Re-thinking the green car

Imagine an era sometime in the future where modified cars, home-built rides and highly personalized one-off buggies roam around a world where competition for increasingly scarce resources takes centre stage.

For most people, the image usually evoked by this thought experiment tends to be of a harsh, dystopian, perhaps even post-apocalyptic scenario. In fact, if you think of Roger Moore as James Bond, remember when members of Duran Duran were young and New Wave was actually, well, new, the images conjured up could very well resemble that landmark Australian film in the genre of a bleak dystopian future, Mad Max.

Why the negativity? When the food sector clamors for backyard plots yielding homegrown fruits and vegetables, it is viewed as an environmental act. In the home renovation and building sector, do-it-yourself is seen as a positive initiative. Used clothes, rehashed styles and unbranding are all seen as progressive, independent and ultimately rebellious acts against the fashion industry. Why can’t those who tinker with their independent modes of transport be seen in this light? Let us consider the parallels.

The poor backyard car enthusiast tends to make use of older cars that have already made their way through the production chain. Since no newly manufactured product is being introduced, increases to the overall carbon footprint are limited to the operating costs of the vehicle. Even if the vehicle in this example requires a lot of repairs and parts replacement, very few large spare parts are actually being produced brand new per se, rather they are just stocked in warehouses everywhere. Besides, the backyard mechanic is probably the most avid practitioner of reducing, reusing and recycling, what with their extensive patronage of salvage yards and used parts depots. In the event that repairs can’t be performed individually, self-respecting enthusiasts still won’t bring their problems to the dealership but rather support local businesses in the form of small-scale specialist shops. Considering these typical actions, the automotive DIYer is about as anti-corporate, as frugal and as local as it gets.

Worth noting too are the numerous studies done on the efficiency claims of the Prius and numerous other hybrids and electrics. You might have to sift through knee-jerk anti-greenwashing propaganda, but there are a lot of honest calculations done by sustainability engineers such as Pablo Päster which suggest that keeping around a good condition used vehicle probably outweighs the overall environmental impact of buying even a brand new car with a “green” reputation.

In this light, it’s time the homegrown car movement as an environmental alternative took prominence. Dispel the Mad Max image once and for all by supporting grassroots initiatives that seek to revive, recondition and retrofit perfectly good used cars with more efficient powerplants that will put them on par with newer models.

We must also put on trial the rules and regulations which encourage motorists to keep buying new cars. Though usually enacted under the pretext of environmentalism, programs like government financed used car buy-back incentives and other similar anti-clunker laws only directly and unambiguously benefit the automobile manufacturers themselves. No doubt the 2010 Calgary International Auto and Truck Show will be rife with the same kind of discord as a lot of these manufacturers push the latest and greatest in green automobile technology alongside their conventionally powered signature models. It may be daunting, but we can put a dent on this trend merely by picking up tools and replacement parts and hanging on to that older car a little longer. Duly armed and motivated, each and every motorist has the potential to become The Road Warrior.

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