Tag Archives: CO2

“Buckshot” Needed to hit Emissions Targets

Multimodal Transportation in Barcelona, Spain (photograph: Patrick Lydon | sociecity)

Multimodal Transportation in Barcelona, Spain (photograph: Patrick Lydon | sociecity)

Let’s face it. Even if you’re not on the Global Warming Boat — we assume a boat would be the best place if the sea level were rising — there aren’t many viewing angles at which burning fossil fuel looks good for us in the long term. The issue of airborne pollutants alone should be reason to take emissions reductions seriously, especially given the recent headlines regarding places such as Beijing, where air pollution routinely enters seriously hazardous levels for human health.

In light of all of this, the European Union has set a goal of achieving a 80-95% reduction in greenhouse gas (CHG) emission levels by 2050. When faced with the task of actually doing it, however, the pertinent industries (energy, transportation, manufacturing) generally argue that this goal is nearly impossible to reach, while your standard-model eco-scientists fight back with: We’re going under Scotty. We don’t care how you do it, just get it fixed.

Aye, captain.

The Bicycle, the Bus, and the Car

Father and Children Cycling in the Netherlands (photo: Marc van Woudenberg)

Father and Children Cycling in the Netherlands (photo: Marc van Woudenberg)

The European Cycling Federation (ECF) released a report yesterday, giving an extremely thorough and well thought out study on transportation forms and how they will contribute to a serious reduction in emissions.

The commission’s report takes a serious look at the issue of emissions, quantifying production, operation, maintenance as well as infrastructure and disposal as part of the entire “transportation” picture. In doing so, they show a rather rough looking road to the dramatic European Union targets for lower carbon emissions, and also one where large-scale reconsideration of transportation methods is a requirement.

According to the study, about 24% of CHG emissions in the EU are from transportation (cars, airplanes, boats, trains) and 30% come from power generation (household, commercial, industrial, your electric car). The ECF figures that for every 1,000 miles driven in a car, you would need to ride approximately 13,500 miles on a bicycle to produce the same CHG emissions levels.

But what about my cool “∞ MPG” shirt, you ask?

Well, yes, bicycles are infinately better for the environment and for the personal health of the people who use them as a method of transport, but they create emissions too, however small.

These emissions are not from a tail pipe so to speak, but from the foods that riders eat, the metal and rubber that makes up their bicycles, and the transportation required to move all of that stuff. After all is accounted for, biking still results in emissions over 10 times lower than that of your average passenger car.

The Silver Buckshot

Simply evolving technology in transportation methods is not nearly enough to reach emissions goals, the study asserts. So what’s left, then?

Changing habits, changing commute lengths, and pretty much a complete restructuring on how we think of transportation.

The study calls this approach using “silver buckshot, instead of a silver bullet.” Getting folks out of cars and onto bicycles may seem like the most difficult way to reach emissions goals, but on the flip-side of that, switching to bikes is certainly one of the cheapest and most effective changes we can make.

If the general population cycled an average of just 3 miles per day, 50% of the targeted CNG emissions reductions could be achieved, the study suggests.

In general, however, the entire transportation system needs to be rethought. When used, vechicles need to be able to travel at consistent speeds, traffic needs to be reduced, public transportation and rail travel needs to be more efficient and link the correct places, and cities need to be built in concert with these modes of transportation.

European Cycling Federation - Avoid, Shift, Improve (Source : Dalkmann and Brannigan)

European Cycling Federation - Avoid, Shift, Improve (Source : Dalkmann and Brannigan)

The ECF model identifies three targets for change 1) Avoid — help reduce the necessity for car-trips with better city planning and land use 2) Shift — change our habits to make use of current alternative transportation methods 3) Improve– finally, engineer better mass transit and personal motorized transportation mechanisms.

If this sounds troubling for the EU, it is  a problem magnitudes worse to solve in the US. This is because, for the most part, large areas of EU cities are already built to work with mass transit, walking, and bicycles. In America, the majority of cities are unfailingly incompatible with the idea of short local commutes, efficient mass transit, and trips by bicycles and walking.

This study doesn’t paint a pretty picture for the US and other countries who have built their cities around the personal motor vehicle. In doing so, however, it shows us that we need to approach the restructuring of our cities with the utmost seriousness. We need to be doing everything in our power to make this change possible.

The study focuses on CO2, understandably, since it is a popular metric and driver of the eco industry. But CO2 isn’t truly a root or reason for a restructuring of our transportation system, it is just one symptom of an imperfect system. For the Eco movement to be understood and implemented correctly, the conversation must evolve to talk not simply about measurable pollution, but about the end results in terms of health benefits to individuals, the planet, and society as a whole.

[box type=”info” style=”rounded” border=”full”]Read More:

Read the Full ECF Study – (PDF)
Beijing Pollution – Wall Street Journal[/box]


Per Capita Carbon Emissions Face-Off

Photo: Patrick Lydon | sociecity

Putting Google’s Public Data Explorer through its paces, we found some interesting graph-able statistics on per-capita carbon emissions for various countries.

