Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Bad News Dept. Sustainable Transportation's Dirty Secret

"We are a generation of great talkers."

How optimistic can one reasonably be concerning our ability at this point to meet the enormous challenges facing our sector and the planet in time to make the needed big differences in the years ahead? Here are two comments on this that were made back in 1996, subsequent to a high level international conference on just this subject. Each runs about one minute:

* Try this "dirty secret" comment from 1996 - Click here
* And this "what next" comment - Click here

Sometimes it can help to remember the past. Listen for example to this one minute extract from a presentation given by the editor to a planning session of the OECD Environment Directorate on the occasion of a review of the accomplishments of the high level 1996 Vancouver Conference, "Towards Sustainable Transportation". That meeting, in the words of the OECD "brought together over 400 policy-makers, governments and NGO representatives to assess the state of the art knowledge in reducing transport's environmental impacts and to chart a path towards more environmentally sustainable transport systems". And what exactly did those "400 policy-makers, governments and NGO representatives" accomplish, sustainable transportation-wise?

* Click here for 1996 audio file.

1996 text accompanying Dirty Secret presentation:

That, in our words, is Sustainable Transportation's Dirty Secret. Worse yet, the sad truth is it does appear to be not just a transient anomaly but rather a sign of our times, of our generation, of our egregious (un)willingness to organize ourselves and get around to doing (a lot) better.

Check out the leading edge of the research, the many related web sites and all the conferences on global warming, carbon dioxide build-up, ozone depletion, and the rest, and one comes to a pretty simple, pretty solid conclusion. From an unbiased eco-perspective we are misbehaving very badly indeed. And what is worse yet is that, rhetoric aside, there is little out there on the radar screen that promises much better. Indeed the numbers all suggest that things are going from bad to worse. Emissions targets are being timidly set, after a huge amount of hemming and hawing. And then flagrantly missed. What a bad, what an inexcusable joke.

That, in our words, is Sustainable Transportation's Dirty Secret.

I see this presentation as a much needed call to a more thoughtful, more innovative, more layered ("packages of measures"), more open, and more technology-assisted approach to the challenges of sustainability in a frankly non-sustainable world -- a world of people, habits and political arrangements that to all appearances has no real intention to make the fundamental changes that are needed for the planet and in our daily lives.
I ask you, what are the differences between the way we are looking at all this today, and back in 1996? Have we made any notable progress over these thirteen long years?

No certainly not. So what we need to do now to kick-start the system? (The system, incidentally being us.)

Your comments and ideas on this are as always warmly invited. And for the rest, back to work.

Your faithful editor

PS. Here in closing is a remark and proposal I made to the meeting by way of activation and follow-up -- click here for the one minute audio file. It was not well received. Check it out here to see why.

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