Farm Ireland

Sunday 25 February 2018

Comment: Going electric makes sense for the planet and the wallet

The electric car is a no-brainer.
The electric car is a no-brainer.
Jim O'Brien

Jim O'Brien

"Straighten your hat, you're near the Junction," is a saying that was once common throughout the Midwest. It refers to the train journey between Limerick, Cork and Dublin, which necessitates a change at Limerick Junction. Travellers lived in fear of falling asleep, missing the change and waking up miles from home.

In terms of climate change, it's time that we straightened our hats because we're very near the junction. If we sleep through the narrowing opportunity to make changes, the next generation could find themselves living on a hostile planet.

Climate change is the issue of our time; it is the dark shadow at the back of our consciousness in the same way that Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) from nuclear war was the dark shadow in the 1960s, 70s and 80s. We went about with a lingering sense of doom and somewhere in the back of our minds we were conscious of nuclear buttons in Moscow and Washington that could, any day, be pressed, putting paid to life as we knew it.

Nowadays, we all have a finger on a destructive button. Our everyday decisions are having a severe impact on the capacity of the planet to sustain life. In fact we are completely flying in the face of our nature as living organisms in systematically destroying the habitat where our young should be able to survive and thrive.

I know the mention of climate change causes many farmers to go pale. As soon as someone brings it up those who make their living from the land expect the conversation to turn to flatulent cattle and their greenhouse gas emissions. Those accusing farmers of being the primary agents in climate change not only have the wrong end of the cow but often the wrong end of the stick.

The debate about the nature and causes of climate change must be based on fact. Let me state that I regard climate change to be a fact and I also accept that human activity is the major contributory factor to its progress, especially its speed and severity. It is also a fact that modern agriculture is a significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, which in turn are the major factor in global warming and climate change.

According to the Irish Academy of Engineering, in 2015 agriculture accounted for 33pc of Ireland's greenhouse gas emissions. At EU level and at national level this is recognised and the current rural development programme has incentives for 'greening' farming practices.

We have climate change strategies to beat the band and we even have a government minister for climate change. We have signed up to international agreements and as part of our European commitments we have agreed to cut our greenhouse gas emissions by 20pc on 2005 levels by 2020 and 30pc by 2030. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) admits that we are not going to hit our targets and could face massive EU fines.

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Before we go after farmers and start disabling our most vital industry there is a lot of low hanging 'lifestyle' fruit around that can be tackled in the battle against climate change. Not only can this be tackled painlessly it can significantly benefit those who might regard themselves as victims of this tackling.

Let's look at one issue - transport. In Ireland, according to various experts, between 19pc and 29pc of our emissions are created by the transport sector - cars, buses, trucks, trains and various other vehicles powered by internal combustion engines. Changing this will not be easy but the current wave of damning scientific evidence in relation to the harmful effects of diesel engines, especially in congested areas, is giving the Government an open goalmouth in this regard.

I was in south Dublin recently and was shocked at the number of people driving around in pristine, gleaming, gas-guzzling 4x4s. These contraptions, originally designed for field, mountain and forest have become a fashion accessory and a lifestyle statement and as such are an insult to the planet. Tackling these kind of irresponsible lifestyle choices should be a priority before we start messing with the fragile livelihoods of farming families and businesses in the transport sector.

Up to a year ago, in my household, we had two diesel cars. In April 2016, we changed one for a second-hand electric car, not a hybrid, a totally electric car. We live 40km from the city and the range of the car is 150km. Our diesel bill for the electric car's predecessor came to €350 per month, the electric car costs about €30 per month in electricity.

There is little or no servicing aside from tyres and brakes, we don't have to worry about oil changes, filters, fan belts or the like. The road tax is €120 per annum and with its automatic transmission a two-year old could drive it. Most of all, it releases zero emissions.

The vehicle has acceleration the like of which you won't get in any petrol car. And, because the battery is quite heavy and sits under the seats the weight is located in the middle of the car so the road holding is superb. There are plenty of charging points around and the electricity at these is free. Of course that won't last forever.

The electric car has its disadvantages. Normal charging takes a few hours, but with night-rate electricity it charges cheaply while you sleep. There are also fast charging points in numerous locations that will give a full charge in about 30 to 40 minutes.

The cars are dearer than equivalent fossil fuel cars to buy new but a government grant of €5,000 for a new model offsets the initial outlay. Second-hand models are as cheap as similar petrol or diesel cars. The domestic charging point is installed free by the ESB for new vehicles.

The electric car is a no-brainer, particularly for urban dwellers. The newer models have ranges of 250km and more; a relation of mine in Cork recently bought one and drove to Belfast on his first outing.

In 2020, Ireland could be fined over €1bn in fines for breaching our greenhouse gas emission reduction commitments. Why not spend that money now on greening our transport system, on encouraging people to open their eyes to the obvious? The environmental and financial benefits to the individuals and to the country would be enormous.

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