There are two distinct groupings in this graph, with outliers on the top and bottom. Some interesting facts in this data, which spans from 1990 – 2006:

    • Germany and Russia are the only countries in the group to significantly reduce their emissions over the time period
    • China and South Korea, likely as a product of each countrys’ rapid industrialization, were the only countries to jump to the next highest group in the 16 year period
    • Canada and the United States are ‘gross polluters’ of CO2 with 16.7 and 19 tonnes per-capita, respectively
    • With the exception of major Middle-East fuel producing countries, the United States is the “Highest Carbon Emissions Per-Capita Champion,” and India the “Lowest Carbon Emissions Per-Capita Champion” amongst the major industrialized nations in this study
Data Sources:

Changwon: Why the Bicycle isn’t About “Saving the Planet”

Bernhard Ensink speaks in Changwon, South Korea (photo | sociecity)

Bernhard Ensink speaks in Changwon, South Korea (photo | sociecity)

This Saturday in Changwon, Bernhard Ensink, Secretary General of the European Cyclists’ Federation claimed that the attitude of young German adults is changing, that they are less inclined to feel the need or even ‘want’ for a personal automobile, and more inclined to want the latest iPhone. According to Ensink, a staggering 80% of young Germans believe that people don’t need a private car anymore. His words have striking relevance, not just in Germany or the EU, but throughout industrialized nations around the globe.

It was a finding echoed most often during the EcoMobility World Congress, there a very real change in mindset happening, and a distinct movement away from the car in most developed nations.

Whether it’s gasoline, electric, hybrid, ethanol, nitrogen, or CNG, cars as a form of transportation have already hit or will soon hit peak usage in most developed nations, and the numbers are slowly shifting towards human power and public transit.  Although the “eco-conscious” wave might have helped us get here, in the end it’s not only about saving the planet, not about less CO2 emissions, not about global warming; it’s about a better quality of life for every human being, and the cities and transportation methods necessary to achieve that quality of life.

When examining multiple quality of life issues, transportation comes up in relation to nearly every single one of them and can have a very negative or very positive effect. EcoMobility enforced that notion, and it’s apparent that may of the world’s transportation leaders have found their field to be most relevant to daily life improvements. And as Eric Burton notes, compared with other large-scale changes, transportation is not so difficult a change to make… out of all the technological improvements which touch our day to day life, transportation is the easiest to impact.

Freedom, What is it Good For?

Early on in the conference, Ensink took us back to 1919, where the average ‘safe walking distance’ for a person was around six miles. That is to say, mom would generally tell her sons: Going fishing boys? Just make sure you don’t walk too far that you can’t make it back before dinner time.

Safe Walking Distance (illustration | sociecity)

Safe Walking Distance (illustration | sociecity)

By 1950, the distance viewed as safe for walking had been reduced down to 1 mile, mom would now say: boys, I don’t want you crossing the main road to hang out with those filthy Lehman kids, and be sure to make it back in time for dinner.

Today’s average, safe walking distance? It’s around 300 yards, or to the end of the block. Mom is now saying: if I can’t see you kids from the window, you’ve gone too far, and come in for dinner when I blow the dinner whistle.

Kids want to rome, explore, learn, and parents want them to be safe doing it, the same limitations apply to elders who can no longer drive, who stand at the doorstep of their home, looking out at a system which fails to help them meet simple needs such as walking to the store on their own.

Gil Penalusa, Director of 8-80 Cities makes the point in the very name of his organization, asking us to think of an 8 year old, and think of an 80 year old, both of whom are very close to you, then ask if you would let them walk across an intersection to the store alone. If your answer is yes, you live in a walkable city. If the answer is no, you must ask, why not, and what improvements should be made so that your neighborhood is more safe, and more walkable?

In essence, everyone deserves to be able to answer yes to Gil’s question. How free do we really feel if we can’t safely walk further than the end of our street?

From Vehicle Traffic to Crime

It’s interesting that many people’s minds will jump to crime as the culprit, as the cause of this shortened ring of safety. But you can’t blame the the smoke for pollution, and while crime may be a factor, it is not the root cause of our inability to walk through a neighborhood.

The root cause is 100% in the design flaws of the modern city, or more specifically, cities designed for the car. Humans, bikes, and rail be damned, they are all afterthoughts in most city design.

Our cities are currently geared towards one thing: a 1.5 Ton metal box hurtling down a street at 45mph, carrying a single person 1/2oth its weight. The problem with this design? We are not a society of cars, we are a society of people who unfortunately have chosen to embrace the automobile as our main method of transportation.

Nubija Bike System Tour, Changwon, South Korea (photo: Suhee Kang | sociecity)

Nubija Bike System Tour, Changwon, South Korea (photo: Suhee Kang | sociecity)

The needs of the person and the needs of the car are not synonymous, and by design, the city must return to servicing the needs of the person first.

To anyone looking in from outside our society, our reliance on the automobile would seem completely ridiculous, but we have grown up with the fact that is is ‘normal’ and thus it has become an acceptable part of life for us. However, many of us are now challenging this thought, and asking ourselves “would I rather drive a metal box that weighs 20-times my weight and be confined to that box for 99% of my travel, or would I rather reject the car and move about freely through walking, bicycling, and public transit for 99% of my travel?”

We’re beginning to ‘get it’ finally, and as most acts of cultural re-programming go, it starts with our youth. Attitudes are changing, and the sticking point is now largely in infrastructure.

But this new infrastructure won’t build itself, and it won’t appear for the good of the citizens alone, it must be demanded by those who want a better quality of life.

Today, the question isn’t if, but when today’s school children, university students,  housewives, and commuters will stand up and force our cities and our transportation industry to change for the better.

[box type=”info” style=”rounded” border=”full”]For More Information:

EcoMobility Alliance: http://www.ecomobility.org/
Nubija Bicycle System: http://nubija.changwon.go.kr/english/english.htm
European Cyclists’ Federation: http://www.ecf.com/
8-80 Cities: http://www.8-80cities.org [/box]