The government is due to announce a major initiative today to encourage people to switch to electric cars. 340 electric cars will be made available to the public to try, in that hope that they will find them practical and efficient, and buy one themselves.
The scheme will cost £25 million, and will pilot in London, Birmingham, Glasgow, and several other locations around the country. It will be the largest electric car trial in the world.
This is potentially good news for the UK’s carbon emissions. 22% of our carbon emissions are from transport, 13% from our private cars. On the other hand, it could be a waste of time – as we’ve mentioned before, an electric car is only as green as the power station it charges from. Unless all these cars are charging off renewable energy sources, we’re only making minor cuts to our emissions.
Electric cars are also the easy answer, another failure of the imagination. Cars are a bad idea for lots of reasons, and sustainability is more than just CO2 emissions. A better idea would be to encourage people out of their cars altogether, and invest in walkable cities, re-localization, and public transport. Instead, this plan assumes more of the same, and even growth in car use.
“We have about 33m cars on the road at the moment and it’s going to go up by another 4-5m in the next 10 years,” said David Bott of the Technology Strategy Board (TSB). “There’s a lot of people buying new cars anyway so the question is how quickly can we get credible alternatives out there?”
This is where the government’s scheme is most disappointing, and essentially a failure of leadership: “people are buying new cars anyway”. It ducks the politically difficult but ultimately inevitable issue of lifestyle change. There is nothing inevitable about motoring. We can reduce it, control it, and break our addiction. In so doing we will re-invigorate communities, stimulate local economies, reduce accidents, and save a fortune on roads and bridges.