Monday, December 6, 2010

The World - the Climate – the Strategy. Come argue with me.

Part I: Ten steps to get the job done:
Let me sketch out an easy to understand (or reject) climate/transport foundation strategy that presents some stark contrasts with the ideas and approaches that are getting the bulk of attention when it comes to targeting, policy and investment in the sector -- and which in a first instance is quite likely to earn me more enemies than friends (that goes with the territory). At least until such time that these basic underlying ideas are expressed in a manner which is sufficiently clear and convincing that we can with confidence put them to work to turn the tide. So here you have my first brief statement of the issues, the basic strategic frame and the key pressure points to which I invite your critical reactions and comments. In a second piece in this series, to follow shortly, I intend to have a look at the package(s) of measures, policies, tools, modes, etc. which can be sorted out, combined and refined to do something about it. Or maybe not.

- Eric Britton, Editor

Ten steps to get the job done

1. Climate Destabilization: The world is failing utterly in terms of combating climate destabilization. By all honest performance indicators (global emissions, fossil fuel consumption, etc.) we are going backward in almost all cases.  (Yes or no?)

2. Locked in: And what is worse yet is that the evidence shows clearly that we are locked into concepts and processes that most visibly do not and will not ever get the job done. (Yes or no?)

3. We are each day that passes wasting valuable time: While we sit around and talk, confer, argue, negotiate, or for various reasons wait/hope for solutions to appear on their own, hypothesize about 2020, 2030 or 2050, things are degrading severely every single day. So time is a critical vector. (Yes or no?)

4. Transport is, as we know, roughly 20% of the problem. Enough for us to give it all our attention. (Yes of course.)

5. Moreover, transport is, of all the areas of human activity involved, the easiest to get control of. (Despite what most people, including experts, will tell you. Keep reading.)

6. The key to taming the transport component of the global warming equation is very simple – (a) large scale VMT/VKT reduction. And (b) those VKT reductions in a very short period: 1 to 5 years max.

7. And if you do not give importance to climate issues? Fair question and no problem! Whatever we do to cut down on GHG emissions is going to serve as a close to 100% proxy for everything else we should be trying to achieve in the transport sector anyway. Corresponding fossil fuel reductions, economic savings, local environmental improvements, thinning out traffic, safer streets, public health improvements, stronger communities, etc. (You know the long list so no reason to go into it here.)

8. Strategy: The only way to get these GHG reductions in time to make the difference -- and this is a critical caveat -- (a) without sacrificing the economy or (b) quality of life, is to find ways to get more people and goods efficiently into fewer vehicles. (Let's call it "sharing" without for now getting into the important detail of the mechanisms needed to make this work. that being the next step in this series and process.)

9. More and better sharing in transport opens up a dynamic positive agenda. It opens up opportunities for more and better mobility services for all, new sources of energy and entrepreneurship in society, and requires the integration of a very wide range of planning, economic measures, on-road innovations, new service development, and state-of-the-art logistics and ICT technology capabilities to make it work. (Share/Transport, as I call it, is 21st century transportation delivered efficiently and economically when and where it is needed.)

10. Leadership: This is challenging but doable. But to make it happen we need strong leadership. Where can we find it? (Stay tuned!)

# # #

PS. This of course is a very challenging statement, and I shall be pleased to give it all my attention with further supporting details shortly here.

I understand that this is going to ruffle quite a few edges, but rather than try to smooth them, let's have a look at some of the concepts that are being pushed and discussed in many places that are not adequate to do this partial job (see 1-3 above)

  • Electromobility has some interesting ideas and there will be projects there in the future – but let's not kid ourselves. No matter how valid they may be for local reasons (for example a massive shift to e-taxis in Shanghai), they are not going to get the needed results overall.

  • Likewise, the construction of new metros and heavy urban rail lie beyond the fringe of the priorities that are set out here – and which should be the driving forces in the next several years.

  • Any attempt to increase road capacity through new construction or major widening, bridges, tunnels, etc. projects need to be set aside, as we instead take advantage of the powerful tools we have to better manage the existing transport capacity.

  • Parking. No increase in capacity anywhere, but working carefully with those directly concerned to help them solve their legitimate mobility and access challenges. (With of course a strategic shift to full cost pricing.)

  • New technology vehicles? No time.

  • Green or bio-fuels cannot be a global strategy. Put them on the back back burner.

The list of what not to do is considerably longer than that, but the above should suffice to set the stage for what will follow here.

In the meantime, I hope we shall be receiving from you feedback, challenges and suggestions on "other better ways", which will find their place in the next report in this series. That said, you can also do it yourself. If you accept the first three criteria as valid (?!?), all you have to do is test your proposition against them to see if it passes or fails. Your call!

To summarize: Transportation policy in the 21st century needs to be based on taking a good look at the "more of the same" or "keep digging" solutions that have egregiously failed to work in the last years.  We are losing this war -- and it's because we are not using our brains.  Hmm.

Out of gas.

Print this article