How changing the car you drive will help climate change
If Australians are serious about tackling climate change, we need to take a good hard look at what's parked in our driveways.
For decades, we bought locally-built, fuel-guzzling large sedans when Europeans were managing quite nicely in tiny hatchbacks.
Governments from both sides of politics encouraged this habit and big business bought in as well, adopting a "buy Australia" policy aimed at propping up the local car industry.
That has left us with a national average for vehicle CO2 emissions that seriously lags behind the rest of the developed world.
When the local car industry shut down in 2017, we had an opportunity to close the gap, but instead we replaced our Commodores and Falcons with Toyota HiLuxes and Ford Rangers, which are just as thirsty as their predecessors. If we didn't buy a four-wheel-drive ute, we were splurging on an SUV.
As a result, the expected drop in average vehicle emissions from the closure of our local factories didn't eventuate. In 2017 and 2018 we reduced our vehicle emissions by the smallest amounts in history - a measly 0.3 per cent and 0.4 per cent.
As is stands, our vehicle CO2 emissions are roughly 40 per cent higher than Europe's. Some of the blame for this can be laid at the feet of the federal government. Europe has strict CO2 targets for manufacturers and fines for not meeting them. Australia has a gentlemen's agreement that the car industry does its best.
Europe also has an aggressive passenger vehicle CO2 target of 95g/km by next year. Our passenger vehicle average currently sits at 169.8g/km.
Governments at both federal and state level also buy thirstier vehicles than private buyers and - unlike the United States and many European countries - there are no incentives for electric vehicles or hybrids.
We can debate government policy and the effects of subsidies on electric vehicle sales all we like, but ultimately the responsibility for the cars we choose lies with us.
Our obsession with utes and SUVs is getting a little out of hand. If you looked at our roads, you'd think everyone spends the weekend tackling the Simpson Desert. But the reality is that lots of singles and couples with no kids drive hulking big SUVs and utes.
Five years ago, the Toyota Corolla and Mazda3 hatchbacks were our favourite cars. Today, it's the HiLux first, Ranger second and daylight third. Five years ago SUVs and utes made up half our new-car sales. Today, it's 70 per cent.
One of the biggest success stories of the past year or two has been the Ram, a super-sized, V8-powered, made-in-America pick-up truck.
We don't have to ditch our cars for pushbikes - if everyone simply bought a more efficient car we'd make a big impact.
Private vehicles - including cars, SUVs and utes - are responsible for roughly 11 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions in Australia. And the National Transport Commission estimates that if every new-car buyer had chosen one with "best-in-class" emissions, our average vehicle CO2 emissions intensity would have been reduced by 60 per cent.
Unfortunately, without massive subsidies, electric vehicles are not a practical choice for the average buyer. The cheapest available cost roughly $20,000 more than their petrol-powered equivalents, yet offer compromised range.
Hybrids are the most logical short-term solution. Toyota's RAV4, Corolla, C-HR and Camry cost between $1500 and $2500 more than their petrol equivalents yet will use roughly half the fuel in busy city traffic. Australians are beginning to embrace them as well.
Last year we bought more than 27,000 Toyota hybrids and the maker claims that saved motorists $11 million in fuel and cut our C02 emissions by 20,000 tonnes. This year the company predicts 40,000 hybrid sales. Based on current sales trajectories, we'll buy more hybrids than Holdens.
Unfortunately we'll also buy 40,000 HiLuxes, most of which are diesel-powered. Apart from the CO2 effects, that will have a significant impact on air quality in our cities. Vehicle emissions such as hydrocarbons, oxides of nitrogen and particulate matter have been linked to respiratory illness, cardiovascular disease and cancer.
They say charity begins in the home - perhaps action on climate change begins in the driveway.
Richard Blackburn is the National Motoring Editor.