Magazine says cars aren’t bad for the environment

Below is the letter of complaint written to House and Leisure & Nedbank – who sponsored the magazine.

I am writing to complain about an article entitled “Little Green Monsters” in the Woman on Wheels magazine which I received free with the July issue of House and Leisure. Neither the magazine itself, nor its associated website has any email contact information for that magazine, so there is no way that I can complain directly to them.  This would seem to be an oversight. 

The introduction states: “Cars have been much maligned, with environmentalists insisting that they are single-handedly crucifying our planet. But this is far from the truth, as Charleen Clarke reveals..”

Ms Clarke attempts to reveal this through a series of factually incorrect statements, vague misrepresentations and unsubstantiated evidence. She paints a very inaccurate picture of the role that cars play in the environmental damage they are causing.   

Firstly, Ms Clarke compares the emissions of a car to those of an aeroplane:

“Planes that land at Heathrow during a single morning consume more fuel than all the Formula 1 cars have used since races started in 1950”.

Whilst I am not disputing her facts, this makes no sense as an argument. People who are opposed to car pollution on environmental grounds are ALSO opposed to profligate flying.  Environmentalists are concerned about ALL fuel consumption, and just because cars consume less than aeroplanes doesn’t make them any better. It’s like being on a diet and saying that because doughnuts have less calories in them than chocolate cake it’s OK to eat as many as you like.

This is in fact a scary statistic and gives us all the more reason to cut down on flights too. However, Ms Clarke seems to have missed that point completely!

Ms Clarke then goes on to quote Ian Cameron, chief designer at Rolls Royce Motor Cars: “the auto industry is only responsible for 10-12% of the sustainability problem.”

What exactly does he mean by “the sustainability problem”? This is very vague and as far as I am aware the chief designer at Rolls Royce is not a scientist of any kind. I will assume that he means that cars are responsible for 10% of global carbon emissions. In any event 10-12% of any problem is actually a rather big number, and if this is in terms of global carbon emissions this is HUGE – especially when considering that most people in the world don’t even own a car. (China has eight vehicles per thousand residents; Brazil has 122, Western Europe 584, and the US 950).

The article suggests that cars are only responsible for an eighth of climate change, so let’s not worry about that then?

This statement also leaves out the oil and petrol industries which play a huge part in the chain of pollution produced by cars. According to the world car free network, transportation (of all kinds, not just cars) is responsible for 20-25% of our total carbon emissions.  In addition, see below for the environmental costs of producing one car (also from the world car free network)

The Environmental Cost of One Car

Extracting Raw Materials:
26.5 tonnes of waste
922 cubic metres of polluted air
Transporting Raw Materials:
12 litres of crude oil in the ocean
425 million cubic metres of polluted air
Producing the Car:
1.5 tonnes of waste
74 million cubic metres of polluted air

Driving the Car:
18.4 kilos of abrasive waste
1,016 million cubic metres of polluted air

Ms Clarke then states that cars are not necessarily the environment’s nemesis due to the fact that buildings are responsible for 60% of the problem. Again, I am not quite sure what she means by “the problem” but I will assume that she is referring the percentage contributed by buildings to global carbon emissions. Here too is another reason to ensure that we look at reducing carbon emissions from all sectors. It is pointless trying to point the finger at the sector which has the most emissions and ignore the rest. Doughnuts and cake.

Here comes my favourite part of the article which truly demonstrates that Ms Clarke has no knowledge of climate change. She tells us that planet earth pumps 186 billion tons of carbon into the atmosphere every year and that the contribution from fuel only amounts to 0,003% of the total CO2 released into the atmosphere.

It is a well-known fact that the earth, through various processes, emits carbon dioxide. It also, through an amazingly efficient and delicate ecosystem captures that carbon dioxide through trees, plankton and other measures. The problem comes in when, through human activity, this balance is lost and far more carbon dioxide emissions are being added to the atmosphere through burning fossil fuels. I would again like to refer to my diet analogy: it is like saying that because our bodies use up 2000 calories every day we can therefore eat an extra 200 on top of what we eat normally and not put on any extra weight.

Before the Industrial Revolution the concentration of Carbon Dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere was 280 parts per million (ppm). The current level of CO2 is 387ppm and is rising fast. In the last 20 years alone CO2 concentrations have increased by 20ppm. The current scientific consensus is that CO2 levels need to stay at 350ppm to avoid a 2 degree increase in global temperatures.

Ms Clarke ends the article by saying: “one thing is for certain: the cars we drive – both now and especially in the future – are not little green monsters”.

Ms Clarke is clearly not qualified to write articles of this nature and the position that she attempts to present is factually inaccurate and irresponsible and the arguments used to support her position make no sense. 

I intend publishing this complaint letter on our Blog next week so if you have any comments please could you let me have them before then so that I can publish them along with the letter of complaint.

Olivia Andrews

7 responses to “Magazine says cars aren’t bad for the environment

  1. I also wrote in to complain about that article. I didn’t get a response at all.

  2. The thing is, a magazine is nothing but a bunch of packaged advertisements, kind of thinly disguised as having entertainment or interest value. A supplement inside a magazine is even more grossly this (less disguise). So you have to ask who sponsored that article. Surely Miss Clarke did not come up with the whole thing herself. She was told what to write, and what spin to put on it. This may have actually been against her better judgment, and she in fact might be sympathetic to your cause. She clearly is not a very good liar.

    Consider too that the editors/publishers must have known that such an article would receive a backlash of complaints from the environmentalist sector. Therefore I doubt that your letter of complaint was even read.

    The problem is that car companies with their trillions in annual revenue will do anything to promote the sale of these polluting beasts, and that clearly includes pushing their agenda onto the unsuspecting masses with lies. Almost everyone who read that article would think nothing of it, yet have this false idea that cars are okay, and hence do nothing to curb the global crisis we are currently experiencing – to the benefit of the automotive industry and fuel sector.

    It saddens me that industry is such a powerful force which seems to be immune to the impending disaster it is creating. Letters of complaint will unfortunately do nothing to stop it.

  3. thanks for post.

  4. Hi Chris, the magazine was sponsored by Nedbank – who claim to be environmentally friendly! They have just announed that they have gone carbon nuetral.. perhaps they should pay more attention to what sort of magazines they sponsor!

  5. While an individual letter of complaint may not change much, as part of a concerted effort to change thinking, letters like these must be written. Even though it was probably not hard to poke holes in the poorly researched piece written by Ms Clarke and perhaps not many people read it, I hope that your considered letter is published so that at the very least the facts you provide can be visible.

  6. Great to see the blog up and running. And great that you complained about this. And scary that nonsense like this is being published. Worth following up with Nedbank?

  7. Thanks David. I have spoken to someone in Nedbank’s complaints division, but I am still waiting for a response. I will keep you posted..

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