Today is Earth Overshoot Day; the point in the calendar whereby we have used more natural resources than the planet can renew throughout the whole of the year. That’s a pretty sobering thought when there are almost five months left of 2017.
The Earth Overshoot Day website goes into more detail about what August 2nd represents and some of the things we can do to push that date back. It even allows you to calculate your global footprint. While it isn’t 100% perfect as it doesn’t include many countries on it, you can pick the one closest to you and it gives you some indication of what you could do to reduce your global footprint. According to my results, we would need 4.9 planets to support a world living the same way I do. That was a pretty surprising result as I thought I lived fairly greenly.
A couple of days ago, the UK government announced that it plans to cease sale of petrol and diesel cars (though not hybrid cars) by 2040. In comparison, India wants the same by 2030, and Norway only wants zero emission cars on their roads by 2025. Last month, Volvo announced that they will only introduce electric or hybrid vehicles after 2019. While it requires more work and money for a country to support that kind of change than for a company to stop producing a specific type of car, why is our government planning to fall 21 years behind Volvo, 15 years behind Norway, and 10 years behind India?
No, it’s not as simple as us replacing petrol and diesel cars with electric or hybrid versions, it will require culture shifts and a lot of investment in energy and public transport, but why are we aiming to fall behind?
The government estimate that air pollution is linked to 40,000 premature deaths per year, though it is hard to verify that figure. We know that air quality in some areas is poor, it can make existing conditions worse, and no one really wants to breath in dirty air, period. We know something needs to be done, but are our government doing enough, fast enough? These are just some of the issues that need to be tackled to change the way we think about travel.
It’s all well and good harping on about how green electric cars are, but how green are the energy sources charging that car? If an electric car is charged using electric from fossil fuels, it isn’t truly emission free; albeit, the emissions are being emitted from a power station, not the car directly.The UK government is woefully behind other European countries in terms of green energy. A few times a year, stories pop up about the likes of Germany or Sweden generating enough green energy to power the entire country for a day or two. It’s not perfect, but they’re on the right path and we need to follow suit.
The problems with UK public transport
If you’ve traveled to Europe, you will know how inadequate and expensive the British public transport system is in comparison. The UK rail networks are in need of upgrading but that isn’t a priority for the government, who recently scrapped plans to electrify key lines. It seems the only public transport system the government are interested in is HS2, which will tear up parts of the British countryside, will cost £55.7 billion (way above the £32.7bn originally estimated), and will probably be the rail equivalent of the M6 toll; that is, barely used.
We are moving to Edinburgh soon and our friends and family have been doing some research into the easiest and cheapest way to get to Edinburgh, which is about 270 miles from where we currently live. In my car (a 0.9l Renault Clio), it costs less than £30 in fuel one way. The train? Costs over £100. Where is the incentive for people to take public transport instead of their cars when it is so expensive? What’s worse is you could fit five people in the average car, which would drop the cost to £6 each in fuel, but everyone would still be paying £100 on the train.
On top of that, our networks need to expand their reach to encourage more people to take public transport. It takes me just under 20 minutes to drive 7.5 miles to work, but what if I wanted to take public transport? I can’t, safely. I would have to walk a couple of miles down an unlit country lane with no footpath, and it’s doubtful buses would be running when I finish at 1am.
That leads us nicely to cycling. To a lot of motorists, cyclists are considered to be a pain because UK roads aren’t quite wide enough to safely pass. This is even more problematic in rural areas. The Netherlands is a country we really need to learn from because it has been estimated that up to 70% of journeys in Amsterdam and The Hague are made on cycles.
Changing how we travel
Helping our environment does not just require a change in how our government thinks and our infrastructure works, it requires us to change our mindsets. We need to change the way we think about travel. While that does go hand in hand with improved public transport, we need to start walking or cycling more.
I include myself in that category. When we’re living outside Edinburgh, we probably won’t need the car much at all but it seems hard to give up that sense of freedom that comes with owning a car. Conversely, if public transport was better and cheaper, it wouldn’t be as hard.
It isn’t going to be completely pain free and easy, but we haven’t done our fair share in terms of protecting the world we live in for long enough and it’s time we step up and take responsibility.