Baby, you can drive your car (and save the planet)

Tom Burke ("Is this the end for the green agenda?", 25 September) writes that fuel taxes do not have the environmental benefits claimed. He is partly right and partly wrong. In the medium term, high fuel prices change people's actions: for example, in the weight they give to fuel economy when buying a new vehicle. Fuel price rises due to tax, rather than an increase in the price of crude oil, don't give oil producers an additional incentive to develop more expensive oil fields, and governments can spend some of the revenue on environmental projects.

While the fuel price revolt may be seen as a discouragement to governments trying to meet their Kyoto obligations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by limiting consumption, the crude oil price rise that led to the crisis could also be a help in reducing fossil fuel usage. A recent study for the European Union showed that bioethanol, which can be blended with petrol or used as diesel fuel, would be competitive or near-competitive with oil at its present price of about $30 per barrel. Fuel crops grown on large areas of agricultural land in Europe and the United States could meet a significant proportion of transport and other energy needs.

If the British government were to use some of the revenue from the supposedly environmental fuel duty escalator to launch a programme of bio-fuels, it would not only re-establish the environmental relevance of the tax, but also assist the farming industry. It would show other industrialised nations, particularly the reluctant US, how to meet Kyoto commitments while reducing the vulnerability of their economies to future oil price rises.

Martin Quick, Architects & Engineers for Social Responsibility
Walkley Hill, Stroud

This article first appeared in the 02 October 2000 issue of the New Statesman, Nightmare on Downing Street