My second post this week on small, easy changes that can have positive environmental effects, is on our over use of the car. Once again, as in my Meat Free Monday blog, I am not suggesting extremes, or sudden sacrifices that cause unhappiness or failure to persevere, but small changes that can be adapted into our life styles.
When it comes to the car, this might seem like a bigger ask than suggesting cutting meat consumption for one day of the week. After all, most people who own a car depend on them, even if they might not actually need to, out of sheer habit. I live in the countryside where functioning without a car can be a strain, if nigh on impossible at times. Buses run on one-a-week schedules, if they run at all, and in some places you have to ring and order them… a little like a taxi. Yet, there is good reason as to why it has got to this state, and that is lack of demand. I am not blaming the people of the countryside, (well, perhaps, some of them), but as the old adage states: if you don’t use it, you lose it. Of course, there are less of us in these in-the-sticks areas to actually create the demand. Still, it is somewhat ironic that our bus services fail in rural areas where public transport is sorely needed, when it thrives in cites where public conveniences might be a short walk away.
But my proposition for cutting carbon emissions is one that applies to city dwellers and rural folk alike, even if, I admit, it may be more of a struggle in some areas. It is simply this: to try to cut your car usage by 20%. Now follows my justification: in Heat Monbiot draws on surveys conducted by transport analyst Lynn Sloman who presents what she calls the 40:40:20 rule. Having conducted surveys worldwide, in rural areas as well as cities, Sloman discovered that in most places, 40% of journeys currently made by car could be made by bicycle or methods of public transport already in place, a further 40% of car journeys could be replaced by these methods if services were improved, and the final 20% of car journeys had to be made by car. My suggestion of 20%, should, therefore, be less than is practically doable, but also not the baptism of fire that immediately attempting 40% cuts may seem. Cutting car journeys by 20% also falls in with the EU’s promise to aim to cut carbon emissions by 2030. By attempting to make these cuts personally, we are starting to do our bit, rather than just waiting for leadership. I may have previously slated the 20% aim of the EU, yet we do have to make a start somewhere.
Of course, instead of just leaping from our cars into buses, we should also consider whether our journeys need to be made at all. This should be our first step as using public transport still emits carbon. One of our most pressing problems when it comes to combatting climate change is the simple habits we possess; ones of satisfying immediate demand, ways we have become so used to in the west. We might drive to the gym, then drive to the shops, get home only to realise we have forgotten something and drive back… Cars (like other modern technology we rely on in the west) have allowed us to do what we want, when we want. As recent as fifty years ago this was not the case, just as it is not the case in other less ‘developed’ countries. And, the fact is that it is this kind of western attitude that has, mostly unwittingly, brought on the sharp threat of climate change. In the US, average carbon usage by a single person is 28 tonnes per year. In the UK the figure is down to 15.4 tonnes, where in China it is still at 5 tonnes, and in Bangladesh carbon emissions per citizen is only 1 tonne per annum. Climate change is down to us, the west, as these figures illustrate. As goods have become available to us, we have learnt to exhaust them to the fullest extent, turning our backs on moderation. There is no reason why citizens of the states need to use 13 carbon tonnes per annum more than we do in the UK. Yet they do. Why? Well, ‘gas’ prices probably have something to do with it, for a start…
But if we were in a country, or in a time, where these resources were not as available to us, we would have to practice moderation. Trips in to town would be more infrequent, but more productive. This doesn’t mean mimicking a third world country, or harking back to a way of life that is completely unsuitable to us, it just means being more careful, more thoughtful, and planning in advance. If you can make one trip a day instead of three, why not do it? If we weren’t such an affluent nation we wouldn’t be able to anyway. The fact is that we have grown rich, which has made us complacent and greedy.
A final anecdote on this topic: a close friend of mine moonlights at a Tourist Information Centre while she works on a long distance Masters degree. Recently, a woman came in to ask her about public transport links between two rather distant towns in our fair sized county. The woman was asking because she had to take her car to the garage, and wanted to do some shopping as she made her way home. As my friend made herself useful and politely explained that the woman would have to make a change at another town, the woman got angry. ‘It’s like a third world country down here!’ She exclaimed. My friend had to hold her tongue, something I’m not sure I would have been able to do, and then the woman left, leaving behind the timetables my friend had printed out for her. The thing that makes me angry about this particular member of the public, is that you can tell from the story that she does not use public transport, has not paid for it before, and now, on one single day in her life, suddenly expects it to be there at her service. The ridiculous flip side of this is that it is not at all like a third world country. From my experience of travelling in places less ‘developed’ than the UK, public transport links are often substantially better. Alright, they may be dangerous, over crowded, and some times unpredictable – but they tend to be regular. And why? Because they don’t all have cars… The people actually rely on their buses to get them from A to B. Regularly.
So, give cutting your dependence on cars a try. Public Transport may not be all it could be, but it won’t improve if we don’t use it either. Remember: if you don’t use it, you lose it.
Here is a very useful link to a carbon monitor provided by the Guardian. Give it a go and see what your carbon footprint is in comparison to your fellow country people, and other nations.