Filling up at the petrol station is an exercise in guilt. The sound of fossil fuel pumping into the tank is sobering. How many millennia did it take to produce a liquid that will disappear in days – or hours – depending on how many trips I make?

As the gauge ticks towards full, it’s not the price that makes me gulp but the realisation of how easily humankind depletes, or destroys, the planet.

I’ve had a hybrid car for almost 10 years, a halfway house between petrol and electric, yet still it drinks petrol. In towns and cities it runs in electric mode, but show it a motorway or fast road and it goes on a binge, emptying the tank as if downing ten pints.

Not to worry, you might think. From 2035, the sale of new hybrids will be banned, and soon thereafter we’ll all – in theory – be electric.

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Already some of my friends have taken the plunge, thinking they are doing the right thing for the environment as they install a charging point on their driveways. Which they are, but only up to a point. Setting aside the fact that, according to a recent Which? survey, the true range of these cars can be 20% less than advertised, they seem to create almost as many headaches as they solve.

I’m not talking about the woefully inadequate provision and capabilities of public charging points which, for the majority, will be their only means of operating. For every driver with a personal charger there will be numberless others with no access to such a luxury.

Even if the means for charging improve radically in coming years – as surely they must – there are other serious issues.

For a start, concerns are now being raised about multi-storey car parks, which were not built to take the weight of electric vehicles. Here and in the US, experts are worried about the impact of their engines, which can be at least 400 to 600kg heavier than their petrol or diesel equivalents.

The Herald: Electric charging points can be sparseElectric charging points can be sparse (Image: free)

One British structural engineer has said there is “definitely potential” for high-rise car parks, if they are in poor condition, to collapse under the strain. Additionally, if they install a charging point bay the problem grows more intense because the heaviest vehicles will be concentrated in one spot.

Rising sales of small SUVs (sports utility vehicles), as well as the enduring appeal of large SUVs is further exacerbating the weight problem.

An American expert, from the National Transportation Safety Board, has expressed fears about the risk to road users from the increasing size, power and performance of vehicles, including substantially heavier electric motors.

According to research by the American National Bureau of Economic Research, for every additional 454kg of vehicle weight, the probability of fatality increases by 47 percent. The people most at risk are those in lighter, smaller cars.

If you’ve tried squeezing into the last and most awkward space in a supermarket car park, the expanding waistline (and length) of the average car will come as no surprise. When even the once dinky Mini is built to face down a tank, what hope for downsizing on our roads?

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With the extra weight of electric cars undermining the benefits of low emissions – they produce more dangerous particulates, and larger models use more electricity – they are simply not the answer.

There’s no question that we need environmentally friendly cars. You don’t need a driving licence, however, to see that the root of the problem is the insane number of cars on the road, and a world designed around them.

Latest figures show that in the UK, at the end of 2021, there were almost 33 million registered cars. That’s an increase of almost 40 per cent in 25 years.

So what can we do? For a start, all of us with cars need to use them less often. Given the alarmingly tight deadline by which we must cut travel emissions if we’re to ward off disastrous climate change, regularly jettisoning the car is the quickest and most effective way in which individuals can make a difference. It hardly needs saying that ditching second cars is a necessary first step. If nothing else, the exponential growth in car ownership must be halted.

It won’t be easy. Where I live, in the heart of the Borders, getting by without your own wheels is as challenging as being a contestant on Race Around the World. At weekends and certain times of weekdays and evenings, it would be impossible to go further than you can cycle or walk without calling a taxi or a friend.

For those in this situation, the most realistic way to reduce our emissions is to ration the miles we clock up. This requires forward thinking and, for cars with multiple users, a train timetabler’s scheduling skills.

Even so, I can’t help wondering if the time will come when such restrictions must be imposed rather than voluntary. I can imagine a scheme whereby each privately-used car is annually allocated a number of miles, after which we pay for additional distances.

This wouldn’t be great for commuters or those whose responsibilities require them to get around by a car, since public transport in many parts of the country is not an option. In cases like this, the allowance must be adjusted accordingly.

None of this will be feasible, however, unless there is game-changing investment in public transport. If rural and outlying services were as regular and reliable as those, say, in Edinburgh, life in these areas would be transformed. You could leave the car to moulder for days at a time.

Even if you don’t have one, living far from town would become sustainable as well as desirable. At the moment, people are obliged to consider relocating nearer to shops and services as their driving days draw to a close.

As the inadequacies of electric cars make plain, when it comes to carbon emissions we can’t expect engineering technology to solve all our problems. To curb the manic proliferation of vehicles and the costly infrastructure (and energy) they require, we must take things into our own hands. Reducing our dependency can make as big an impact as a state-of-the-art engine – arguably more. That’s what I call Va Va Voom.