Province column: Driving an older car may be the best way to lighten your carbon footprint

While B.C.’s new carbon tax is about to put the squeeze on drivers at the gas pumps, it is also putting the spotlight on the bigger story of greenhouse gases in this province.

Inevitably, that means more finger-wagging reserved for some predictable villains of the global warming story — SUV drivers.

That’s why the June cover of Wired had me doing a double-take when I walked past my neighbourhood newsstand last week.

According to the magazine, folks who are serious about global warming need to face up to some inconvenient truths, which may not accord with prevailing eco-dogma.

One of them happens to be that driving used cars, trucks and sport-utes — versus hybrids — can be a key to cutting carbon emissions.

Why? For starters, making a new hybrid leaves a larger carbon footprint than other vehicles. “Pound for pound,” declares the article, “making a Prius contributes more carbon to the atmosphere than making a Hummer, largely because of the nickel in the hybrid’s battery.”

Wired is quick to point out that, once it is on the road, a hybrid quickly makes up its carbon deficit against a new Hummer, thanks to fuel efficiency.

But it’s a different story when it is stacked up against aged but fuel-friendly vehicles like the 1998 Toyota Tercel or the 1994 Geo Metro.

According to the magazine’s calculations, these cars paid their carbon debt off years ago. So it would take years for a hybrid to catch up — if ever.

Yes, the plea to aspiring environmentalists to “keep your SUV” is controversial and provocative. But it conveys an important point: Used vehicles can be unsung heroes in the crusade against global warming.

The technophiles at Wired are clearly on to something.

More and more British Columbians these days are turning to eco-friendly, previously owned cars and trucks.

Earlier this spring, I bought a 1991 Suzuki microvan, imported from Japan. It’s known as a Kei-Car, which means “light vehicle.”

The Japanese have been making these green-friendly vehicles since 1949 — a testament to that country’s wherewithal, given its own environmental challenges.

Thanks to their impressive utility, efficiency and style, more and more of these pint-sized used trucks, vans and sport cars are cruising around Metro Vancouver these days.

My new ride has a motorcycle-calibre, 660-cc engine, and gas mileage that rivals a Smart car. As a result, my carbon footprint from driving has never been smaller.

Mind you, I’m not holding my breath for a government tax rebate — or even applause from the green lobby — to reward my decision to buy second-hand.

But it’s comforting to know that yesterday’s automobiles aren’t always the carbon culprits that some make them out to be. In many cases, they can be part of the solution.

More importantly, the good news about used cars reminds us of one of the best weapons we have in the fight against global warming is to keep an open mind.

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