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Eco myths

Two articles about global warming that were originally published in my Iconoclast column in the Citroënian

Before starting this piece, let me make it clear that I am not employed by an oil company - I make this point since the Greens level this accusation at people like me who dare to suggest that man-made global warming may be a myth.

I recently read a book called The Manic Sun by Nigel Calder (ISBN 1 899044 11 6) which suggests that our planet undergoes cyclic variations in climate.  Furthermore, it suggests that man's impact on the climate may be largely irrelevant and that those scientists who promulgate the greenhouse theory (and it is only a theory since it is not proven) do so because this ensure lucrative grants for research.  Rather than repeat verbatim the points made in the book, I suggest that you buy a copy or do as I did and borrow it from your local library.  However, I will summarise the main points:-

Geological, fossil and other evidence indicates that the Earth undergoes fluctuations in climate, the most obvious and well known of which is the series of ice ages.  The climate fluctuations would appear to have occurred over very short time spans - decades or shorter and since they occurred before man allegedly started to interfere with the environment, there must be some other reason for their occurrence.  As the book's title suggests, the engine that seems to be responsible for driving the planet's climate is the sun.  Attempts by scientists to put this view across have been shouted down, pooh-poohed or ignored by the advocates of the man-driven global warming theory.  The principal cause of global warming is of course the internal combustion engine and we must therefore all stop using our cars for anything but the most essential journeys.  Driving cars for fun is definitely out.  Never mind the impact on employment, never mind the impact on the economy, we must all be weaned from our dependence on the car.  Even the motoring organisations now feel obliged to tell us to leave our cars at home.

But don't cars generate greenhouse gases?  Yes, they do - the main one being carbon dioxide.  But is a higher concentration of CO2 necessarily a bad thing?  Plants thrive in CO2 rich atmospheres and generate oxygen as a by product of photosynthesis.  And animals depend on oxygen.  This book suggests that there is an in-built regulator that ensures that when the CO2 level goes up, plants thrive and generate more oxygen which reduces the quantity of CO2 which causes the plants to reduce their growth, etc.  There are indications that the quantity of CO2 in the atmosphere varies cyclically too.  There are numerous  inconsistencies in the stance of scientists - they bemoan the hole in the ozone layer while failing to point out that ozone is, itself, a greenhouse gas.  They complain about particulate emissions but fail to point out that these self same particles increase cloud cover which means more sunlight is reflected back into space which means that temperatures are lower than they would otherwise be.

This piece is written in the second and third weeks of November 2000 - during a brief interlude in the torrential downpours that have hit Britain. In Gordon Brown's pre-Budget report he outlined some of the measures to be taken to counter global warming or "climate change" as he prefers to describe it. I have touched on this subject before since it affects all of us, whether we are motorists or not.

Having holidayed in the USA in August, one of the most striking things that we noticed was the cost of petrol (or gasoline) - $1.48 per US gallon. Back in August, this meant that Americans were paying the same for a US gallon as we in Britain were paying for a litre. Inevitably, given the low price of fuel in the USA, people drive vehicles that are much less fuel efficient than is the norm in Britain (or the rest of Europe for that matter). By far and away the most popular vehicles are SUVs (Sports Utility Vehicles - or pick-ups) and MPVs. Diesel cars are conspicuous by their absence. However, in an effort to limit the impact of exhaust emissions, speed limits are generally lower than on this side of the pond.

Over here, there is a multi-pronged attack being mounted, ostensibly to limit emissions - high fuel prices, rigid enforcement of speed limits, reduction in VED for small-engined vehicles, and the latest element being road tax and taxable benefit for company car users being based on a car’s CO2 emissions. For those of you who are interested in such things, there is a table at the end of this article showing the CO2 emissions and VED band of every current Citroën.

