A quick word about carbon

I went to hear a talk by Kevin Anderson of the Tyndall Centre yesterday.

Now I’ve stated previously (and if you look at yesterdays post you’ll see I’m not the only one who thinks like this), that the carbon aspects of transport are a bit of a red herring when talking about active travel. There are so many other problems caused by too-many-motorised-vehicles and too much resistance to looking this in the face, that if you start dragging climate change into it, all you do is give people an excuse to fantasise about cars running on hydrogen electrolysed from water using fusion reactors. Dream on, as they say on t’internet, dreaming doesn’t require you to do anything.

This is not to say that AGW is not deadly serious so it does deserve a quick word and last nights talk is a good excuse.

Yes, less driving will be a part of reducing CO2e emissions. In a world which avoids two degrees of warming (now look who’s dreaming), you will find yourself, and your family, and your friends, and your workmates, walking or biking to work, or the shops, or school, or entertainment, because these will all be closer to where you live. It won’t feel odd or weird or unpleasant because everyone will do it.

Which brings us to Anderson’s talk, because his main thrust is that we are living in a fools paradise and la-la-lahing about how much things would have to change to make the reductions which will get us anywhere near a good probability of avoiding Two Degrees. It was good to hear it said out loud.

Every so often people produce quantitatively plausible scenarios for rapid decarbonisation (for example the Centre for Alternative Technology’s Zero Carbon Britain) so it could be done – but it really would involve throwing everything at it. Not “oooh we’ll have nuclear so we won’t need those horrid whirly things” – you need the nuclear AND wind. Not even “oooh well offshore wind is ok, so we don’t need onshore” – the really good offshore is slightly in the future, whereas good onshore is available NOW and we have to start NOW, so NOW we need both – oh and photovoltaics, and more research into wave, and carbon sequestration, and some biomass, and gas as an interim replacement for coal, and insulation, and woolly jumpers, and better building design, and behaviour change, and modal shift, and less traveling, and overhaul of land use, and dietary change, and and and. Throw Everything at it.

It’s not going to happen is it? Well it seems unlikely, and so perhaps I will say just a little bit more about the relation between personal choice and societal change. In a short while. Just don’t say I never mentioned a bigger picture.

Oh and incidentally, the Netherlands may have it right about cycling but they still have higher per capita GHG emissions than the UK (according to this graph from Renewable energy without the hot air).

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The problem restated …

… rather nicely, I think, by Ian Walker

At the moment there is an incredible research effort to design better cars for the future. None of these efforts address the fundamental design flaws of the car. Even if somebody came up with a car that runs off angels’ sighs and never crashes, it would still encourage sprawling urban planning, bad land use (especially for parking) and would still encourage its owner to get fat and unhealthy. The population is rising; we don’t have the space to accommodate more and more cars and we have some serious population health issues. More cycling solves a swathe of problems at a stroke, and all it requires is a simple machine that most people already have lying around their home somewhere.