of its use. Even if only half as many Chicken Licken Gases are producing during manufacture as during an average lifetime's use, it's still an awful lot in a manufacturing process of a week or so compared to what is then produced over 12 or 20 years of driving. Nor do I claim direct knowledge of what is involved in scrapping a motor car but presumably it is necessary to separate the metals from the plastics and fabrics and melt-down the metals for re-use elsewhere. A good few miles of travel would be required to produce the same emissions as the melting process.

So, we have three stages to the life of these machines, two of which are industrial processes producing significant amounts of Chicken Licken Gases compared to the daily amount emitted by actually using the thing. In order to keep to a minimum the overall level of Chicken Licken Gases resulting from the existence of a motor car it is, therefore, necessary to keep each one on the road for as long as possible, thereby delaying both the scrapping process and the need to manufacture a replacement. On an incidental but related theme, the scrapping process involves other "green" problems such as the disposal of non-recyclable plastics and fabrics, but that is a different issue.

Any taxation policy which encourages people to dispose of large cars and replace them with smaller models will actually increase the overall level of Chicken Licken Gases unless the disposed-of larger cars are then acquired and used by someone else and this can only happen if there is a market for such vehicles. The very factor which encourages the original owner to dispose of it (increased running costs) will inevitably reduce the field of potential purchasers. It is a simple fact of life that those who can only afford a small initial investment on a car also require the car to be cheap to run. Equally, someone who can afford to run a car at an annual cost of many thousands of pounds is unlikely to want to buy an old vehicle - if he can afford that much to run it, he can afford a new(er) car. There comes a point when increased running costs make certain vehicles unsaleable to the British driving public. At that point they have to be scrapped or sold overseas to be used in a country where they can be afforded. If a car is scrapped and a replacement bought, more emissions are produced than if the old car was used because the new car has to be manufactured; if sent to India or Africa (and there are many thousands of such each year) it will produce just as much Chicken Licken Gas in its new home as it would if used in the UK but there are further emissions resulting from shipping the thing half way across the world. In other words, taxing large cars off the road to be replaced by smaller ones will increase emissions until the date on which the last of the large vehicles would have ended its useful life and been scrapped.

Next we have to ask whether stopping people driving motor cars will ease Chicken Licken's worries - this is where the second blindingly obvious point made above comes into play.

People have to travel. They have to get to work. They have to get to the shops. They have to visit family and friends. These are not optional activities they are at the heart of their lives.
Can they switch to public transport? In some places they can, but what of those in rural areas where public transport is not readily available? No doubt the bicycle and horse have a part of play (though beware the Chicken Licken methane produced by a flatulent horse), but these are not replacements for the motor car for all purposes. Many simply have to drive if they are to continue earning their living and living their lives.

Even a switch to public transport where it is available will only go so far to placate Chicken Licken. Buses and trains do not just appear by magic, they have to be manufactured and, eventually, scrapped. Switching to public transport does not eliminate CO2 emissions it merely saves the difference between (i) the total Chicken Licken Gases created by the manufacture, use and scrapping of the abandoned motor vehicles and (ii) the total Chicken Licken Gases created by the manufacture, use and scrapping of the trains and buses now used by the former motorists.

So how many people have to be taken out of cars and put in buses and trains for the total Chicken Licken Gases to be reduced? No one knows for certain because there are too many imponderables, but we can get some idea from figures that are generally available.

UK government figures (produced by DEFRA) provide some useful information. Differing estimates (some higher and some lower) come from other sources but since DEFRA is a Department of the UK government and it is the government that imposes the taxes I will use their figures.

DEFRA estimates the average CO2 emission per passenger mile of bus travel is 140g. This is based on fuel consumption alone, it excludes manufacture and scrapping of the buses, also excluded are other factors which affect the total emissions of public transport compared to average domestic use of a motor car - such as running their offices, manufacturing and installing bus stops and shelters and cleaning (I can speak only for myself but my car is not subjected to daily cleaning unlike London buses).

For train travel the DEFRA figure is 100g per passenger mile. As far as I can tell it is based on fuel consumption and manufacture of both trains and tracks. It excludes emissions caused by building and maintaining stations and the railway operators' offices.

DEFRA estimates 430g of CO2 emissions per mile for a medium sized motor car (as far as I can tell this assumes single occupancy and includes manufacture but excludes servicing, cleaning and scrapping).

Fuel consumption, and therefore CO2 emissions, of all these means of transport will increase as the number of occupants increases but the average emissions per passenger mile will decline. In addition, increased passenger numbers will require the manufacture of more buses and trains because many are already full at busy times, this might also require the building of new bus garages and train depots but one can only speculate about how many would be required or what quantity of Chicken Licken Gases would result.

A further relevant factor is the extent to which a particular journey by public transport includes wasted miles. For example, if I want to go from FatBigot Towers to St Paul's Cathedral I can drive straight there (about three miles due south) but the most direct bus covers about an additional mile and the quickest train route takes me west, then southwest, then east for approximately six miles in total. Assuming four people make the journey the DEFRA figures give a total of 2,240g of CO2 by bus, 2,400g by train and 1,720g by car. So I'm in credit for that journey. If I take one rather than three passengers it is 1,120 by bus, 1,200 by train and 1,720 by car; I am suddenly a sinner, but perhaps not when one adds-in the items associated with bus and train travel which do not go into the DEFRA figures. In addition, most train journeys require the passenger to get to and from the station at each end, each mile of bus journey at each end adds 140g to the equation. There are, of course, many journeys for which trains or buses are able to take more direct routes than private motorists but that is not generally the case so one must factor-in the wasted miles involved in using public transport.

One cannot draw precise inferences from DEFRA's figures about how many drivers would have to take public transport to make any significant impact on overall emissions. What can be said is that car journeys involving 3 or more people would appear to give Chicken Licken no more cause for alarm than similar journeys undertaken by bus or train and even trips by single motorists are not as troublesome as our gallinaceous friend might fear because the alternative means of transport carry us on a more circuitous route.

So, where does this leave "green" motoring taxes? To suggest that they will make more than a gnat's fart of a difference to world CO2 emissions is to fly in the face of reality. Are they really intended to stop people driving? We can usually judge as much about any political policy by what is not said as by what is said. A policy to increase tax on motorists with a view to getting cars off the road inevitably involves a second step, a Plan B. Once those cars are off the road the tax will no longer be received by the Treasury, so we must ask about Plan B - where will the lost tax come from once the cars are dead?

Of course Plan B has not been announced.

There is no Plan B.

There never has been.

They don't want us to stop driving, they just want to wrap a massive tax hike in bogus eco-friendly clothing.

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