Open letter to the Italian People and the Italian Government,

February 10, 2000

Versione in Italiano

The Italian government is planning to (re)introduce a strong financial incentive for people to trade in their old cars for new cars with catalytic converter in order to reduce pollution.

I sympathise with all governments which are taking pollution seriously and do something about it. My congratulations go to the Italian Government and the Italian people for their concern about our environment. The Italian people have been the custodian of many treasures for many centuries. It is natural that the Italians lead the world in preserving the most precious treasures that we have: the air that we breathe, the water that we drink and the soil that we plough.

Some of the means to achieve these goals need to be looked at more carefully. Remember that no single car is a threat to the environment. The quantity is the problem. It is both the problem and the challenge in more way than one.

Paradoxically one could say: "Take the tens of millions of modern cars off the road. They pollute the air and cause traffic jams, thus producing even more unnecessary pollution. They prevent the few old cars from moving at an economic cruising speed, forcing them to cause unnecessary air pollution." This is of course an absurd proposal.

One could propose: "Take all white cars off the road, they cause more injuries and deaths in traffic accidents than any car with any other colour". It is also an absurd proposal.

One could also propose to take big cars off the road, because they pollute more than small cars. The idea is absurd. It totally ignores individuality, which is what Italy is all about.

It is equally absurd to propose that public money is used to accelerate the destruction of a few tens of thousands of older cars and that replacing them with modern cars will solve the pollution problem. It is, in fact, counterproductive. The production of any car starts with mining iron ore, bauxite and crude oil, which is then processed into steel, aluminium, plastic, paint etc. These are processed into car parts and assembled to produce a car. This whole manufacturing process produces quite a bit of pollution itself. This approach might work if people give back a car (any car, new or old) to be taken off the road for a sum of money and sign a document that they will never again buy another car. I say "might". In the end it will not work, because automobiles were and are instrumental in creating the wealth that enables us to do something about our environment.

Nowadays car manufacturers are working hard to design cars that can be manufactured in a more environmentally friendly way. Such cars will also use less fuel and thus produce less pollution. People, who now trade in a ten year (or older) car, will not buy another new car in three years time. Buying a new car in 2003 might be better as cars are likely to be much more developed in ecological terms. We don't know yet. Since we don't know it for sure, it is better to let people decide themselves when they buy a new car and use public money elsewhere, where we are certain that it is going to have a positive long term effect.

Ironically the money for the financial incentive is earned via a number of commercial activities which involve polluting rivers and oceans, cutting trees, using fertilisers, operating trucks and aircrafts (aircrafts produce MASSIVE pollution), using lights, computers and a wide variety of other equipment which use energy and thus pollute. Under the disguise of reducing pollution all this money is than applied to a scheme that in fact increases pollution even more. Perhaps money is the biggest cause of pollution.

Technically it is not at all proven beyond doubt that the exhaust gasses produced by an engine using unleaded petrol are less toxic than those from leaded petrol. Lead is added in the form of tetra ethyl lead, which is burned into a harmless substance. If petrol without any additives would be of any use, the tetra ethyl lead would never have been added in the first place. Replacing leaded petrol with unleaded is thus not as simple as just leaving the tetra ethyl lead out. Other chemicals are instead added. Some of them are high on the list of chemicals that cause cancer. Some experts say that several thousands of people will die each year in Italy because of the additives that oil companies are forced to put into petrol as a replacement for tetra ethyl lead.

The catalytic converters themselves are very toxic. What happens with them? Will they cause a waste problem comparable to the nuclear waste problem? The catalytic converter contains platinum. By now the Western world is covered with platinum dust. How toxic is that? It is not known. We are covering the world with platinum dust. Who is going to remove it if it turns out to be highly toxic? Perhaps the idea of destroying all cars with a catalytic converter is not so absurd. I cannot pass a definite judgement on whether we should go back to the old situation or to put all our money into cars with catalytic converter and unleaded petrol. Nobody can.

Every piece of rock, every drop of water, every living thing, whether plant, animal or human influences the atmosphere. I cannot judge whether this is for better or for worse. I can only say that it is natural. It has been going on for millions of years. It has created mankind. There is no reason to believe that the next million of years will be any different. It is only since a few years, that the western world enjoys the luxury and the wealth of being able to care for the environment. A luxury and wealth that would never have been achieved without the automobile. Blaming these same automobiles throws us back into the middle ages and is in fact not different from witch hunting and book burning. We have abolished the death penalty for people. We should not reinvent it for cars.

Do we really want to shoot all tigers, because they eat people? And then later have to spend a lot of money to prevent extinction and discover that they were not that dangerous at all?

Throughout history power has been the one and only true motive for destruction.

My wife Annabelle and I go to Italy several times per year. Unfortunately not as often as we would like. We both love the Italian people, their country, their culture, their wine, their food and their automobiles. We noticed that many old buildings have been restored over the last few years. I am told with quite a bit of European money. Quite rightly so. If I had any say in the matter I would double the European budget for restorations in Italy. Italy is the treasury of the world.

