Friday, May 30, 2008

Get Real on Petrol

Oh pur-lease!! Hands up all those who stopped fussing about those silly petrol vouchers, because when you do the sums, you actually come out worse for shopping at supermarkets. Everybody? Good.

Repeat after me – the 4c a litre discount was not and is not worth the bother, makes you pay more for your groceries, and only adds up to a couple of dollars a tank for any reasonable vehicle.

Diddling with GST, excise, FuelWanks, which might save around the same amount, at the costs of a few schools, hospitals tanks or whatever, is also a waste of time and effort.

Forget it.

Lesson one

If you want a lower fuel bill, buy a smaller, more fuel efficient car. If you live on or near a public transport route, use that when you can and/or get a bike. Lobby for more public transport.

Lesson two

Petrol will continue to get dearer, no matter what anyone does.

It may go up and down in the short term, but there’s only so much of it on the planet, there’s less of it than there used to be, and what there is, is more and more difficult to find and extract.

Repeat: the price of oil will always rise. Get used to it. To make it last longer, we have to use it more frugally. We’ve learnt how to be waterwise – ish. Now we have to start being oilwise.

Here’s how we do it

The most efficient use of coal, oil and gas is to generate electricity, which can be topped up with wind, wave, solar and other renewables.

This makes the best use of dwindling reserves while developing renewable sources to take over.

The most efficient forms of transport are public transport, so we build lots of it, especially electric-powered railways and tramways, for freight and passengers.

Buses and trucks are short-term fixes and relatively inefficient – so make sure they’re either electric or hybrid.

Throw money at developing hybrid and electric vehicles.

Build lots of nuclear power stations.

How to pay for the change

We need to pay the true cost of our resource consumption, and we need to structure the tax system to encourage efficient and renewable fuel use.

To do that, we need to make it cheaper, easier and more convenient to use public transport than to drive.

Everyone within the catchment area of a city should pay a surcharge on their local taxes for the development and maintenance of public transport.

Public transport would then be free at the point of use.

To those who say, “but that’s unfair, I don’t use public transport, I use my car”, the answer is, “you have a choice – use our car and pay twice, or use public transport and pay once”.

Pay to drive into cities – they already do it in London and Singapore.

Give public transport reserved lanes and absolute priority on all roads at all times.

Tax all road vehicles according to their economy – the bigger/thirstier the engine, the bigger the purchase tax, and the bigger the annual road tax.

This already happens in a crude way in the UK and much of Europe – the bigger your engine, the bigger your annual road tax bill. So for a 1 litre car you might pay $200 a year, for a 2 litre, $400 and so on, pro-rata. Why do you think most European cars have small, relatively fuel-efficient engines?

Change the planning system

Older cities, like Amsterdam, mix retail, industrial and residential together. Newer cities segregate workplaces and homes in different parts of town, necessitating long commutes.

We need to start building factories, shops and offices within walking distance of homes, not on farmland on the outskirts. We need mixed use suburbs, not dormitories on vacant land.

It’s not just a question of building a few medium density blocks in Malvern and Toorak, it’s about building medium density industry in Malvern and Toorak, too.

That means planning laws have to change.

Home efficiency

Our homes need to become more efficient. We need to embrace insulation, clever design, solar electricity and other schemes of home power generation, solar hot water, water tanks, in-home water recycling by means of grey-water treatment gardens, home methane generation from waste, and a host of similar initiatives.

These initiatives need to be fully subsidized –for example, you should be reimbursed in whole or part if you install water tanks and a water recycling system. If you generate power to put into the grid, you get paid for that at a premium rate.

Your roof is a wasted resources for harvesting valuable electricity and water that you can then onsell to power and water companies.

Big water, big power, big gas should only be used as top-ups and for emergencies.

These initiatives will be major spurs to development of renewable and recycling industries.

In the face of accelerating environmental degredation, dwindling resources, swelling population, global warming . . . . . . what do you mean, warming’s not proven?


  1. If it’s real and we do nothing – situation worsens, irreparable disaster
  2. If it’s not real and we do nothing – live with existing degraded environment, shrinking diversity, eventual resource exhaustion etc.
  3. If it’s real and we act to fix it – high cost but disaster averted or contained, cleaner and more sustainable planet
  4. If it’s not real but we still act to fix it – high cost but cleaner, more sustainable planet

No comments: