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sportscarpros Notes from the Cellar 

John Brooks
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Here at SCP Towers we think we know everything but then realise that we don't.  So when considering non motorsport issues we consult a grown up. My piece suggesting that endurance racing could profit from considering the issues surrounding energy for the future stirred up a Hornets' Nest of comments, some of it even informed. So in line with this policy we asked someone in the know to give us his opinion.

Consider the lilies.............

John Brooks, February 2008

Green issues, Green agenda, Green-wash, Green blackmail..

Just four of a multitude of terms that are used, basically, to refer to the same group of issues, with the flavour of term used, by any particular person, being a function of their point of view.

These issues are, of course, "environmental issues" and, considering that they supposedly relate to something as basic as the long-term survival of the human race, they are, at the very least, somewhat relevant to the motor industry.

So, I thought it was high time to have a think about this myself.

Letís start with this.

It is generally recognised, and widely accepted, that fossil fuels are a finite resource and that, also, the burning of these fossil fuels has a significant adverse impact on the environment and global issues.


Címon, if youíre still not accepting a common ground on even these sorts of basic statements, then thereís something wrong. Think about the basics:

   1. These deposits are finite. Unless the world is, somehow, made on the basis of some strange, yet to be revealed, einsteinium worm hole theory that means it suddenly self-regenerates, then we will have used up the fossil fuels some 500,000 times more quickly than it took the earth to make them.

   2. The by-products of using them are demonstrably harmful to both the environment and to human health. At the vary least, there are asphyxiates, carcinogens, poisons, particulates etc. And most of those were, when I last checked, are harmful to both the environment and to human health.

Of course, even if you accept this common ground, thereís a whole wide world of differing "so what" scenarios and the fun and games (and there are lots of them) come when having discussions about such issues as the degree and type of impact, the rate of change, the direction of (up or down or sideways), the rate at which fuels will be depleted etc.. etc. etc. ad infinitum.

Nonetheless, the finite nature of fossil fuels, and the significant adverse impact of using them is, as I say, recognised and accepted.

So it must follow, therefore, that given an ever-increasing world consumption of fossil fuels, that we, the human race, will only use them up more quickly and will only end up having more of an adverse impact in the future.

And having more of an adverse impact cannot be a good thing, can it..?

Sportscarpros has touched on these issues a number of times recently, and there are, if you chose to look, also many, many heated discussions on motorsport (and other) forums about these issues.

There are, judging from the variety of opinions touted, passionate and heartfelt views on these matters and I am sympathetic to many of them. Especially as it really is not yet clear precisely what is going on and there is some confusion, leading to many equally valid, but differing points of view.

Certainly there are many "ifs" and "buts" to debate and itís right that we do so. From the man in the street, to the expert scientists, to the politicians and world leaders (but you conspiracy theorists amongst us can, as far as I am concerned, go back to your analysis of the moon landing evidence). Unfortunately these sorts of discussions in the wider sense seem to mostly polarise opinion around contrary, slightly more extreme views such as "fossil fuel has 10 years left and we must all start living in wicker houses" or "The greens are brain washing us and itís all a lie" (OK, a little bit of dramatic licence has been used here).

Maybe thatís the nature of such discussions. Certainly, the moderates, the "average Joes and Janes", tend not to get involved as they are often shouted down by the extremists and feel, themselves, strangely marginalised for being in the middle ("if you ain't got an opinion, get out").

But I think these polarised opinions can be dangerous. Go with the former opinion of the two that I suggested, for instance, and we risk a "cry wolf scenario", where people become immune to argument and, if there ever was a problem, would simply not believe it. Believe the later scenario, and, if there really is a big problem hanging right around the corner, then we will not be ready, willing, or able to deal with it.

The "truth" about these "green issues", whatever that is, is likely be somewhere between the two, as it nearly always turns out to be the case. In my humble opinion, I believe that the globe is warming, that may be part of a natural cycle, but our profligate ways are also having an impact, most probably an adverse one, and the hole in the ozone layer may be a problem. What seems clear to me is that it is by no means certain that we, the human race, could survive much more warming of the globe.

So it is surely in the interests of all mankind (and the rest of the critters on the planet) to do something about this now, even if itís "just in case".

