Kicking the car(bon) habit better for air pollution than technology revolution

air pollution
Credit: Peter Griffin/public domain

Changing our lifestyles and the way we travel could have as big—if not more of an impact on CO2 transport emissions, as electric vehicles and the transport technology revolution, according to new Oxford University research.

Published in Energy Efficiency, the study uses Scotland as an example and suggests that, radical lifestyle change can show quicker results than the gradual transition to Electric Vehicles and phasing out of conventional petrol and diesel vehicles.

Scotland has committed itself to reduce carbon emissions by 80% of 1990 levels by 2050. For , this includes international aviation and shipping which makes the targets more difficult to achieve.

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.

Traditionally governments have prioritised technology fixes and supply-side transport solutions to the carbon emission problem.

However, the authors suggest that a long-term and air quality -cutting strategy should consider both demand- and supply-side transport solutions, for the best chance of success.

Change will need to be led by consumers, policy makers and industry alike, they say.

"We need to look at how we can inspire and support consumer lifestyle changes—in travel patterns, mode and vehicle choice, vehicle occupancy—to be in with a chance of reducing our in line with legislated targets and travelling on the 'Road to Zero' faster, further and more flexible."

Explore further

Why the electric vehicle revolution will bring problems of its own

More information: Christian Brand et al. Lifestyle, efficiency and limits: modelling transport energy and emissions using a socio-technical approach, Energy Efficiency (2018). DOI: 10.1007/s12053-018-9678-9
Citation: Kicking the car(bon) habit better for air pollution than technology revolution (2018, May 30) retrieved 25 August 2019 from
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May 30, 2018
Raise the price of gasoline to 10 bucks a gallon. You can bet your sweet bippy that a lot of lifestyles would change pronto. Easiest way to do that would be to charge the future expense of cleaning up the air from fossil fuel emissions using a carbon tax. Dump every penny of the tax into mass transit and cleaning up our infastructure, and rebating a good portion to the poor most impacted. Buy the most polluting machines off the road (cash for clunkers...) etc.

Society benefits most from harnessing the forces that shape it (free markets, the rule of law, etc.). Trying to create change by modifying those fundamental principals is doomed to fail.

May 31, 2018
Not so fast.

Reduction in individual mobility leads to reduction in individual freedom of choice and increases the need for central planning, which runs into the issue of diffuse knowledge vs. concentrated planners, which leads to economic inefficiency and... more CO2 emissions.

There's no free lunch. If you want to make drastic changes in the socioeconomic conditions and lifestyles of people, you essentially have to have a command economy (communism, essentially) because there's this little problem of labor mobility and land prices to consider: the closer together you shove people so they wouldn't need to drive, the more expensive the land becomes and that pushes the value generating industries away from the labor supply.

Unless you seize control of the market and PLAN where the people live and work, and what/how they live, you'll only push the CO2 emissions out of sight and out of mind, because whatever's left of your industries will vanish into the developing nations

May 31, 2018
Raise the price of gasoline to 10 bucks a gallon.

And then people will buy diesel. Raise the price of diesel, they'll buy ethanol, or propane/LNG. Stick a carbon tax on everything, and the prices of everything shoot up because people and goods cannot move.

Oh, but you'd be using the tax for public transportation, so you're the one who then has to plan all the commutes and transits/transports, which only means you'll be spending extra resources to figure out what everybody needs to do to keep the economy rolling along.

"the data required for rational economic planning are distributed among individual actors, and thus unavoidably exist outside the knowledge of a central authority"

May 31, 2018
Besides, the point and efficiency of mass transit is in the fact that it's -centralized- transit. It operates between few select points to maximize the use of the vehicle. If it tries to serve the dispersed and varied needs of the society as well as private transit, it becomes less efficient because the utilization ratio (customer miles per vehicle miles) drops, and there's other additional overhead.

Think about that the next time you're the only passenger on the night bus - the fact that it's serving you at all is a compromize on efficiency vs. utility. Usually there needs to be at least 5-7 people onboard to break even to a regular small car because a bus is a barn on wheels.

For example, an individual person may well choose to drive in an old beat-up van to save money, but a public authority cannot impose that choice on random people - at the very least there will be public outcry if the State Transport rolls up to your door and it's some dinged up rustbucket.

May 31, 2018
The status quo is actually rooted in socialism. Look at the big network interests, they want to get rid of net neutrality, prioritize certain traffic for better outcomes. If private sector ran the roads, you could bet it would be the same way, with faster lanes costing more, but I if the just charged for a slot, a $260 toll for a road. For a greyhound bus, it would add $5 per ticket charge ($10 if half full) for a truckload of bananas, 1/2 cent per pound, but a driver in a car would pay all of it. If you were charging fairly for space on the road, maybe a car would pay half or third of the bus, but that's still like $80. Only a full car/van would be tolerable.

The reason it's not this way is taxpayers are all charged, in most cases for the road. This creates a subsidy for massively inefficient means of transportation that would vanish if road places were rented out fairly.

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