Why UK’s scrappage scheme won’t save the planet

Published: 18 May 2009

Trade in your banger from today and you’ll get £2000 in cash. The move will no doubt boost UK car sales though it will do little to help UK car manufacturers. I can’t see too many rusty old Escorts being towed into Bentley, Land Rover or Aston Martin dealers.
The move is also promoted as an environmental initiative, just as it is in America where a ‘scrappage’ scheme is slowly being steered through Congress. The car industry regularly pretends that trading in your old car for a new one is the automotive equivalent of planting a field of daisies.

Now I’m sorry, but the idea of scrapping a perfectly good used car is just plain wasteful. I’ve never bought this bogus argument that it’s greener regularly to buy a new car than it is to hang on to a cherished old timer. Nothing is more environmentally irresponsible than our throwaway culture. If you still like your old car, and it provides noble service, than keep it – no matter what bribes the government may be offering.

Besides, when it comes to ‘research’ on the ‘whole-life’ energy costs of cars, the motor industry is – to paraphrase Churchill – pedalling a lie wrapped in a falsehood inside a fib.

The industry usually claims that the total amount of energy a car consumes throughout its life (and energy consumption is closely linked to CO2 emissions) works out at something like 70-90% ‘in use’ (burning fuel) and 10-30% in manufacturing. So, the industry claims, buying a new car (as long as it’s more fuel economical) helps the planet.

Their figures are skewed. The motor makers’ manufacturing numbers are usually restricted to the energy consumed, at their own factories, during manufacturing and assembly. They rarely include energy used by their numerous suppliers, total shipping costs (in freighters which run on carbon-dense marine diesel) or road freight for all the myriad parts that constitute a modern car. They never include energy consumed by the workforce commuting to the factories and offices, or the energy used to mine and then transport the raw materials.

Add all this up, and the environmental picture is a lot hazier. By all means, buy your new car – complete with £2000 cashback – and enjoy. There are some great bargains out there, and there’s never been a better time to buy. But just don’t pretend you’re doing the Earth any favours.

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By Gavin Green

Contributor-in-chief, former editor, anti-weight campaigner, voice of experience