Guest essay by Eric Worrall
According to Oxford academics, embracing electric cars won’t be sufficient. an Oxford University study focussed on Scotland suggests radical lifestyle changes, more walking and cycling journeys, are required to prevent dangerous global warming.
Kicking the car(bon) habit better for air pollution than technology revolution
UNIVERSITY OF OXFORD
PUBLIC RELEASE: 30-MAY-2018
Led by Dr Christian Brand, Senior Research Fellow and Associate Professor at the Environmental Change Institute and Transport Studies Unit, in collaboration with colleagues Jillian Anable from the University of Leeds and Craig Morton at the University of Loughborough, the paper explores how plausible changes in the way we travel might reduce energy use and emissions in Scotland over the next three decades, in light of the 5-year carbon budgets up to 2050 and beyond.
“Our study explores how Scotland might achieve these targets in the transport sector. We find that both lifestyle change – such as making fewer and shorter journeys, sharing existing journeys, or shifting to walking, cycling and clean public transport – and a comprehensive strategy around zero emission technologies are needed, but that they have limits to meeting our CO2 targets, in particular beyond 2030″ explains lead author, Oxford Scientist Dr Christian Brand.
The findings suggest that, only through prioritisation of both demand- (lifestyle, social and cultural change) and supply-side (new technology) transport solutions, might we have a chance of curbing carbon emissions in line with the United Nation’s 1.5C Climate Change Agreement. The co-benefits of such change to human health and the NHS are enormous.
“The newfound urgency of ‘cleaning up our act’ since the Paris Climate Change Agreement in 2016 and Dieselgate scandal suggests that we cannot just wait for the technology fix,” says Dr Christian Brand.
The abstract of the study;
Lifestyle, efficiency and limits: modelling transport energy and emissions using a socio-technical approach
Authors and affiliations
Christian Brand, Jillian Anable, Craig Morton
It is well-known that societal energy consumption and pollutant emissions from transport are influenced not only by technical efficiency, mode choice and the carbon/pollutant content of energy but also by lifestyle choices and socio-cultural factors. However, only a few attempts have been made to integrate all of these insights into systems models of future transport energy demand or even scenario analysis. This paper addresses this gap in research and practice by presenting the development and use of quantitative scenarios using an integrated transport-energy-environment systems model to explore four contrasting futures for Scotland that compare transport-related ‘lifestyle’ changes and socio-cultural factors against a transition pathway focussing on transport electrification and the phasing out of conventionally fuelled vehicles using a socio-technical approach. We found that radical demand and supply strategies can have important synergies and trade-offs between reducing life cycle greenhouse gas and air quality emissions. Lifestyle change alone can have a comparable and earlier effect on transport carbon and air quality emissions than a transition to EVs with no lifestyle change. Yet, the detailed modelling of four contrasting futures suggests that both strategies have limits to meeting legislated carbon budgets, which may only be achieved with a combined strategy of radical change in travel patterns, mode and vehicle choice, vehicle occupancy and on-road driving behaviour with high electrification and phasing out of conventional petrol and diesel road vehicles. The newfound urgency of ‘cleaning up our act’ since the Paris Agreement and Dieselgate scandal suggests that we cannot just wait for the ‘technology fix’.
Frankly I’m appalled that academics would recommend more cycling and walking journeys in a place like Scotland, without considering the likely consequences to human health. Summers in Scotland can be pleasant, but winters are frequently severe. Last March a security guard on a Scottish Windfarm tragically froze to death. Even people who think they are prepared are sometimes caught out by the Scottish weather. A car, even if you get stuck in the snow, can keep you alive in weather which would kill you if you were caught outside.
The study references climate unfriendly practices such as “binge flying” which would have to be curbed, and concepts such as “mobility injustice”, which presumably could be used to make car owners feel guilty about using their cars, and recommends the promotion of low carbon alternatives such as “cycling networks”.
I somehow doubt academics intend for the journey restrictions they recommend to be imposed on themselves. In 2014 University of Washington academics claimed enough air miles for a return journey to Mars. I haven’t got comparable figures for Oxford University, but I suspect Oxford University academic air miles would be just as spectacular as the University of Washington.