Friday 23 August 2019

Greening of a new dilemma

Change is coming, but that could make for hard choices. Can the new Green Wave deliver?

TRANSPORTS OF DELIGHT: An orange Lamborghini complete with custom plates parked near the UK Houses of Parliament
TRANSPORTS OF DELIGHT: An orange Lamborghini complete with custom plates parked near the UK Houses of Parliament

Campbell Spray

There was a very reflective tinge over the last week; there are changes afoot and it seems the Green Wave has arrived, again. Hopefully this time it stays, develops and unites consumers, industry and the wider world in giving properly sustainable ideas that help to save this old planet of ours.

But there is more to this than wearing sandals, eating brown rice and easing your conscience by voting Green in local and European elections every so often.

The undated elegance of a frog-eyed Austin-Healey Sprite next to Southend Pier
The undated elegance of a frog-eyed Austin-Healey Sprite next to Southend Pier

Hard choices, by their very name, are not easy. In the cities if you want bus lanes, cycleways and cars on the same road then your favourite trees might have to go. Keep those trees and taking your little darlings to the school round the corner in your car may not be possible.

At the other end of the scale, there is the electric car dilemma. Fine, they have no emissions and don't use fossil fuels, but what about those batteries and the whole ecological impact of mining for cobalt and lithium to make them?

And remember the Green agenda has not always had right on its side.

When last in power with the ill-fated government led by first Bertie Ahern and then Brian Cowen, the Greens were instrumental in bringing the new emission-based road tax. Not only did that send the market into a spin, but it brought about a massive rise in diesel sales and a constant rise in the spread of the deadly nitrogen oxides (NOx). It also had a great impact on government revenues when behemoth SUVs were able to pay almost minimum road tax while tiny petrol cars just one year older were penalised.

Only now, 11 years after the 2008 craziness, is this situation being corrected. Meanwhile, thousands of motorists were lured into buying small diesel cars when their mileage did not warrant it and they are now paying the price.

The whole dieselgate scandal showed how shabby the major manufacturers can be when faced with environmental issues. I was pleased that Green candidate Ciaran Cuffe came out on top in the European Dublin constituency. It was even more gratifying that his party colleague Neasa Hourigan was elected on the first count in the Cabra-Glasnevin ward of the city council.

However, the fine work that the veteran Joe Costello of Labour (North Inner City) and his colleague Marie Sherlock (Cabra-Glasnevin) have been doing in the local area on transport matters also paid off, with them both getting seats in their respective wards.

They organised meetings, held lots of clinics, listened and campaigned. And that's how a proper transport policy will evolve. Marie, who was campaigning while pregnant with her third child, deserves special recognition. She is the next generation, real change.

There are immense challenges out there for everyone. We must have better public transport - faster, cleaner and more reliable. It is no good having trains full of old people with free travel trundling their way across the land if the young and busy take to their cars for the same journey because it's almost twice as fast.

While I was in Britain recently, I was impressed by how many young people use the train the whole time. This is because they are - usually - massively reliable and speedy. The older traveller can get big discounts but still has to pay a certain amount, including for the purchase of a discount card. If you don't pay something you will begin to lose your belief in a product and your right to demand better.

But it's easy for me living in Dublin, a couple of kilometres from the centre of town. There are dozens of buses passing the house every hour and a Luas is five minutes away. I can be green, clean and hypocritical any time.

But down in the country, life and transport is different. Farmers have always been innovative and love their land, animals - before they kill them - and heritage. But the infrastructure for good public transport isn't there. Yet where the new greenways have prospered are a lesson for us all. Brilliant schemes, locally inspired.

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The Consumer Market Report from UCD, which predicts that UK car imports will overtake new sales this year, makes for depressing reading. A lot of the cars coming in will be dirty diesels that are not wanted in Britain. The move also pushes more showrooms to the brink of economic crisis.

I am not a great fan of many car salesmen - and I use that word in its full sexist way - they still have a long way to go in terms of customer service.

However, I don't want local car dealers to follow banks and post offices in disappearing from our towns and villages. A good one is a blessing.

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Fiat Chrysler linking up with Renault is the latest prediction. They both have a lot to do, too, if they want to put some reputational damage behind them. Together, they might be better placed to face the structural challenges of the global car industry, but it wouldn't give me confidence.

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Finally. Just in case you begin to believe that I am a total arboreal hugger who would love nothing better than a treesome, I must bring you two cars I saw around London recently.

The first, and oldest - a frog-eyed Austin-Healey Sprite - was parked on the pavement next to Southend Pier, which you should visit as a little detour if you fly into the latest of the London radial airports. There is even a small train that goes along the mile or so of the pier.

The second, an obvious Lambo, which has the number plate to show off the owner's vanity, was around the corner from Whitehall and the British Houses of Parliament which are shrouded in building works - which as a metaphor speaks volumes.

Change is coming.

Sunday Independent

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