Despite all warnings that climate change is getting out of control, we don’t seem to be willing to do much about it, at least not in the case of transport. Did you know that transport is one of the worst contributors to climate change?
In the UK, road transport accounts for about two-thirds of all emissions of four (out of eight) of the pollutants that are targeted by the National Air Quality Strategy. Overall, transport is the third largest source of CO2 emission and at the same time the fastest growing.
Now, you might think that people in the UK use their cars more often than others do, maybe due to the bad weather. Unfortunately, that is not the case. In fact, the figures are worse for many developed countries. Worldwide, transportation accounts for 22% of energy use and 27% of carbon emission (please bear in mind that this is on average with a large population having restricted or no access to energy at all).
Of course, a major reason is increased mobility. Whereas thirty years ago even our parents used to travel only a small percentage of the miles that we cover nowadays, we got used to make daily journeys that our grandparents would have done once a year.
Is that necessary? Do we really have to travel so much?
In Switzerland, it is estimated that 45% of the total overall mileage is caused by leisure activities, and of course, the bigger part of that is done by car. What is even more worrying is that most people use their car to drive to some place where they work out (gym, tennis court, running track etc.). Does that make sense? Why not riding your bicycle to the gym or walking to work, skipping the elevator and not having to go to the gym at all?
I’m not telling you that you shouldn’t do sports, so I better leave the subject. Also, because what is worse than the increased mobility is the fact that technical improvements have helped little to reduce overall energy consumption of cars. Instead of using energy-poor ones, we prefer to drive bigger cars: a study in Germany revealed that in the years between 2000 and 2010 on average cars have become 19 centimetres longer, 15 centimetres larger and 25 centimetres higher. The result is – wait, I’m not talking about the energy they use – that park spaces as they used to be, are not big enough anymore! You can imagine yourself what impact that will have.
In Australia, there were an estimated 16.0 million vehicles registered at the end of 2010, of which passenger vehicles made up 76.9% (considering a total population of 26 million, this is probably one car for all people that are able and old enough to drive). Motor vehicles traveled an estimated 226,632 million kilometres. While the distance traveled increased by 8.2% compared with 2006, the number of vehicles increased by 11.8% over this time.
Unfortunately, this makes Australia one of the worst traffic polluters worldwide, still far behind the US, but ahead of most other developed countries.
The average fuel consumption for passenger cars was over 10liters per 100km, despite the fact that today it is possible to buy a car that consumes less than 7 litres per 100km – and here I’m talking about a four door gas-powered car. Of course there are also hybrids or smaller cars that have even better performances. The good news is also that energy friendly cars don’t need to be tiny, ugly of whatever. Check it out.
However, this post wasn’t meant to target at the use of cars only but, rather, to reveal some important facts and figures about the traffic related pollution. One important point that most people are not aware of is the fact that public transport doesn’t come for free as regards energy consumption (as it doesn’t in economic terms either). The graphic below shows how energy use for different modes of transport compares. What we can learn from it is that trains and buses are not as green as most people would expect and that car sharing (with a minimum of four passengers) might be energy friendlier than using a train. And, most important – however, less surprisingly – walking and riding a bicycle are by far the most eco-friendly modes of transport, bicycling being even more energy efficient than walking.
So, if there is one conclusion I would like to share with you, then it’s this: every form of engine-driven or supported mode of transport uses energy. Public transport doesn’t automatically have to be green. It is usually greener than individual transport (not to mention the reduction in traffic congestions), but not emission free. So, whenever and wherever you can walk, ride your bicycle and ask yourself it is necessary to make the planned trip. And if you use your car, why not sharing with your neighbour or work mate?