Saturday, January 08, 2011

Taking cars off the road

In measuring the impact of various carbon reduction strategies, communicators often reach for expressing the scale of the effort by saying that it is "the equivalent of taking x cars off the road". Using statistics like this, that bring large measurements down into a humanly comprehensible scale, is generally a good thing when trying to communicate incomprehensible figures, such as tonnes of a gas not being emitted.

However, it does make me think: why don't we also actually take cars off the road? Road transport is a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions (far from the only or even the largest, but it is a significant sector, accounting for around 10-20% of all emissions, depending how you cut the cake). Of course, there are many strategies already aiming at reducing the carbon tyreprint: public transport, cycling lanes, user-pays road tolls, congestion charges, pedestrian-friendly new urbanism, public bicycle sharing systems, improving fuel efficiency standards, car share networks, car pooling websites, electric vehicles, improving intercity rail connections and more.

So, why then, is the "greenest government ever" announcing an end to the "war on motorists"? What does this mean? For a start, it means the removal of various restrictions on parking and other disincentives to driving, as well as a significant lift in the cap on the rate at which rail prices can rise. And it is not as though there was much a war to begin with, except perhaps for rising petrol prices due (amongst other things) to the apparent peaking of conventional oil production. As Jeremy point outs, "the best thing the government could do for motorists is promote buses and trains", since fewer cars means less traffic. As a recent billboard advertisement memorably put it: "You are not stuck in traffic. You are traffic."

Driving cars (particularly in cities) seems to be another example of thinking "red", seeking short-term personal gain that leads to everyone losing.

Fortunately, in addition to the policy measures listed above, there is something even more effective we can do to ensure we're not stuck in traffic on a warming world. We can choose to drive less, to make fewer trips, to share journeys with others, to live closer to where we want to go (and to make the places we want to go closer to where we live), to renounce desires to go long distances on a whim, to joyfully embrace less.


phil_style said...

"You are not stuck in traffic. You are traffic"

- genius!!! Why hadn't I come accross that before!?!

byron smith said...

MPH: Ten reasons to give up your car.

I have never owned a car and feel no desire to ever do so.

byron smith said...

You are not stuck in traffic, you are traffic.

byron smith said...

Monbiot: On lowering speed limits.

Guardian: Another pledge likely to be broken by the greenest government ever.

byron smith said...

CP: The world now has 1 billion cars. Bummer - I was massively out of date. I had 600 million in my head.

byron smith said...

The Conversation: Are EVs green? Some lively discussion in the comments too.