If we are to make significant progress towards a low-carbon future and prevent irreparable damage to the climate system, then both the public and politicians needs to be inspired by the idea of a future which is greener, richer and happier for all.
The transport sector is massively dependent on oil and is one of the fastest growing sources of greenhouse gases. It accounts for about 24 per cent of the UK’s domestic carbon dioxide emissions, the majority of which come from road transport.
Depleting global oil reserves, together with increasing transport emissions, will require us to radically rethink how we travel in the future especially if we have any hope of achieving the government’s target to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 80 per cent by 2050.
So what will life be like in a low-carbon future? Sit back, close your eyes and imagine a greener future.
In 2050, the railway system will be completely powered by electricity provided by non-fossil fuel sources such as wind and biomass. Better and more compact spatial planning will have reduced the distances to travel to work, school and other local facilities.
The high cost of fuel will have encouraged us to walk, cycle and use public transport more as this will be cheapest way to get around. Gas guzzling enthusiasts such as Jeremy Clarkson will be driving electric cars or vehicles powered by fuel cells.
High-speed rail and video conferencing will be a common feature of our greener world. Improvements in aircraft technology and air traffic management will have reduced aviation emissions.
However, air travel will be expensive. Long-haul holidays will be an occasional luxury rather than an annual event and staycations will be the norm. Flying to European capitals to hold hen and stag-dos will be replaced by “Party Trains” as there will be more accessible improved train services with overnight trains.
Travelling to a destination will be just as much part of the holiday experience as time spent at the holiday resort itself.
Changes in ship size, routing, fuel, speed and application of new technologies will have decreased emissions from shipping.
In this greener future, we will have made significant progress in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and will have averted runaway climate change.
While this vision of a low-carbon future may feel like an infringement of personal liberty, it does offer a number of socio-economic and environmental benefits. Imagine for a second that traffic congestion is a thing of the past.
The time saved not being stuck in traffic jams is spent enjoying the company of family and friends. Imagine a clean, efficient and cheap public transport system comparable to that in any other European city. And imagine opting to be car-free and being better off due to having saved thousands of pounds a year by avoiding the cost of running a car.
Our greener future will be a happier and richer future. There will be a community renaissance with people spending time and money locally due to more people walking, cycling and using public transport.
Lower levels of motorised traffic on our streets travelling at a maximum of 20mph in all residential areas will make them safer.
Children will be able to discover the delights of independent mobility and going to and from school, friends and local clubs on their own.
Older people will find it easier to cross roads, chit-chat on the street and engage with friends and neighbours, thus reducing social isolation.
The long work commute will be distant memory as all kinds of businesses will have introduced flexible working, video conferencing, and more family- and child-friendly working practices.
Less vehicle traffic will mean cleaner air as well as reduced noise and stress. This together with high levels of physical activity will have lowered rates of obesity and heart disease and improved our overall general health and sense of wellbeing.
All these factors will have contributed to the creation of high quality living environments where community life will be much improved. This vision of a low-carbon future is not a green pipe dream but a possible reality. There are no technical, financial, organisational or other obstacles in our way. Many of the building blocks to create our alternative future already exist.
The future of our climate and our way of life will be dependent on the choices we are willing to make today. A vision of a greener future needs to be communicated and sold as positive and aspirational goal for all. Once we have sold the concept then we will need to move boldly and decisively to achieve this vision for ourselves and future generations.
© Gary Haq 2009