Statistics NZ have been publishing yearbooks since 1893 which they say provide “a comprehensive statistical picture of life in New Zealand”. If you’re prepared to but a bit of effort in going through them you can some superb historical data so they are a really valuable resource – although going through them is made much easier by them having been digitised and therefore allowing people to use the browser search function.
So I was collating some information from them when I came across this piece of commentary in one of them. See if you can guess what year it is from (some of the dates in the piece should help to narrow it down)
Infernal Combustion Engines
Cars are one of the biggest threats to the global environment. They contribute to global warming, oil spills and water pollution, road congestion in cities, and noise and air pollution. The transport sector is estimated to be responsible for 40 percent of New Zealand’s greenhouse gas emissions. In the developed world cars account for an estimated 20 percent of the world’s total energy consumption. When the energy to build and maintain cars and roads is taken into account this figure could be as high as 50 percent.
Cars are particularly inefficient vehicles. In New Zealand the average car currently manages a mileage of 100 kilometres per 10 litres. To reach the Government’s target of a 20 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by the year 2000, this would have to be cut to 100 kilometres per 3.5 litres. Cars are also inefficient users of road space, carrying an average of only 1.2 passengers. A bus, using about twice the amount of road space, can carry up to 50 passengers.
New Zealand has the second highest rate of cars per capita in the world, with petrol consumption increasing by 4 percent a year. Car-related taxation, such as registration fees, import duty and road taxes, are low by international standards. Deregulation of the transport industry has meant the scrapping of some commuter services, with many others at risk; while, for a number of years, trucks have been gradually replacing trains and coastal shipping in the freight transport sector.
There are many suggestions on how to reduce New Zealanders’ reliance on cars. In Holland new taxes will add 50 percent to the cost of owning and running a car and extra taxes are being developed for heavy users.
Between 1989 and 1990 in Paris, 100000 parking spaces were eliminated to discourage commuters from driving into the city. A light rail system has been installed in Sydney to shuttle people around the city quickly, cheaply and cleanly. Other suggestions include more pedestrian only malls, wider footpaths to lessen road space and improvements to existing public transport systems to make them more attractive to commuters.
New Zealand’s high car use is an important issue that needs to be addressed. If New Zealand is to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions 20 percent by 2000, action must be taken soon. The longer the problem is ignored, the more drastic the measures will have to be.
The piece was from 1992 yearbook but what I found remarkable was how similar it is to many of the things we are saying now including:
- That cars are a big issue for the global environment including air, water and noise pollution.
- That they seriously contribute to congestion which is in large part due to being an inefficient use of space.
- That we have an over-reliance on them leading us to us having one of the highest car ownership rates in the world.
- That improved improvements to public transport, the pedestrian environment and levels of parking can make alternatives to driving more attractive.
So it’s also interesting to see what has happened to car ownership since that time, again thanks to the yearbook data. In 1992 there were ~1.5 million cars in New Zealand while in 2012 that number was ~2.3 million, an increase of ~800,000 cars. There has also been an increase in the number of vehicles per capita with it having increased from 0.43 to 0.52 over the same time period – although that is down slightly on the peak of 0.54 seen in 2007. Note this is just the number of private cars and so doesn’t include the likes of rental cars, motorcycles etc. Also the break in the data is from 1987 when there was a change in the way vehicle registrations were counted.
But even more interesting is that it isn’t just that we have more cars than we did in 1992, but the cars we buy now generally have larger engines with the percentage of them having a cc rating of more than 2000 increasing from 19 to 34% but peaking at 44% in 2004. This is of course in line with the Jeavons Paradox that as we improve the efficiency with how we use a resource that we increase the overall use of it. In this case as we make vehicles more efficient we buy bigger vehicles and drive more. The big spike around 1990 was the result of making it easier to bring in second hand cars
I guess that means we haven’t done a great job at combating those infernal combustion engines.