Politicians traditionally promise today to solve yesterday’s problems sometime tomorrow. Kevin Rudd is a traditional politician, whipping out the cheque book to buy a token run of expensive hybrid Camrys starting in 2010 – just when that technology is about to eclipsed.

And, as any rev-head Top Gear fan knows, the technology that has made the Prius the feel-good pin-up of the overtly green isn’t really very flash anyway. In the real world, the best small diesel and petrol engines are as emerald, cost less and don’t consume as much energy and metal in the manufacturing process.

Oh the Camry deal garnered plenty of headlines – for the declared first instalment of $35 million it was relatively cheap PR – but a more important story was tucked away inside Saturday’s SMH Drive section: Hyundai says it will have a production version of a second-generation fuel-cell vehicle on the streets by 2012.

And Kevin returns to Japan next month for the G8 meeting, Toyota will be offering leaders test rides in its own fuel cell vehicle. I guess trotting out the zero-emission FCHV during this visit would have distracted by the Camry story.

There is a slight problem with the zero-emission fuel cell cars on offer right now – they require filling up the tank with hydrogen, not the friendliest of fuels to storeK and transport. The more likely intermediate technology is to be found in extracting your hydrogen from methane before burning it. That process means a little CO2 is still produced along with the H2O that comes from burning hydrogen, but it’s less than the Camry.

(If the Japanese Prime Minister of the day invited Kev home for a cup of tea, he would be visiting a house powered by such a fuel cell. Japan, unlike Australia, is taking the greenhouse and fossil fuel stuff seriously.)

The Oz this morning does better than the rest in mentioning the shortcomings and pluses of Kev’s Camry. And there’s an idea – how about marketing the hybrid version as the Kamry?

The reality is that we continue to fluff around the edges of global warming. By the time we signed Kyoto with many self-congratulatory photo opportunities, the actual treaty was useless as the science has unfortunately moved on to a much more precarious world.

I shared a flight recently with Tim Flannery and interviewed him for Eureka Report – an exercise that inevitably leaves one less sure about our outlook.

When we eventually get serious, there will be no exemptions for a hefty carbon charge levied through trading and/or direct tax, coal-fired power stations without full CO2 capture have at most two decades to go, the future of burning Latrobe Valley mud (sometimes called brown coal) can be measured in single digits, and we’re likely to have some hefty regulation in the transport sector about just how much carbon is allowed to be burned.

Even the Americans already have basic vehicle fuel efficiency standards, however generous they might be. We don’t – but we will be able to watch our politicians and public servants motor by in Kamrys next decade.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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