(Abhijit B Photos, 2016. Cars – 1.32 billion and counting!)

Transport/Mobility

Section
2. Reduce Consumption
Page
2.7

Global Footprint Analysis tells us that, worldwide, this accounts for 15% of our personal impact1, and this is much higher in First World countries. At its simplest, it comes down to:

  • How far we travel
  • By what means we travel

This said, people’s travel choices are often not as free as they first appear and the distances travelled can be affected by availability of alternatives, location of jobs and services, wealth, town planning, and more. Despite this, there are relatively straightforward ways we can minimise impact.

First, the environmental impacts of transport can be summarised as follows:

  • Land consumption and direct physical impacts:

    (‘Kooka’, a Laughing Kookaburra, run over near my home, but after expert wildlife care, returned to the wild.)

Transport consumes and bisects large tracts of land. Land is consumed to obtain the raw materials for construction and operation, e.g. oil, iron ore, water, gravel and sand. The most recent world estimate is that there are 64, 285, 009 kms2 of roads criss-crossing the globe! At the immediate and small scale, in my nearest ‘regional’ centre, a small town of 10,000 people, the two major supermarkets have recently built new/refurbished carparks, two large blocks of black asphalt without a tree in sight, comprising the two largest open spaces in the town centre. They are complete deserts for life, undesirable heat sinks in heatwaves, dominating the town, and all to accommodate cars.

Beyond the carparks and terminals, transport can have very bad impacts on wildlife. Whenever I drive on local roads I see birds, lizards and kangaroos dead on the road and it is estimated that in Australia, for mammals alone, the number is at least four million killed a year3, and for birds it would be much higher. (It is one of the depressing things about being in areas with a more intact and abundant natural environment that the roadkill numbers soar: for instance, Tasmania or Flinders Island). My heart goes out to the wonderful wildlife carers in many countries that do what they can to care for the maimed and orphaned on our roads; (for instance, in Australia or Victoria, go to ‘Animals Australia’ – https://www.animalsaustralia.org/features/roadkill.php  – and ‘Wildlife Victoria’ – Wildlife Victoria – Australian Wildlife Emergency Response .

As the world urbanises, transport infrastructure and corridors progressively expand into the last remaining open space areas: creeks, parklands, bays and estuaries. These are often the last remaining natural and semi-natural areas for people and Nature alike, but are the ‘easiest’ path for new freeways, train lines, airports, ports, and so on, making this consumption particularly felt and sensitive.

Thankfully, it is not all bad news, and there have been some attempts to reduce these impacts, such as the bi-secting and isolation of wildlife populations, by installing tunnels, ramps and ‘fly-overs’. One such example that drew a lot of attention in my state, Victoria, involved the building of a ‘tunnel of love’ for the Critically Endangered Mountain Pygmy Possum in the High Country in the east of the state. Males and females live separately for most of the year, but in breeding season get together to mate, and a new ski road was keeping these populations apart. The solution was seen to be to build boulder-strewn tunnels under the road linking the female and male populations and it seems to be working, at least in part – Love tunnels helping endangered pygmy possums (delwp.vic.gov.au) .

 

(DELWP, 2020. Mountain Pygmy-Possum, Victoria, Australia.)
(The Natural World, 2012. Tunnel under construction)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • Pollution:

Reducing distance travelled

The simplest way to respond to the previous problems outlined is to reduce, as much as possible, distances travelled. Obviously, much of this determined by the structure of one’s society and personal circumstances (e.g. proximity of work and services; age and disability) and is beyond the immediate control of the individual, but there is still considerable room for personal action. Statistics for the USA5 reveal that, per person, Americans make four trips a day of

(IPCC, 2014. Global GHG Emissions by Sector4). Transport can lead to many types of pollution, be it of the air, water, or sea. Fuels can be leaked into the ocean and waterways, noise can be generated by airports, refineries and freeways, and all manner of pollutants are delivered into the air: e.g. particulates, nitrous oxides, sulphur, carbon monoxide/dioxide, etc…Consequences vary from respiratory disease and death, to acid rain, to climate change. It is virtually impossible to rank these one against the other, but for the purposes of this webpage we should concentrate on CO2 as it is the dominant pollution form from the dominant personal transport mode – cars.

approximately 40 miles in total distance, yielding a yearly total of 14, 500 miles (23,335 kms) p.p., or four trillion miles for the entire population! My country – Australia – is not far behind, with average distance car travel each year p.p. at 15,000 kms6 (8,000 miles), and very little walking or cycling or public transport to reduce this impact.

Many First World countries experienced significant growth post WWII and this growth was expressed, as often as not, in extensive, car-based, urban sprawl where new homes were situated far from jobs, services and recreation. This ‘structural travel’ has considerable inertia and is hard to address, but at least modern-day planners are trying to develop more energy-efficient, compact urban structures, as per a number of older European cities, with town-planning goals shaped around concepts such as ‘the 20-minute city’7 (’20 minutes’ refers to work and services being within 20-minute walking/bicycling/public transport distance).

