The petrol shortage is a “pretty good lesson on the need to unhook ourselves from dependence on fossil fuels”, says environment minister Zac Goldsmith in an interview with The Independent today. He is right that the crisis has reminded us vividly of our reliance on carbon-based energy – and that it might have prompted some people who are considering switching to an electric vehicle to get a move on.
Unfortunately, however, the shortage does little by itself to take us towards our national targets for cutting the output of greenhouse gases. There is plenty of petrol, but it is in the wrong places because of a shortage of lorry drivers to deliver it from refineries to petrol stations. This has been exacerbated by rational consumer behaviour – sometimes misdescribed as “panic buying” – in the expectation of local shortages.
The immediate problem will presumably sort itself out in a matter of days, although the shortage of lorry drivers is likely to continue to cause problems in this as in other industries. So the lessons of the crisis are likely to be short-lived, and in any case are not as clear-cut as Lord Goldsmith might want them to be. It is not as if people are urgently trying to buy petrol because they have no care for climate change and will now learn the error of their ways. As soon as supplies have stabilised, the imperative to switch to electric vehicles will dissipate. It is up to the government to put in place the long-term incentives that will decarbonise transport altogether.
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