The RACV and climate change

I was recently looking through the March edition of Royal Auto (which the RACV still send to me even though I’ve cancelled my roadside membership) and was interested to see that climate change getting a lot of attention in the magazine. I had a bit of a look around on the internet and it seems that the RACV has accepted the political reality of needing to accept climate change.

Unfortunately – but not unexpectedly – they seem to be trying to play down the impact of cars on climate change. Transport accounts for 14% of total national greenhouse emissions, and cars alone account for around 8%. The RACV is using the 8% figure to suggest that, while climate change is real and bad, cars aren’t a big part of the problem. This is pretty misleading for two main reasons:

1. The RACV have disaggregated car and truck emissions

When looking at transport emissions, the RACV has separated cars from other transport emissions, the majority of which are from trucks. Whilst car users aren’t directly responsible for emissions from trucks, it’s not accurate to claim that car friendly policies won’t have any impact on trucks. Upgrade a road to reduce car journey time and it’s a fair bet that it will become more attractive to trucks as well.

On a macro level, a successful road transport system will make trucks more competitive with freight rail just as it will make cars more competitive with public transport. If the RACV is going to discuss the impact of car friendly policy on the environment, trucks should be included as well. That puts the figure closer to 14% of national emissions.

2. The RACV have used national figures to inform household decision making

This one is arguably the biggest issue. The makeup of Australia’s national emissions is substantially different from that of Australia’s households. Whilst transport accounts for 14% of national emissions, it is far and away the biggest contributor to household emissions. The PTUA have looked at this issue in more detail, so I won’t rehash their figures. Telling people that cars aren’t a big contributor to climate change is misleading. Disturbingly, it gives people the impression that their driving habits only make up a small proportion of their greenhouse emissions, when it is their largest single personal contribution.

Incidently, my view is that the best way to measure carbon emissions is through consumption rather than household spending, but it’s hard to get the figures on an aggregate level.

Cynicism Aside, it is good to see the RACV actually acknowledging the problem exists. I’d just like them give public transport more than a cursory mention. Often, the best way to increase amenity for people who enjoy driving is to get everyone else onto public transport, thus reducing congestion. It would be nice (although completely unrealistic) for the RACV to articulate this position.


9 Responses

  1. Good story Phin

    I suppose we are going to have to reconcile our beliefs about Car emisssions and peak oil.

    If the peak oil monster comes, we won’t have to worry about car emissions! or congestion

    I’m not worried about the quality of the RACV’s advocacy – more worried about the quality of RACV, Smartpax and so on. We should admire our enemies, and focus on improving our own abilities.

  2. Sorry that should say quality of PTUA, Smartpax and so on

  3. Thanks Riccardo – agree on both counts. Climate change won’t be an issue for oil when supply falls at the same time that demand from China and India goes through the roof!

    For all the things that one can say about the RACV, they have to be given credit for running an incredibly efficient operation for their members. They do have the steady stream of roadside assist money and insurance commissions coming in to help of course – money which simply isn’t there for public transport lobbyists.

    It’s not just money though – they set the bar high for big new projects, whereas public transport groups get stuck debating the merits of excruciatingly small projects.

    I’d like to think there’s a way above the minutiae, but further Balkanisation of public transport lobby groups is hard to justify. Perhaps taking the research and planning rather than the lobbying side is the way forward.

  4. Phin & Riccardo, peak oil will actually be a bad thing from a climate change perspective, unless we prepare in advance. The easiest change to make all of a sudden will be to liquefied coal, as in South Africa, but this process produces far more carbon dioxide than obtaining and refining oil. This will especially be the case if large and powerful countries like the US and China can continue to obtain oil long after it becomes too expensive in smaller countries!

    But I think research and planning is a good and necessary step to take, and this seems to be something you two seem to be very good at. Once a detailed plan is produced, something that could be plausibly adopted, then of course it needs to be lobbied.

  5. Indeed, another good story Phin.
    I was reading an article from The Age yesterday on the proposed Congestion Tax in the Melbourne CBD – []. It’s an encouraging idea.
    I was also interested to read that apparently the RACV have been advocating the use of public transport to reduce carbon emissions. Apparently, The Sunday Age from 17/02 has a full report on it.

  6. Actually I’m not so sure that the RACV is completely off on this one. I’m not sure what percentage of the 50% or so of the electricity demand is domestic, but that could easily be a household’s greatest carbon emitter, unless they’re on GreenPower. The car probably does come next (dependent on mileage, of course).

    However, you make a valid point about the disaggregation of freight and cars, and car-friendly policies encouraging greater truck use. Also, it pays to keep in mind that those trucks are often transporting consumer goods, so fewer TVs = less being transported, produced, etc. Buy local fruit rather than imported, etc – many so called ‘commmercial’ emitters are, in the long run, attributable to domestic consumers.

  7. freight and passenger rail normally need to be separated as issues for – they do have their same general origin in the ‘malaise’ (see my blog – post “153 years of failure”) but the specifics are quite different.

    A genuine road freight network (as opposed to a freeway network) would doubtless not include much of what we see today. Who would build the Westgate Bridge 70 metres up in the air? A drawbridge like in Port Adelaide would have done. Why build 6-8 lanes. 2 lanes with lay-bys would have been plenty, as the trucks could have been kept to say 80 and forced to drive top to tail.

    The infrastructure you see was in fact built for cars-commuters, despite what they say.

  8. I suppose for me the big difference between commercial and private use is ’emotion’

    Most business people can be pursuaded to change, especially when the costs favour a new approach rather than an old one

    Rail lost its freight entirely due to business needs – cost, reliability, timing, not being met – nothing to do with emotion

    Passenger rail has suffered from some of these things, but also because car sellers have promoted the emotion of the thing (comfort, style, speed, sex appeal) and rail operators did not match them

    In France, the TGV is marketed as having sex appeal, and does very welL!

  9. It’s in fact very complicated in this busy life to listen news on Television, so I only use internet for that reason, and obtain the latest news.

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