It is possible, too, that structural travel is not as locked in as we perhaps previously thought. The response to the coronavirus pandemic has radically changed many things in 2020-21, not least work. Instead of travelling to an office or shop or institution, many people have had to work from home and communicate not face-to-face, but via the internet.

“The crisis has affected all forms of transport, from cars, and public transport in cities, to buses, trains and planes nationally and internationally. Global road transport activity was almost 50% below the 2019 average by the end of March 2020 and commercial flight activity almost 75% below 2019 by mid-April 2020. Public transport has also been affected. For example, the strict lockdown imposed in the UK in March 2020 has led to a 95% decrease in underground journeys in London”8. Clearly, this is driven by reduced demand from more sources than travel for work, but the picture is consistent.

While not advocating in the slightest for a de-personalised, no/low-contact world (in fact, I think the isolation and breakdown in physical trust brought on by the response to the pandemic has been profoundly unhealthy), there is no doubt that some (many?) work activities, services and errands are unnecessary and wasteful and can be done perfectly well online or by other inventive means.

Woman in home office surrounded with digital technology eating sandwich

           

Shopping has also undergone a marked travel change owing to coronavirus restrictions, with online purchases increasing considerably in most countries, particularly ‘emerging economies’, as per the United Nations’ Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) survey below9:

Undoubtedly, this is good for a reduction in travel miles and the environmental impact of same, but bad for many local retail outlets and businesses, and deleterious for community interaction. This change in shopping behaviour will need to be thought about further before it can be endorsed as a genuine positive for society and environment, but the potential this change has unlocked may well lead to better retail/service/transport options and mixes that can be constructed in future for maximum benefit to people and Nature.

Selecting environmentally-sensitive modes of travel

Transport emissions in the European Union can serve as a fair representation of much of the First World’s transport activity and impact – see pie chart. Cars dominate because there are so many of them (1.32 billion globally and doubling every 20 years10) and we use them so much.

(European Environment Agency, 2016. Transport CO2 Emissions EU)

 

Next come trucks, then water and aviation transport. (It is worth noting that although aircraft travel has become a ‘bad boy’ symbol of profligate greenhouse gas emissions and climate change because of its high emissions per kilometre, its total use is limited and it is measured by some as relatively unimportant – e.g. Higgs11 says that merchant shipping contributes twice the global CO2 of aviation. This, of course, is not to make a case for its irresponsible and frivolous use, but its singling out for attention and attack is out of all proportion. (I well remember the ridiculous criticism levelled at Al Gore for travelling extensively by plane when attempting to garner global support for action on climate change through his film ‘An Inconvenient Truth’).

Now that we have the overall picture, we can focus in on immediate, everyday transport decisions and attempt to establish a hierarchy. The Institute for Sustainable Transport12 in my state – Victoria – produced the following helpful chart to do just this and it should stand as a good, general guide, for most places. Starting at the right-hand side of the continuum at ‘Clean’, we can see that the ascending order of emissions is:

  • Walk
  • Bike
  • Electric Vehicle (Green power)
  • Public Transport: Bus, then Tram, then Train
  • Motorcycle
  • Car (Dual occupancy)
  • Car (Single occupancy)

Note: The ‘Top Range EV (Victorian grid)’ scores poorly re GHG emissions because most Victorian electricity is generated from highly-polluting brown coal.

From the graphic it is clear that any form of sharing of transport, be it carpooling or on public transport, greatly reduces our environmental impact.

(Institute for Sustainable Transport. Transport and Climate Change)

 

(George Borrow: indefatigable walker)

Second, very simple measures and modes, such as walking and bicycling, are readily available for most and yet are often neglected. My nearest town is small and compact and flat, with hardly anyone living more than one kilometre from the town centre, but virtually no one walks or bikes. To inspire you, I have included an image of George Borrow, an indefatigable walker, whom I delighted reading about in Robert Macfarlane’s ‘The Old Ways’13. To quote from the book: “Borrow was a walker of awesome stamina and a linguist of almost inconceivable talent, who is said to have been able to speak twelve languages by the time he was 18 and to have been competently acquainted with more than 40…over the course of his life. In the winter of 1832-3 the British and Foreign Bible Society invited him at short notice to an interview in London, wanting to see if he could translate the Bible into a number of difficult languages. He walked to the interview from Norwich, covering 112 miles (180 kms) in 27 hours, sustained by a pint of ale, half a pint of milk, a bread roll and two apples”!

 

 

My friend Heinz has an electric bike that he uses often for shopping and errands, but this is considered locally as ‘odd’, and even, on occasions, elicits aggression and dangerous driving from the car drivers of the town. We are odd creatures indeed!

Next, public transport is highly desirable, but availability can be problematic. It is interesting to note how well buses score as they, too, like planes, are often targeted as highly-polluting and undesirable, perhaps because of their old diesel-belching days, but they are nowadays efficient and relatively flexible and are an accessible means of public transport.

