‘Car ownership is linked to upwardly-mobile aspiration, career path and wealth acquisition’ Discuss.
Certainly, that statement would make for an interesting debate. For instance, it may surprise younger readers to learn that what is now taken as the norm where car ownership is concerned was most certainly not the case only a few decades ago I myself am old enough to remember when owning a car was the exception, not the rule. Growing up in the post-war decades in Britain, even a small car represented a major financial commitment and was beyond the reach of the average family. We looked on in envy, watching American movies and television shows where almost everyone seemed to own a car, and a very big one at that. We listened to songs by the Beach Boys that told us American teens all had their own cars before they left school and felt like the poor relations across the pond.
Gradually, however, the car became more affordable. Car makers scaled downsizes and scaled up production and slowly but surely ownership came within the grasp of the many, not the few, even though our starter car was often second-hand and a bit of a skorokoro, or old banger. We didn’t mind – we had wheels and wheels meant freedom! But all the while we had our sights set on something bigger, better, faster or fancier!
You know it’s true. Whatever car you currently drive but I’ll bet you’d really love an upgrade and that brings me to a documentary I watched this week on the latest version of the Bentley Continental GT. The Bentley was one of the iconic luxury cars of the twentieth century. Founded by one Walter Bentley, who had served in the Royal Naval Air Service in WW1 where he earned the subtleties of aerodynamics and mechanical engineering, he began his own business post-war, specialising in luxury speedsters, the marque winning the prestigious Le Mans auto race five times between 1924 and 1930. In 1931 the company was bought by the equally luxurious and legendary manufacturer, Rolls-Royce and throughout the century, the Bentley and Rolls Royce motors epitomised the best in the business, the former lending its name to the phrase ‘Gently Bentley’, meaning carrying out something smoothly and stylishly, whatever you happened to be doing.
Now under the ownership of BMW, Bentley last year launched the aforementioned 3rd Gen Bentley Continental, or Conti, as it affectionately known. I won’t bore you too much with technical details. Suffice to say that it has a 4-litre, V8 engine which goes from 0-60 in 3.6 seconds, an unique, rotating cockpit display, the interior is of hand-stitched leather and both interior and exterior come in 34 regular colours but can be customised to whatever shade takes your fancy. Such performance and perfection doesn’t come cheap but that’s what makes it so aspirational. Face it, if you’re a died-in-the-wool petrol head, you want this motor.
And therein lies the rub. First off, even the phrase ‘petrol head’ is likely to get you pilloried by Extinction Rebellion activists and other eco-warriors these days. Despite the fact that this vehicle consumes less than 10 litres of fuel per 100 kilometres and its emission levels are lower than any other in its class, this new Conti would definitely be classed by activists as a ‘gas guzzler’ and therefore the enemy of the planet.
It doesn’t stop there. To produce the crafted, leather interior it takes the hides of 12 cows. That is quite a lot for a relatively small space, but Bentley is very concerned with hide quality and consistency and the skins are carefully selected and meticulously pattern-cut to achieve the required standard of quality.
And right there, that’s more fuel for the eco-activist’s fire, if you’ll pardon the pun.
You see, cows are also regarded as the enemies of the planet. In 2006 the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization published a study entitled ‘Livestock's Long Shadow’, which received widespread international attention. It stated that livestock produced a staggering 18 percent of the world's greenhouse gas emissions. The agency drew a startling conclusion: livestock was doing more to harm the climate than all modes of transportation combined. This latter claim was wrong, and has since been corrected by Henning Steinfeld, the report's senior author. The problem was that FAO analysts used a comprehensive life-cycle assessment to study the climate impact of livestock, but a different method when they analyzed transportation.
For livestock, they considered every factor associated with producing meat. This included emissions from fertiliser production, converting land from forests to pastures, growing feed, and direct emissions from animals (belching and manure) from birth to death.
However, when they looked at transportation's carbon footprint, they ignored impacts on the climate from manufacturing vehicle materials and parts, assembling vehicles and maintaining roads, bridges and airports. Instead, they only considered the exhaust emitted by finished cars, trucks, trains and planes.
As a result, the FAO's comparison of greenhouse gas emissions from livestock to those from transportation was greatly distorted. Yet this misconception remains in the consciousness of many.
It’s also a mistake to equate livestock farming with deforestation. In fact, the opposite is true. Cows not only don’t mind trees; they like to rest in their shade when the weather is hot and shelter there when it rains. Whereas a farmer wanting to grow carrots, cabbages or other cash crops, is more likely to clear a field of trees and bushes in order to make space for his vegetable rows. And since leather is a by-product of the cattle farming industry and using it productively reduces wastage, that too is somewhat of a fallacy.
So even though a base-model Bentley Conti will set you back a cool two and a half million pula here’s the plan. Explain to your bank manager how much you’ll be saving on fuel in the interests of a greener planet and anyway, petrol is just old trees recycled. Then tell them how important it is that all our local cow hides don’t go to waste, not to mention saving the jobs of all the staff at Bentley’s Croydon plant.
All told, we really all need one because it’s clearly good for the planet and its people. You know it makes sense!