Coachlines - November 2023

27.11.23 Freeman Nolan Newman

A petrolhead who’s passionate about sustainability

I am an engineer working in the zero emissions vehicle sector. I am also a long-term and committed petrolhead. Finally, and importantly, I am also passionate about sustainability and passing on the best possible future to my children’s generation and beyond. This does not make me a hypocrite. Egregious and profligate wastage is a major bugbear. Everything from fast fashion to consumption for the sake of consumption drives me nuts and will be the subject of future blogs. We have finite resources, and these need to be managed far better than we do right now to pass these down to future generations.

Also, there is no true scientific scepticism that human actions have had a major impact on our climate, heating up the planet to potentially dangerous levels. This is clearly being seen by the sheer number of weather events that are bigger and worse than anything seen before (from when records began). The cycle, from record-breaking heat across multiple continents to flooding beyond biblical levels, seems to be getting more and more vicious.

It absolutely behoves us to start changing our behaviour to mitigate these horrendous outcomes. Note that mitigation is our first aim. We are very unlikely to reverse the damage already done. One of the scariest nightmare scenarios is that we might already be too late, and we need to move on to working out how to live with a more volatile, dangerous environment.

I believe strongly that solutions providing the best outcomes are achievable using technology and Engineers and Scientists bear a huge responsibility to work out a wide spectrum of solutions to provide the best outcome- note that it is not ONE solution or path.

For all their well-meant intentions, I find the green lobby too “hair-shirted” in their approach, both in their rejection of, admittedly imperfect, short to medium-term solutions allowing the reduction in carbon emissions, like nuclear power and their insistence that we must give up our “luxuries”, which we will never do on a population level.

Also, given their track record of backing the wrong horse (note- a SINGLE horse) when it comes to technological solutions, relying on Governments, particularly those that only care about the short term and the next election, is infinitely precarious. There are plenty of examples of going down the wrong cul-de-sac technology-wise, particularly in the field of transport and energy. Just two examples-

  1. The UK government was pushing diesel vehicles through taxation since the late 1990s, thinking it would improve air quality.
  2. The German government decided to shut down all their nuclear power stations in response to the 2011 Fukushima disaster in Japan, doubling down their reliance on Russian gas imports.

On top of this, our lurching towards the polarisation of politics via populism (which further reinforces a “single path” approach where, if you don’t agree with me, you are my enemy), alongside the denigration of proper experts in lieu of popular opinion treated as fact, combined with social media allowing anyone, however ill-qualified, to pontificate as if knowledgeable and publish has led to very dangerous levels of fake news. It is natural for people to favour opinions (again dressed up as fact) that fit in with their natural biases and prejudices.

Having laid out my potential biases (and qualifying my level of expertise) in this first blog, I hope this allows you to understand my perspective on the sometimes very exciting but usually very worrying path we seem to be pursuing with respect to energy and transport when it comes to addressing climate change.

Over the next few blogs, I hope to cover the following topics, in no particular order:

  • Battery Electric Vehicles (BEVs) are not as green as people think they are.
  • We need to consider Vehicle Whole Life Emissions
  • Synthetic Fuels for both older cars and aerospace
  • Modern Cars are just too heavy, particularly BEVs
  • The real effects of Battery Electric Vehicles on Air Quality in City Centres
  • Governments consistently choosing the wrong technologies.
  • The difficulties of replacing a single solution with multiple ones.
  • Fixing Commercial Vehicle Emissions means you don’t need to have ULEZ for Passenger Vehicles
  • The cynicism of Local Government using ULEZ charges to raise taxation without ever admitting it.
  • The hidden agenda of reducing speed limits and increasing speeding fines and points.
  • Tokyo’s congestion solution.
  • Car Life Span- Old cars can be a greener solution.
  • Renewable Energy- how Nuclear Energy is a crucial cog.
  • Fusion Energy for the future.
  • Fast Fashion vs. Quality & Make Do & Mend
  • Obsolescence, wastage, multiple standards, greenwashing in Consumer Technologies- is it possible to have true sustainability in this sector?

My views may well be contentious, if not totally unpopular. I may well take a (hopefully not too serious) pop at virtue-signalling North London Battery Electric Vehicle drivers to a more important pop at the powers that be that have a crucial role in defining our Greener Future.

I believe that wide-ranging discussion and argument is crucial to more people understanding the nuances of the solutions available now and in the future, allowing us to make informed and correct decisions both on an individual level and a population level.

Hence why I am starting this thread – I do hope it gets you thinking. I want you to challenge my position with a structured, informed argument backed by statistics. Not just your opinion.

Enough about me.

The Sustainable Petrolhead