Thursday, August 13, 2009

Importance Of The Big Picture

It seems that Miley Cyrus, of Disney’s Hannah Montana fame, has recently joined the host of other Hollywood A-listers in adopting a hybrid car in their collective effort to show how environmentally conscious and aware they are. Many of these celebrity early-adopters of Toyota’s Prius such as Leonardo Di Caprio and Cameron Diaz no doubt helped the Japanese brand immensely in their bid to be recognized as the first choice in environmentally conscious motoring. Actors who are of a less serious nature such as Will Ferrell and Jack Black also proclaim their undying love for their Prius. Even Prince Charles has converted his beloved 38 year-old Aston Martin to run on processed wine in a Royal bid to save the globe from an eventual and inevitable meltdown. What is amazing, however, is the little known fact that a Prius is far more environmentally unfriendly than some SUV’s currently gracing our roads if one took into account the manufacturing process and life cycle of the car - as many of it’s components are manufactured and produced in a very inefficient manner.

Many people praise the Prius for their fuel efficiency under city driving, but could it be that we have all become so used to technology that we have forgotten that we can simply switch the car off with the turn of a key to save fuel when we’re stuck in a traffic jam?

The automotive industry has born the brunt of the wrath from environmentalists for gradually destroying our planet. On the face of it, the criticism might seem justified. The functioning of modern cars has not fundamentally changed since the first Model T. Apart from the ever-advancing safety features, cars are fundamentally still driven by fossil fuels in internal-combusting engines. Just about every single one of them. Considering the sheer number of cars there are on our roads worldwide, the attack on the automotive industry really seems the most logical for most people.

But consider this for a second. In 2007, the UN published a 400-page report, entitled Livestock's Long Shadow, highlighting the damage done by sheep, chickens, pigs and goats. In almost every case, the world's 1.5 billion cattle are most to blame. Livestock are responsible for 18% of the greenhouse gases that cause global warming, more than cars, planes and all other forms of transport put together.

Added to the negative contribution by the livestock, burning fuel to produce fertiliser to grow feed, to produce meat and to transport it - and clearing vegetation for grazing - produces 9% of all emissions of carbon dioxide, the most common greenhouse gas. And their wind and manure emit more than one third of emissions of methane, another harmful by-product which warms the world 20 times faster than carbon dioxide.

The list goes on. Livestock also produces more than 100 other polluting gases, including more than two-thirds of the world's emissions of ammonia, one of the main causes of acid rain.

Wouldn’t it make sense then, for all those who claim to care about the environment to reduce their meat consumption first of all, rather than changing their cars? Or why not choose a diesel-driven sedan that independent test have verified as far more fuel-efficient than the Prius under mixed driving conditions? Could it be that their choice of cars is simply a way of easily showing that they genuinely care about the environment, rather than actually having to go the whole mile and changing all of their habits that may cause harm to the environment?

Cross-referencing a list of about 40 Prius-toting celebrities, only about 10% of them are vegetarians too. Is it that they aren’t as serious about saving the environment as they claim, or could it be that they, like millions of regular folks out there, simply jumped on the car-bashing campaign without understanding the other causes of our environmental downfall?


It is the very complicated idea of global-warming that has led a lot of people, however well intentioned, to focus on issues that might not be the most direct contributors to the plight of our planet.

While we can all make minor changes to our lifestyles in order to better the world that we share - to do so without fully understanding all the causes would surely mean that we wouldn’t be as efficient in dealing with the problem as we could be. To denounce those with an interest or stake in the automotive industry seems full of hypocrisy.

Yet another example of those who are so ready to jump on the green consciousness movement without fully seeing the big picture can be found on Facebook. A quick search for the term “green consciousness” returned 145 groups, along with countless profiles of users who claim that they care for the environment. But do they know that by being part of the Facebook community, they are in fact helping to produce as much as half of the carbon emissions as that produced by the whole of New York City?

Added to which, Facebook has recently become a popular destination for photo sharing for users. With around 10 billion photos already uploaded on Facebook, and 4 separate file sizes per photo saved by the company, the company officially holds 40 billion photo files. 33 billion of these files were loaded on Facebook servers within the last 18 months alone.

This equates to 30000 photos uploaded onto Facebook per second, meaning that 38500 kW per second are needed to enable photo-uploads alone – or 124 cars with 309 kW running at maximum capacity per second to fuel this photo-sharing addiction.


It’s clear that the world is in trouble, of that there’s no doubt. But the inevitable question arises as to what we do to try and turn a dire situation around. Some of the world’s savviest investors have already placed billions of their own dollars on funding the development of green technology. They have recognized that the current downward spiral in terms of our environment will eventually lead to a host of solutions from bright minds from all over the world, and they have placed their bets accordingly in the hopes of a major payout a few years down the line.

But what can us mere mortals do about helping the environment in the mean time? Obviously we need to all do our bit to conserve energy and limit harmful output until a better, more financially viable option becomes available. But most importantly, we need to ensure that we are focusing our angst in the right direction by understanding the big picture, without which we could all very well land up driving, in Jeremy Clarkson’s words, “’orrible eco-boxes” that produces far more environmentally harmful by-products in the car’s lifetime than more “traditional cars”.

Companies that are providing consumers with far more balanced motoring options – with a long-term view and continuous improvements to providing greener options should be applauded for their efforts, and supported accordingly.

Motoring isn’t merely about transportation. It’s the joy resulting from the sense of freedom and independence one derives from driving that has made cars as popular as they are today. Let’s not lose that element of fun in our bid to latch on to temporary, and often inaccurate and inefficient ways to solve the environmental problem.