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About A Week: New Car Brings Global Warming Guilt

The acquisition of a new car makes Peter Hinchliffe feel guilty rather than joyful.

My new vehicle isn’t one of those luxury machines - Rolls Royce, Mercedes, Jaguar. Nor is it a lumbering four-wheel-drive monster, so obese as to overlap the paint-marked parking spaces at the local supermarket.

It’s a Honda – the smallest Honda model available in Britain. Thought and inspiration have produced a car less than four metres long yet, when the rear seats are folded flat, capable of carrying a dozen well-filled sacks of garden rubbish to the recycling centre.

Most important of all, my gleaming Honda Jazz is reasonably eco-friendly. Its toxic emissions are low enough to qualify for a reduced rate of annual road tax.

So why am I feeling so guilty for having bought the thing?

Two reasons:

· There are already too many cars on the roads of Britain’s tight little islands.
· Global warming may mean that future generations may no longer enjoy the freedom of car ownership.

There are already some 30 million cars on our roads. Imagine that many cars running around every day in the state of Nevada, which is bigger than the United Kingdom (286,377 square kilometres to 244,820 kilometres). Punters would never get to those casinos in Vegas and Reno.

30 million cars – and I’ve added one more to that number. The car I traded in was five years old, much too young to be consigned to the scrapper’s yard. It’s still out there, running around, four more wheels adding to the great national traffic jam.

Why buy another car when the “old’’ one had plenty of mileage left in its cylinders? Blame auto mania – an insatiable enthusiasm for those cunningly-sculpted chunks of metal powered by internal combustion engines.

This mania first became apparent when I was in my teens. Now, six decades on, I remain uncured.

My first car was a tiny Ford Popular with 93,000 miles on the clock. With the accelerator pedal pressed hard down to the floor it sped along at almost 60 miles an hour. The car I bought for $30 when I migrated to Texas had also been well-used – a 14-year-old Buick which had travelled 120,000 miles.

The Ford Pop’s paint had been eaten away by rust. The Buick did just eight miles to the gallon. A firm grip had to be taken on the wheel to keep it from turning independently into every gas station encountered on a journey.

I loved both of those cars! That’s what auto mania does for you. Get behind the wheel of a rusty old Ford, and the car maniac can imagine himself as A J Foyt, driving to victory in the great Indianapolis 500 race.

In 1965 I entered auto maniac heaven. I covered the Indianapolis 500 as a staff reporter for the Indianapolis Times. A Brit reporter at work in Indiana – and for the first time in its history the race was won by a Brit, Jim Clark.

Since ’65 I have owned more than a dozen cars. The pleasure in driving them has diminished with each passing year. When I was a teenager I dreamed of driving through Yorkshire’s beautiful dales in an open-top MG sports car. Grazing sheep, limestone villages, the scent of new-mown grass and wild flowers at the roadside…

Drive through those Yorkshire Dales today, and your gaze will be focused on the brake lights of the vehicle immediately in front of you in a mile-long snake of cars. The only scent is that of exhaust fumes.

And do those car exhaust fumes damage the planet’s atmosphere and cause global warming?

In 2006 Britain experienced its hottest summer since records began to be kept in 1772. The highest ever July temperature, 36.5C, was recorded at Wisley in Surrey.

Polar ice caps are melting. In Northern Europe flowers which normally bloom in spring were peeping through in the first week in January.

Sceptics think that human activity has nothing to do with the warming of the planet; that we are experiencing a cyclical increase in warmth from the Sun. These views, though shared by millions in the Western world, are increasingly hard to justify scientifically.

Is it sensible to gamble that the sceptics are correct? That global warming will continue to accelerate, whether or not we try to be “green’’ non-polluting citizens?

Surely the wise course is to assume that we humans are affecting the climate of planet Earth. I choose to believe that I am an unwilling contributor to the melting of those Polar ice caps. Me, my new Honda Jazz, and the car which I abandoned for the sake of something new.

And that is why I am feeling guilty.

Perhaps there should be a simple law to rein in auto maniacs, and their insatiable desire for new wheels. A law which insists that anyone buying a new car must own and drive it for 10 years before they can purchase another new vehicle.

Honda will this year be displaying their concern for the environment. The company sponsors a Formula One racing team. Cars competing in Formula One are high-speed advertising billboards. Breaking with this tradition, the two Honda cars competing in this year’s race season, which begins in Melbourne, Australia, this month, will be covered with art depicting a beautiful planet – planet Earth.

Unfortunately for Honda cynics have pointed out that the two team cars will each emit some 50 tonnes of carbon dioxide during the course of the season.


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