Back to combustion junkmobiles?


    I remember my first driving test as if it was yesterday. The testing officer was an officious cross between Severus Snape and Warden Hodges from Dad’s Army. When I thwacked my car into another parked car while trying to parallel park, he did not take it well. 

    Thankfully, I had not scratched the other car – but I was ordered ignominiously back to testing HQ. My last attempt of three to get my license ended with a screaming match between the tester and my driving instructor, who yelled “how will she ever learn to drive if you don’t give her a license?”  

    I decided then and there to take a holiday from the whole nerve-wracking business. I spent ten years living with a fellow non-driver, attracted by tales of driving lesson disasters much worse than mine; he once destroyed a friend’s car by driving it over a bank and into the sea. 

    So, on paper, I should have a low carbon footprint, more by accident than design. I’m functionally vegetarian (current partner Greg has been either vegan or vegetarian since the age of eighteen, and he does the shopping – in a hybrid car). Apart from the odd fish taco from Island Frenchie, (try one and you will know), my meat consumption is virtually nil. I prefer trains to planes. And although not a cyclist myself, I am not triggered by the phrase ‘bike-lane.’ 

    If Waiheke got rid of every car – it’s a thought experiment, hear me out – and gifted the roads to ducks, walkers, cyclists, buses, taxis, freight trucks and emergency services, no one would be happier than me, ducks, walkers and cyclists. And think of all that carbon, saved from damaging our lungs and turning up our collective thermostat.

    Waiheke knows all about recycling, saving water, and composting. And most of us know that driving an electric car is far more effective than any of those things in keeping CO2 out of the atmosphere. 

    Data scientist Hannah Ritchie is Head of Research for the pioneering website Our World in Data. Her book Not the End of the World is worth a read, especially if you want to make sense of the torrent of depressing climate news. Ritchie’s job, as she explains, is “not to do original studies, or to make scientific breakthroughs. It’s to understand what we already know.” 

    Many people will tell you electric cars are a scam – that they emit just as much CO2 as petrol cars when you consider the environmental costs of manufacture. If you drove your brand-new electric car directly to the dump this argument would make sense. In reality, the tables quickly turn once you get behind the wheel, Ritchie shows, especially in a country with a high level of clean electricity like New Zealand. 

    In 2019, Victoria University academics Md Arif Hasan and Ralph Chapman estimated that New Zealand EVs do 62 percent better than fossil cars at keeping carbon out of the atmosphere.

    In case you are interested, here are Ritchie’s ways of lowering carbon emissions in order of impact: 1: give up your SUV; 2: go car-free; 3: eat a plant-based diet; 4: avoid transatlantic flight whenever possible; 5: use green energy; 6: switch to an electric car.

    Unfortunately, the National government hasn’t got the memo. 

    Rest in power, Clean Car Discount (CCD)– one of the most successful of New Zealand’s climate policies.

    As Marc Daalder explained in a much-cited Newsroom piece last month, hybrid and electric vehicles made up one in every four of all new cars bought in December 2023, a tenfold increase from the era before the CCD. His piece was headlined ‘Ending EV subsidies equal to extra year of Huntly coal burning.’

    Daalder’s saddest line: “A Regulatory Impact Statement, prepared by the ministry before Cabinet decided such analyses wouldn’t be required ahead of the repeal of Labour-era legislation, confirmed some of these findings.”

    And then came what Waiheke’s Electric Island spokesperson Vern Whitehead calls a “kick in the guts” – a new and complex system of EV road user charges from 1 April. 

    These “double down on the pain of losing the Clean Car Discount rebate” says Bernard Hickey, and effectively encourage drivers to buy heavier diesel utes. “The new ‘level playing field’ designed to ensure EV owners pay to maintain roads has turned into a punishment regime for those who bought electric cars.”

    Low-income families, of course, will be hit by road user car costs upfront, unlike pay-as-you-go fuel levies.

    As New Zealand becomes one of the few countries in the world to actively encourage the purchase of ‘combustion junkmobiles’, it might lower your blood pressure to think about the one thing Ritchie left off her list of carbon power moves. Voting. • Jenny Nicholls

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