Needless to say, all of these measures represent compromises, some of them political and some of them commercial. Were there a genuine desire to limit vehicle emissions, the European Commission would have ignored the American automotive industry and opted for lean burn technology instead of what they finally settled for which is the use of inherently dirty engines fitted with catalytic converters. The Americans had chosen this route back in the seventies and they brought pressure to bear on the European Commission to adopt this technology here in Europe. The Americans were not the only culprits in this; motor manufacturers selling in the North American markets had been obliged to use catalytic converters and they, understandably, did not wish to spend huge sums in developing alternative technologies for use in European markets. At the forefront in developing lean burn engines was PSA and they were obliged to abandon it at a cost of billions of francs. The main advantages that lean burn has over catalytic converter-equipped cars is in the first few minutes before the engine warms up and the lack of complicated and potentially unreliable electronics. A catalytic converter-equipped car generates high levels of emissions during this period whereas a lean burn one does not. Since the vast majority of journeys are of less than 5 miles in urban conditions, the catalytic converter-equipped car is not the solution. Another disadvantage of the catalytic converter is its fragility ? it can be destroyed by using leaded fuel, by misfires or by driving through floods and replacement costs are high. In order to work correctly, there must be complex electronic controls which meter the fuel going into the engine and control the ignition and unfortunately, these electronics are not sufficiently robust to last the life of the car. Furthermore, the DIY mechanic is unable to do much work on these systems and once again, replacement costs are high ? and replacement depends of course on the manufacturer continuing to support obsolete models. This means that in countries with exhaust emissions tests, such vehicles will end up being scrapped ? an ecological disaster in itself. In countries without such tests, cars will pollute. The motor manufacturers have a vested interest in ensuring that cars are treated as consumer durables ? you are forced to buy their latest products when the old product no longer complies with legislation. And this, despite the fact that manufacturing a new car generates much more pollution than is ever likely to pour out of the exhaust pipe. And this, despite the fact that very little of old cars is recyclable. Of course the other side of the coin is that the automobile manufacturing industry creates employment, although I suspect that there would be few, if any, job losses were motor manufacturers to move to re-manufacturing old cars - equipping them with airbags, ABS, etc.

Now this is all very well and good but it presupposes that man is responsible for climate change, that the motor vehicle is the prime culprit and that climate change is a bad thing. So, let us set about debunking some myths.

Let me expand on this. Throughout the life of the planet, indeed of the solar system, solar output has varied and therefore climatic conditions have varied too. Mankind evolved during a very cool period - indeed it could be described as an atypically cool period. The sun is the engine that drives our climate and our weather. There are other natural factors at work too - vulcanism, meteor strikes, large scale forest fires and continental drift. While it is true that climatic records have been kept for centuries, our understanding of the way the sun operates goes back only a few decades - no records have been kept of changes in solar radiation output until very recently. There is however indirect evidence that shows that the earth used to be much warmer than it currently is. It is believed that the global cooling that led to the ice ages was probably brought about by a reduction in solar output, possibly combined with an increase in vulcanism which led to large quantities of particles being ejected into the atmosphere which reflected the sunlight and thereby caused temperatures to drop. The pollution generated by the activities of humans may actually be duplicating the effects of vulcanism in reducing the amount of global warming that is taking place. In other words, if we reduce the amount of pollution, the planet may get even hotter.

There is no evidence of climate change occurring. The unusual weather is just that - it is weather and not climate. Yes, the planet is getting warmer but the weather is no more unusual than historic records show. The impact of severe weather is more noticeable nowadays - very heavy rainfall leads to flood plains doing what they are supposed to do - flood. If houses are built in flood plains, if flood defences merely shift the problems elsewhere, if the building of roads prevents water run off, if intensive agricultural methods result in poor drainage then of course the impact of such storms will be very noticeable - and for those actually involved, very traumatic and costly.

Is global warming undesirable? I for one would be delighted to enjoy a Mediterranean climate. On a more serious note, the indications are that the world will become wetter as well as warmer but such are the vagaries of weather that it is hard to predict exactly what will happen where. What is certain is that there will be winners and losers.

The tree huggers and environmentalists treat theories as fact and ignore facts that do not support their views. The car is portrayed as the villain in the piece and governments use this as an excuse to screw more money out of the people that they purport to serve. The environmental arguments don't really stack up on a number of points. Aircraft, badly tuned buses and trucks and industry (including the NHS) generate far more pollution (including noise pollution) than modern cars but nowhere do we hear about governments telling the operators to clean up their acts - although it looks as if further attacks will be made on industry. The private motorist is seen as an easy target and as a source of unlimited revenue. Perhaps mindful of the possible shortcomings in the Green arguments, our Government tries to make us feel guilty at objecting to the 610% tax on fuel by telling us that if we do object, then we clearly object to paying for a welfare state, for state education, the NHS and for old age pensions. The fact that this too is a nonsense falls outside the scope of this article but it is worth observing that many people who supported the protests in September have swallowed the government line and withdrawn their support for the protesters. Spin Doctors : 1, Ordinary Motorist : 0.

However, there is an additional point - the claims that cars and industry are responsible for destroying the ecosphere give authoritarian and interventionist governments the excuses they need to justify taking control of industry and restricting population movement.  The lessons of Communism are conveniently ignored by bureaucrats who still believe in state control of industry.

I am aware that the views put forth in this article are theories and not fact but until such time as one view can be proven, neither should be allowed to prevail, neither should be taken as fact and we, the motorists, should not be obliged to pay taxes or endure low speed limits or restrict our use of our cars as a result.

