Some weeks ago, Tim Blair, in his ongoing quest to ridicule Global Warming out of existence, decided to take a swipe at influential UK columnist George Monbiot. If you don’t know of Mr. Monbiot he appears to be a very impressive fellow. He has led a very exciting life, having received a United Nations award from Nelson Mandela, something which Mr. Blair is yet to achieve, and having been pronounced clinically dead, something which Mr. Blair is also yet to achieve.
George Monbiot had originally said this of fast motor cars:
There is a direct relationship between an engine’s performance and the amount of greenhouse gases it produces: the faster the car, the quicker it cooks the planet.
Mr Blair, motor enthusiast that he is, took issue with this and claimed that Mr. Monbiout was an idiot because as all petrol heads know:
A 40-year-old VW Beetle produces far more pollutants per kilometre than a modern Ferrari. Monbiot is an idiot.
This claim struck me as very odd indeed since, like myself, Mr. Blair is a known fan of cultural stereotyping, and no practitioner of that delightful sport would be unaware of the German stereotype for engineering efficiency, and the Italians’ contrasting reputation for flash and crash. Could Mr. Blair be wrong? It was time to do some investigation.
Finding fuel consumption information on a vehicle that ceased production long before the thought of denying Global Warming occurred to Mr.Blair is not easy, but with the power of modern day search technology, I managed to scrounge up an answer in …ooooh about five minutes. First port of call was a homage to the classic air-cooled Flat 4 1966 VW Beetle, courtesy of John Muir of Wisconsin. There I found a fascinating history of this 40 year old motor and some useful revhead specifications, in particular an average fuel efficiency quoted as 28.5 miles per gallon, which if we assume that Mr. Muir is quoting US Gallons converts to 8.25 litres per 100k.
To obtain a second source as Journalist Blair insists we do, and to qualify this consumption figure, the next stop took me to a site devoted to the sportier 1972 GT Beetle. This “Love Bug” has a bigger engine that the 1966 variety and so presumably consumes more that Mr. Blair’s 40 year old VW Beetle. This GT Beetle in the auto version has a fuel consumption of 9.6 litres/100k.
So call it 10 litres per 100K to be on the safe side, and to give Mr. Blair maximum wiggle room.
Ancient VW Beetle : Did the Germans fail to conform to the sterotype?
Now how about the modern Ferraris of fewer pollutants per kilometer fame? Well there’s the impressive 612 Scaglietti. A V12 road car which gulps a mighty 8.8mpg (32 l/100k) around town, or 13.6mpg (20.7 l/100k) on combined cycle, or once again being on the safe side, and using the most economical extra urban measurement 20.2mpg (13.9 l/100k). Ferrari’s other current production cars are much the same with the 599 GTB Fiorano using 14.7 l/100 K at its most economical, and the F430 and the F430 Spider both with 21.2 mpg (13.3 l/100k) extra urban.
All of these modern production Ferraris consume several litres per 100km more than our humble 4 cylinder VW Beetle. They are 33% less fuel efficient at best. This surely leaves Mr. Blair’s contention is looking a bit shaky, No?
But ‘Hah’ you say. Tim Blair said that the modern Ferrari produces less pollution per kilometer. He said nothing about fuel efficiency. That is true my eagle eyed trainee journo. My warm and fuzzy logic denialist. But I now use the old “higher authority” trick to introduce Peter Evans, Senior Manager, Environmental Products, Toyota Australia, who points out.
..greenhouse gas emissions, CO2, are directly proportional to the fuel consumption, if you halve the fuel consumption, or double the economy, then you halve the greenhouse gas emissions
So assuming that when Mr. Blair says “pollutants”, he is sticking to the context of his post and is referring to greenhouse gas pollutants (a rash assumption I know) then we can quite categorically say to Mr. Blair. Nonsense. A 40-year-old VW Beetle produces far fewer pollutants per kilometre than a modern Ferrari.
And so, and after much scientific sleuthing we are reluctantly forced toward the inevitable conclusion that – Blair is an idiot.
[Of course there is the possibility that Mr. Blair had this in mind when he made his claim, in which case, strictly speaking, his argument would be true. Mr. Blair under this scenario would not be an idiot. Just a self serving opportunist trying to toady his way onto the right wing opinion gravy train by dodgying up the facts]
Update : Tim Blair bats poor Rex around a bit and makes mention of all sorts of new technological improvements such as catalytic converters that make modern cars cleaner. Gee… it’s almost as though he cares.
Shame however that he didn’t care enough about his devoted readership to be accurate in his original post. Let’s revisit the scene of the crime for a moment.
There is a direct relationship between an engine’s performance and the amount of greenhouse gases it produces
Nonsense. A 40-year-old VW Beetle produces far more pollutants per kilometre than a modern Ferrari. Monbiot is an idiot.
Apparently though Mr. Blair was specifically excluding carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas in automobile exhaust, from his argument. Now the US EPA considers CO2 a pollutant, but that OK. Tim doesn’t have to if he doesn’t want to. It just makes his statement seem kinda….. pointless? Certainly irrelevant… Unless you consider maybe it was all designed as a quick lead-up to the punch line “Monbiot is an idiot”, and being fastidious with the facts can certainly ruin a good put-down.
I think there’s something we can all learn from this.
PS. A cheery howdy podner to all the Tim Blair groupies visiting today.