Cars occupy a lot of space per person, but at least electric vehicles have the potential to be much less polluting (but caution needs to be exercised, as noted previously, re how the electricity is being generated and what ‘green power’ really means). Traditional cars have also improved their fuel-efficiency and reduced their pollution, but there are still substantial gains to be made between large, heavy vehicles and smaller, lighter models, e.g. Australia’s top-selling vehicle is the Toyota Hilux 4 x 4 with a mean emissions score of 233 g/km. The average new car in Australia is 182 g/km and the fourth-top-selling vehicle is the Toyota Corolla with 120 g/km14. (It is embarrassing to note that because of perverse politics and vote-buying in my country, large, less fuel-efficient vehicles like the Hilux are frequently subsidised – leading to inflated sales figures – whereas small, more fuel-efficient or electric cars either don’t receive incentives, or – extraordinarily – receive additional taxes and charges!).

Regardless of caveats, circumstances and exceptions, cars are overwhelmingly the big-ticket item re personal transport for most of the big-consuming nations of the globe and if we are to make advances here we have to:

  • reduce car use
  • reduce car distances travelled
  • share car use
  • adopt green-power electric cars
  • adopt smaller, lighter, fuel-efficient cars                 
(Abhijit B Photos, 2016. Cars – 1.32 billion and counting!)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Offsetting

Offsetting has grown in prominence in the last 20 years and is a relatively simple concept whereby one’s negative environmental impact – usually GHG emissions of a particular activity, like car or plane travel – is ‘offset’ by positive activity, like treeplanting, to absorb Co2 (as well as other benefits). Many countries have offsetting providers and Australia’s oldest operator, Greenfleet, – Greenfleet Australia – explains it like this: “We plant native biodiverse forests in Australia and New Zealand to restore critical ecosystems and capture carbon emissions on behalf of our supporters.  Our forests are legally protected, absorb carbon from the atmosphere, improve soil and water quality, and provide vital habitat for native wildlife. Our partnerships with local communities and Traditional Owners support broad benefits for the country and communities in which we live and work”. There is a cost involved, e.g. $64.50 Aus/year (2021) to offset a medium car’s GHG emissions.

While the above is no doubt a positive contribution to the reduction of environmental impact, I am in two minds about offsetting. I come from a biodiversity/ecology background and offsetting is used there to try to prevent, or ameliorate, environmental damage from clearing. Though well intentioned, and despite penalties and multipliers applied to the offset, e.g. 10 x the area cleared needing to be planted or protected, the ‘compensation’ is often really just a salvage operation, a meagre and depauperate substitute for the native bush that has been lost. Carbon offsetting doesn’t have these problems, but, can sometimes – inadvertently – lead to a ‘get-out-of-gaol-free’ mentality whereby users can cover themselves and assuage their guilt through purchasing offsets, and do little, if anything, about stopping, or reducing, their use in the first place. To be fair, operators such as Greenfleet clearly state this – that people should avoid and reduce first, and only then, if unavoidable, offset – but I still wonder if it can encourage irresponsible behaviour, much in the way an undue emphasis on ‘recycling’ can, rather than the more important ‘reduce’ and ‘re-use’. Nonetheless, overall, I think it is a valuable tool so long as it is applied genuinely, to unavoidable emissions, only.

 

1 WWF. 2020. Living Planet Report 2020 – bending the curve of biodiversity loss. WWF, Gland, Switzerland.

2 CIA, 2013. World Fact Book. https://www.cia.gov/the-world-factbook/

3 Englefield, B., et. al., 2018. A Review of Roadkill Rescue. Wildlife Research, 45, May 4th, CSIRO Publishing, Clayton South, Australia.

4 IPCC, 2014. Climate Change 2014: Mitigation of Climate Change. Geneva, Switzerland.

5 Bureau of Transport Statistics, 2017. National Household Travel Survey 2001-2. https://www.bts.gov/statistical-products/surveys/national-household-travel-survey-daily-travel-quick-facts

6 Morgan, R. 2013. http://www.roymorgan.com/findings/australian-moterists-drive-average-15530km-201305090702

7 DELWP, 2021. 20-Minute Neighbourhoods. https://www.planning.vic.gov.au/policy-and-strategy/planning-for-melbourne/plan-melbourne/20-minute-neighbourhoods

8 Sung, J., Monschauer, Y. 2020. Changes in Transport Behaviour During the Covid-19 Crisis. May 27th, International Energy Agency, Paris, France.

9 UNCTAD, 2020. Emerging Economies and Changes in Online Shopping Post Covid-19. COVID-19 has changed online shopping forever, survey shows | UNCTAD

10 Chesterton, A. 2018. How Many Cars are There in the World? How Many Cars are There in the World? | CarsGuide

11 Higgs, K. 2014. Collision Course: Endless Growth on a Finite Planet. The MIT Press, Cambridge, U.S.

12 Institute of Sustainable Transport. Transport and Climate Change. https://www.infrastructurevictoria.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/S082-Institute-for-Sensible-Transport_Redacted.pdf

13 Macfarlane, R. 2012. The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot. Hamish Hamilton, London, UK.

14 Green Vehicle Guide, 2021. GHG Emissions Top 20 Sellers Australia. https://view.officeapps.live.com/op/view.aspx?src=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.greenvehicleguide.gov.au%2FContent%2FFactSheets%2F202103%2520TopSellers.docx&wdOrigin=BROWSELINK

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