Model Description Transmission Engine
Car Band VED
Berlingo Berlingo Multispace 1.9D M5 1868 Diesel 178 C £150
Berlingo Berlingo Multispace 1.8i M5 1761 Petrol 210 D £155
Berlingo Berlingo Multispace 1.4i M5 1360 Petrol 178 C £140
Saxo Saxo 1.4i A3 1360 Petrol 195 D £155
Saxo Saxo 1.5D M5 1527 Diesel 139 A £110
Saxo Saxo 1.6i VTR M5 1587 Petrol 178 B £120
Saxo Saxo 1.4i M5 1360 Petrol 160 B £120
Saxo Saxo 1.1i M5 1124 Petrol 155 A £100
Saxo Saxo 1.0i M5 954 Petrol 149 D £155
Saxo Saxo 1.6i VTS 16v M5 1587 Petrol 194 D £155
Synergie Synergie Turbo D M5 1905 Diesel 215 D £160
Synergie Synergie 2.0i M5 1998 Petrol 252 D £155
Synergie Synergie 2.0 HDi 110 hp M5 1997 Diesel 182 C £150
Xantia Xantia 2.0 HDi 110 hp Estate M5 1997 Diesel 156 B £130
Xantia Xantia 1.8i 16v M5 1761 Petrol 209 D £155
Xantia Xantia 1.8i 16v A4 1761 Petrol 217 D £155
Xantia Xantia 1.9 Turbo D Estate A4 1905 Diesel 225 D £160
Xantia Xantia 1.8i 16v Estate M5 1761 Petrol 214 D £155
Xantia Xantia Activa M5 1998 Petrol 237 D £155
Xantia Xantia 2.0i 16v M5 1998 Petrol 219 D £155
Xantia Xantia Turbo CT Estate M5 1998 Petrol 241 D £155
Xantia Xantia 1.9 Turbo D A4 1905 Diesel 223 D £160
Xantia Xantia 2.0 HDi 90 hp Estate M5 1997 Diesel 160 B £130
Xantia Xantia 2.0 HDi 110 hp M5 1997 Diesel 150 A £110
Xantia Xantia 2.0 HDi 90 hp M5 1997 Diesel 154 B £130
Xantia Xantia V6 24v A4 2946 Petrol 281 D £155
Xantia Xantia 2.0i 16v A4 1998 Petrol 232 D £155
Xantia Xantia 2.0i 16v Estate M5 1998 Petrol 223 D £155
Xantia Xantia 2.0i 16v Estate A4 1998 Petrol 234 D £155
XM XM V6 24v A4 2946 Petrol 284 D £155
XM XM 2.0i 16v M5 1998 Petrol 225 D £155
XM XM 2.0i 16v A4 1998 Petrol 255 D £155
XM XM 2.5 Turbo D M5 2446 Diesel 204 D £160
XM XM 2.1 Turbo D Estate A4 2088 Diesel 240 D £160
XM XM 2.1 Turbo D A4 2088 Diesel 235 D £160
XM XM 2.0i 16v Estate M5 1998 Petrol 225 D £155
XM XM 2.1 Turbo D Estate M5 2088 Diesel 185 D £160
XM XM 2.0i Turbo Estate M5 1998 Petrol 246 D £155
XM XM 2.0i 16v Estate A4 1998 Petrol 255 D £155
XM XM 2.5 Turbo D Estate M5 2446 Diesel 204 D £160
XM XM 2.1 Turbo D M5 2088 Diesel 185 D £160
XM XM 2.0i Turbo M5 1998 Petrol 246 D £155
XM XM 2.0i Turbo A4 1998 Petrol 258 D £155
XM XM 2.0i Turbo Estate A4 1998 Petrol 258 D £155
XM XM V6 24v M5 2946 Petrol 260 D £155
Xsara Xsara 1.6i Estate A4 1587 Petrol 185 D £155
Xsara Xsara 2.0 HDi 90 hp Estate M5 1997 Diesel 141 A £110
Xsara Xsara 1.6i VTR M5 1587 Petrol 177 C £140
Xsara Xsara 1.6i A4 1587 Petrol 185 D £155
Xsara Xsara 1.4i Estate M5 1360 Petrol 170 C £140
Xsara Xsara 1.9D Estate M5 1868 Diesel 164 B £130
Xsara Xsara 1.9D M5 1868 Diesel 164 B £130
Xsara Xsara 2.0i 16v VTS M5 1998 Petrol 224 D £155
Xsara Xsara 2.0 HDi 90 hp M5 1997 Diesel 141 A £100
Xsara Xsara 1.6i Estate M5 1587 Petrol 177 C £140
Xsara Xsara 1.8i 16v M5 1761 Petrol 198 D £155
Xsara Xsara 1.8i 16v Estate M5 1761 Petrol 198 D £155
Xsara Xsara 1.8i 16v VTR M5 1761 Petrol 198 D £155
Xsara Xsara 1.4i M5 1360 Petrol 170 C £140
Xsara Xsara 1.6i M5 1587 Petrol 177 C £140

Association of British Drivers

© Julian Marsh 1998 and 2000