When we drive our little Fulvia over Italian country roads, we are happy to see that the roads are excellent and that they are clean. Not so long ago the sides of many Italian roads were littered with garbage. Our congratulations to the Italian authorities and the Italian people.
Directions are sign posted very well. It enables us to find our way without wasting any fuel. (Inside the cities it is an entirely different situation. Much can still be done there in the way of effective sign posting.) Most cities and even many villages have bypasses enabling people to travel without waste. Again, our congratulations.
I must confess that we hardly take the bypasses. We go straight through the village centre. When we park our Fulvia on the main square, villagers, young and old, invariably compliment us on such a beautiful car in excellent condition. They really enjoy seeing such a car. Not one of them has demanded that we take it away, because it pollutes their village. On the contrary, we have shared our joy for a few moments. We have bettered the world. We have brought a united world one tiny step closer.

We find the Italian people proud, friendly, honest and creative. They love life. Without doubt they are the most creative people in the world. It is incomprehensible that some of their politicians try to solve a pollution problem by destruction rather than creativity. Here are a few suggestions that require creativity rather than destruction.

I am astonished when I see the gigantic traffic jams at the toll stations on the autostrada, polluting the air quite unnecessarily. Solve this problem. There will be a guaranteed success.

Optimise traffic flow in the cities by better planning and by connecting all traffic lights to a central computer. Traffic jams cause a chain reaction of wasting of energy. It causes unnecessary pollution. Investment in know-how and technology of computer optimised traffic flow will always pay off in the short term and in the long term.

Improve parking space and put up clear signs for the car parks. Any car that drives around looking for parking space produces unnecessary pollution.

Make it safe and attractive for people to use bicycles.

In the early sixties my parents took their children for a vacation to Torre del Lago Puccini near Viareggio. Where the road to the beach crossed the coastal road, there was a policeman on a pedestal directing traffic. He was the best. I shall never forget him. He was the master of the situation. He let everybody drive on at the same time. Nobody had to wait. I was there again recently. There are now traffic lights and everybody has to wait unnecessarily. I am not suggesting putting policemen back on every junction in the country, but optimisation of many traffic lights is certainly possible.

Getting a new passport here in the Netherlands requires one single trip to the city hall and a ten minute wait. I am told that in Italy it takes several trips to the police station. A waste of fuel. Unnecessary pollution. I am sure there are many more examples like this. Many non directly traffic related procedures that can be changed to reduce pollution.

Mind you, I am not telling anybody what to do. I am just listing a few examples which use creativity. There are many more possibilities and new ones can be invented. It is not necessary to kill any car, new or old, big or small, white or red.

Classic cars, let us say cars older than 25 years, are an entirely different but very important subject. Here in the Netherlands they are considered cultural heritage. We are lucky to see quite many classics on the roads in the Netherlands. They are all in good condition. Often in better condition than many recent cars. There are companies restoring old-timers, companies specialising in brakes for old-timers and many other specialists, which have in turn large exports. It is good for the economy and for employing people.

Look at any classic car. It is beautiful. I am working now to rescue a 1963 Lancia Fulvia berlina and put it back onto the road. Come and have a look, it is a piece of art. It is not designed and built by computers and robots, but by free and creative people with emotions. The same people that built Venezia, Firenze, Roma and all the beautiful cities and villages in Italy. All these classic cars that are still around must be saved. It is vital for our future. One day a young child may have a dream when seeing such a beautiful car and a new Michelangelo or Leonardo da Vinci may be born. No person on earth has the right to cause the mass destruction of these cars. It is the same as destroying the Colosseo in Rome just because people were butchered in the Colosseo.

There is only one thing wrong with classic cars in Italy: we do not see enough of them. They should be given the right of way. Their owners should be congratulated for keeping the car in such good condition. These cars should be given free access to any limited traffic zone, day and night.

If I walk through Ferrara or Ravenna or Cremona, everything is beautiful and well kept. But what is conspicuously missing? Right. Italy's automotive history, which is second to none in the world. How much different would it be, if an Aurelia would cruise down the main street, if an Astura would be parked on the main square, if a woman would arrive in a Fulvia coupé at the store of one of the famous Italian fashion designers. That would be a better Italy. Not only proud of its buildings and paintings and sculptures, but also proud of one whole century of building the best, most beautiful cars in the world.

Every year millions of tourists come to Italy to enjoy its beauty and to find the roots of Western civilisation. When they go home, they are better people. Italy's classic cars are as much part of the roots of the Western civilisation as its buildings and art. And, what better way is there to advertise to the world that Italy will always build top cars, by showing that it has been doing so for a hundred years.

Let us go back to the honourable policeman from Torre del Lago Puccini. I would like to have a glass of wine with him and invite him to stand on that busy crossing again. I will be there to watch. To learn how he does it. He does not question people where they are going. He does not tell people where they should go. He does not judge the cars they are driving. He is a free man serving free people. He knows where they want to go and he supports them going there without delay and without waste. He respects everybody and everybody respects him. We are lucky to have people like him around.

Truly yours, Huib Geurink, Lancista for 32 years.

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