Andrew Cotton has suggested that hugely moderated, distilled, and combed over differing opinions, along the lines postulated, have actually affected the way in which differing sportscar series are actually run and, you know something, he may be right. After all, isnít that just reflecting the differing opinions out there?

But is that helping anybody?

The true future challenge, as I see it, the thing that really will make a difference, will be to engage and include Mr and Mrs Average, the "man or woman on the street", in the issues. After all, it's their future we're talking about and so these are the people who need to be given the challenge, in un- coloured, un-politicised, facts, so that they can participate in our future.

Oil will run out, and as it does and it will become ever more scarce and ever more costly to produce, it will therefore be more costly to put into your car..

What can we do? Simple. We can reduce, on an ongoing basis, our energy demand and consumption. The less fuel we need to put into our car, the less it will cost, relatively, and the less of an impact that use has. As fuel costs increase, you compensate by using less and, hey, look what else happens, we have reduced greenhouse gas emission and a prolonging the fossil fuel resource.

Will mankind do this voluntarily? Probably not, if we look to the past behaviour for guidance. We could, now, all go out and buy 50 mpg econo cars, they're safe and modern and reliable. But we don't, and we cite some fancy reasons why not, but none stack up against our parallel complaints that fuel is too expensive (it isn't, we sell more and more, so it can't be "too" expensive). It certainly does not appear to be high on the agenda of the "man in the street".

But why should it be? The big manufacturers are not really all that serious about emissions and consumption, other than meeting the law.  Many people are, these days, somewhat cautious in their opinion of what their governments tell them (and mostly, what they are told is political, not fact, and reporting of these issues seems to follow the polarised opinions that, frankly, alienate most people and pander to common fears)

This leads us to the point where whenever anybody suggests anything sensible, it will be quickly ridiculed, rather than thought about. Take last weekís published viewpoint of Sir Mark Moody Stewart who was widely reported as suggesting a ban on cars that do less than 35mpg. Of course, he was, partly, but the "Newsies" cherry picked their headlines so as to present the suggestion out of context (sensationalism, surely not, mustn't let the facts get in the way of a good sound bite) with typically predictable response from the men and women in the street.

Sir Mark was actually making some fairly simple and valid points, more or less along the lines of "we need to reduce consumption, and here are some ways we can do it", which, to be honest, we could all do with listening to, not ridiculing. And how was it taken?  Well, given the selective reporting, badly, as you might expect, as people generally wanted to protect their own position, feeling that Sir Mark was suggesting something that would impact upon their civil liberties and freedom of choice.

But was he, and why are his views interesting? Well, no and they are interesting because he's not some eco-warrior, but because heís actually an oil man, former boss of Shell, no less, and now boss of a big mining company.

You know, he might just know something about this.

If you look through the sensationalism of the reporting, to the substance of what he was saying, in reality, itís fair to all.

What he was driving at was not "banning" any freedom of choice or liberty, he was simply suggesting enforcing a new regulation on the manufacture of certain things. Let the market then develop and react, which it will, because the manufacturers still want to build and sell cars.

But if the cars are more efficient, they use less fuel, and are, relatively, cheaper to run. Ergo, we all "win" and we meet the challenges of fossil fuel poverty.

Why is this bad?

It isnít.

And will these cars cost more? Probably not as the markets will dictate that the same sorts of vehicles will need to be affordable to the same sorts of people that they are now. It's just they will have to use less fuel. And, before anyone asks, somebody ill come up with the 170mph/35mpg supercar and the gingantic/35mpg Supertractor.

So why is it all such a problem?

So we may need to legislate, big deal.. Ultimately, it will be sorted, and we'll still be able to do the things we want to do, within reason.

The problem is that it is generally still being portrayed as a bad thing to be proposing these things and this is what needs to change.

So, Newsies, get your conscience sorted, look at these things properly, and start selling the real story, not the sensationalism, and stop pandering to conspiracy theorists (and Daily Mail readers).

Anyway, I digress.

The question for motorsport, which is a small, but very public part of the image of the automotive industry, is not "does it have to change" but, instead, "can it afford not to change"..

Which is where Mr Brooks came in, I believe.

Actually, thatís a question for us all. Can any of us afford for things not to change?

The Blue Meanie, February 2008