Stick to the road with Hennie

By Alwyn Viljoen

Proudly sponsored by Toyota

Of hybrids and greener fuel

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

“You know, if there is anything humans should take pride in it’s that burning fossil fuels has turned around a steady downward trend in carbon dioxide levels. Our smoke literally saved Mother Nature.”

This from Stefan, the youngest farm manager yet in the valley. Despite his young age, he knows his soils, so we tend to make mental notes when he speaks.

Lees dit in Afrikaans.

But he also drives a soccer mom’s SUV, so I couldn’t resist the opening he gave me. “You should know about these pride things, I mean, you drive a RAV4,” I said. Stefan was unruffled. Holding up his glass, he called for a toast. “This to toast a hybrid RAV4, which on 2 June of this year travelled 1 924,56km using only its tiny 18kWh battery,” he called to the pub at large.

“That’s impossible,” I said. “What’s the catch? Did they put the car on a rolling track and plug it into a charger?”

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“Something like that,” said Stefan. “They sent that modified plug-in hybrid RAV4 around a 200m oval track for 100 hours. The straight sections had 50m of induction chargers. It was to prove that with induction charges installed in just 25% of roads, even small battery packs can drive long distances.”

I replied: “Almost 2 000km over 100 hours, that is moving at only 12km/h. There are guys in Burundi who cycle faster uphill – while carrying a 250kg load of bananas!”

Unperturbed, Stefan took another sip. “That’s why I said we should take pride in burning fossil fuels. We are the only species on Earth who could even try to save Mother Nature by returning to the atmosphere some of the carbon that would otherwise have remained trapped, thus depriving plants of their building blocks.”

From past to present

“How can you say that?” asked Kusile, the new bartender who was studying geology. “The fact is that CO2 levels have more than doubled to 400 parts per million (PPM) since the steam revolution. Thanks to humans burning fossil fuels like there is no tomorrow, the planet is warming and the ice is melting and who knows where it will all lead to?”

“Who knows?” asked Stefan. “I’ll tell you who knows. For one, all the scientists who analysed ice cores. They know CO2 always lags temperature changes by hundreds of years.

“And the historians who tell us the Vikings grew grapes in the once tropical climate of Greenland. They know the weather is always changing.

“And the farmers who pump CO2 into their greenhouses. They know they need CO2 to grow plants.

“And honest climatologists. They know we are in a brief zone between ice ages and were it not for us releasing CO2 back into the atmosphere for plants to feed on, carbon levels would now be heading for less than 150ppm, which is where all plant life dies!”

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Stefan saw both Kusile and I were now standing a bit back from his passionate speech but we were certainly not convinced. “Sorry,” he said. “It just gets me when all we ever hear is how bad we humans are for the planet. Sure, we can and must do a lot of things better. But if you are looking for something very bad for the environment, think of all the open pit mines to dig up all the metals to make the batteries to store so-called green energy. That will be very bad for the environment.”

“Ja well no fine,” I said. “But what you are saying is we must take pride in our braais and our V6 engines and our factories, because we are feeding the plants with our carbon emissions?

“It does not fit in with your soccer mom RAV4 driving over 1 200km on battery power only.”

“That’s just Toyota showing they still lead when it comes to making vehicles that people trust and can afford because it meets their customers’ local needs,” said Stefan.

“Here’s a newsflash for you,” I replied. “I heard a little bird singing that Toyota is looking at introducing a mini hybrid in their bakkies over the next few years. Lower emissions because that is what the world wants. Put that in your pipe and smoke it!”