Tuesday, 2 July 2019

Walk, cycle or use public transport - cars have had their day.

There's been a lot of talk about zero carbon recently. Extinction Rebellion is demanding the UK moves to zero carbon by 2025. The government has committed to 2050. What would I do? Well, I'd set a target of 2030 because although it may not be achievable it gives us the sense of urgency that we need to actually make change happen - we need to see some real action in the next decade to stave off catastrophic climate change and some think 2050 may be far too late

One of the big issues we need to tackle is transport. In 2018 government figures showed that most of the UK's carbon emissions came from transport. I know a number of people who have got EVs or hybrids and there is pressure growing on governments and manufacturers to speed up the availability of affordable EVs and increase the number of charging points. So hopefully the day is not too far off when we'll able to use EVs instead of fossil fuel-guzzling cars, right?

Wrong! When it comes to building and using EVs we not only need to think about infrastructure but also about what raw materials we use and where they come from, which is why this press release from the Natural History Museum is worth reading. Here is an extract:

"The metal resource needed to make all cars and vans electric by 2050 and all sales to be purely battery-electric by 2035. To replace all UK-based vehicles today with electric vehicles (not including the LGV and HGV fleets), assuming they use the most resource-frugal next-generation NMC 811 batteries, would take 207,900 tonnes cobalt, 264,600 tonnes of lithium carbonate (LCE), at least 7,200 tonnes of neodymium and dysprosium, in addition to 2,362,500 tonnes copperThis represents, just under two times the total annual world cobalt production, nearly the entire world production of neodymium, three quarters the world’s lithium production and at least half of the world’s copper production during 2018. Even ensuring the annual supply of electric vehicles only, from 2035 as pledged, will require the UK to annually import the equivalent of the entire annual cobalt needs of the European industry."

The reality is that we may not all be whizzing around in EVs and nor should we want to. The real key to reducing emissions from transport is a good, national, integrated public transport system. We also need to get many more people onto bicycles and walking, with greater pedestrianisation of city and town centres. This article by Goerge Monbiot in the Guardian sums up the situation well: 
"In his book Unlocking Sustainable Cities,Paul Chatterton argues that controlling the car is the first and most important step towards creating friendly and vibrant cities. He points to the work of architects such as Jan Gehl – who seek to reclaim the space now captured by cars, to allow “life between buildings” to flourish."
This will take a big cultural shift. Since the post-war period when car ownership started to become more common in the UK, and Margaret Thatcher's "great car economy" of the 1980s we've associated the car with personal freedom. Jump in the car parked on your drive and you can, in theory, go anywhere you want, whenever you want. That will have to end and it's going to be difficult to wean people off their cars. 

We need to stress the positives - less carbon, less air pollution, more exercise, better health, and fewer road traffic accidents. And if you really want to live in a zero-carbon economy - get on your bike or a bus!