Driving The Cause

On the road to reducing our carbon footprint

Issue: Nov 2009


Hybrid cars are taking the world by storm
Photo credit: Borneo Motors (Singapore) Pte Ltd

Global warming has become an irrefutable phenomenon. What is at least comforting is that more people are aware that they can play a part in reducing their carbon footprints. So even as the mercury rises, eco-friendly vehicles are thankfully getting hotter too.

The popularity of hybrid cars, which run on conventional engines and electric motors, has increased exponentially. Case in point: Japanese auto carmaker Toyota took 10 years to cross the millionth mark for its hybrid car sales in 2007; it took just two more years to sell its second million this August.

Toyota says its Prius model’s total carbon dioxide emissions over a 10-year cycle, inclusive of vehicle production, fuel production and use, would be about 35% lower than a normal car. Honda’s Civic Hybrid has even achieved the Advanced Technology Partial Zero-Emission Vehicle status, which means it cuts down smog-forming engine emissions by almost 90%.

Those choosing to settle for hybrid cars also enjoy tax incentives. In the US, hybrid car owners get tax credits of up to US$4,000 while in Singapore, tax rebates are about 40% of the car's open market value.

A clean drive

Jasmine Ann Teo, who works at CapitaLand as a Corporate Social Responsibility Manager, spreads the message of conservation and recycling as part of her work. Now she is walking the talk even further by driving a hybrid car she bought this August. On the practical front, Teo says her petrol bills shrank by about 40% in the first month, which could mean total savings of US$850 (S$1,200) annually.

Teo now walks the talk by cruising in a hybrid car

“In my opinion, if we look at the benefits in the long run, especially lower fuel costs, buying a hybrid car makes more sense,” she said. “In fact, my 1.3 litre hybrid drives like a 1.5 litre car, so no loss in performance there.”

Teo is also enjoying a more pleasant driving experience: the engine starts more quietly, and it switches off automatically when the car comes to a rest. It starts up again once the acceleration pedal is pushed.

But Singapore car sellers say hybrid cars only take up a mere 0.4% of the total car population. A major deterrent, they say, is the costly replacement of batteries, which power the car’s electric motor, which can set one back an estimated US$4,000 to US$6,000. But according to Toyota, no one has had to replace a battery due to malfunction or wear and tear, since the hybrid cars were launched more than 10 years ago.

This year, the Singapore government is stepping up its efforts to make driving cleaner and greener. It has set up an agency to study the advantages and feasibility of adopting green vehicles and hydrogen-powered cars are being tested out. Their only emission: water.

Two wheels good

For those who want to leave a zero carbon footprint while getting to work – jump onto a bicycle. The two-wheelers are the mode of transport for 90% of the Chinese population. But they are not quite as popular in modern cities. You can hardly spot cyclists on Singapore’s busy streets.

Banker Andrew Kinder keeps fit by cycling to work

Andrew Kinder, is one of the rare few who cycles to work in Singapore. The banker, who heads Reward, Wholesale Banking at Standard Chartered Bank, picked up the habit last year.

“When I signed up for the Standard Chartered Marathon in 2008, I had put on a couple of pounds following my holidays,” he said. “So I figured cycling to work daily would not only be a good way to train for the Marathon but also to lose some of my 'excess baggage' . Now I cycle to work four days a week and have lost about 8kg since October 2008, so I am not complaining!”

Bicycles parked at Six Battery Road B2 and B3 are under the ‘watchful eye’ of surveillance cameras

Kinder says certain basic facilities can keep cyclists pedalling to work. The building he works in, Six Battery Road, provides bicycle racks for convenient and safe parking. There are surveillance cameras that keep an eye out for the pricey two-wheelers.

But cycling to work is clearly not the most comfortable mode of transport in hot and humid Singapore. “It's good to have somewhere to park the bike, but a bigger factor is showers – knowing that you have somewhere to freshen up for the office,” Kinder added. Perhaps with more showering facilities installed at work places, more people would have no qualms in adopting Kinder’s travelling habit.

Safety is also a concern for cyclists. Cycling groups in many countries have lobbied for dedicated cycling lanes. Some have been successful, like in Hawaii where the first dedicated cycle lane on Waipapa Road, on main island Oahu, was opened in April 2009. Recently, the Bangalore Urban Land Transport office announced that an exclusive cycle zone for its Electronic City will take off soon, as a pilot project.

But Kinder is not complaining. “I find that the drivers in Singapore are rarely aggressive. The main thing is that everyone on the road respects each other and remembers that getting to your destination is more important than getting there quickly,” he advised.

The heat is on

Cars, which are booming worldwide, are a major contributor to carbon emissions
Photo credit: Songglod Ritvichai

Road transport produces 10% of our carbon footprint, and cars are to blame for the bulk. In addition, there are currently around 600 million motor vehicles in the world and the number could double in just 30 years – according to The Physics Factbook, an encyclopedia of scientific essays. Hence, the level of carbon emissions might skyrocket in the near future, increasing the global atmospheric temperature.

So even if not for the good of Mother Earth, we say escaping the discomfort of the baking hot weather is reason enough to go green in transport.

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