Paving paradise

About four months ago I sold my car. I live in an area with acceptable public transport, flat enough to cycle and with most of what I need not far from home. Although I had owned a car on and off for my adult working life giving it up left me feeling a little trepidation. What came as a real surprise after it was gone was the immense relief I felt. Driving for me was always about doing a deal with the devil. Every time I filled up with petrol I felt like I was giving up a little bit of my soul to the oil giants of the world and eroding another piece of Mother Nature.

Is it inconvenient? Yes. Not having the power to get up and go wherever you want, having to plan ahead instead (remember how that feels?) But as the diminutive Peter Parker once learnt; with great power comes great responsibility. And if we are honest about it driving – or rather our current model of car ownership, is really not that responsible.

Toxic air, congestion, obesity and road accidents are downsides of driving. But, owning a car rarely makes any sense just from a resources point of view. As Donald Shoup pointed out cars remain unused for 95% of the time. That is a whole big waste of the world’s resources, sitting on your driveway/street/car park. It is a waste of the world’s resources (because new cars are being made while these ones are sat there unused) and it is a waste of our land. It is a waste of that precious natural environment that supports biodiversity that keeps us and this planet alive.

For the first time the next generation is driving less than the one before it. Yet transport is the one sector where carbon emissions are not reducing. Congestion is going up, so our cars our achieving less for us than they ever have. So it should be the number one area to tackle if we are serious about saving the planet and ourselves from the climate emergency.

For an event the impact of audience travel will dwarf the carbon impacts of all other aspects (waste, water, energy). It can account for 80% or more of an event’s environmental impact. Yet when people talk to Planet Aware about making an event more sustainable their focus is often almost exclusively on reducing waste – particularly plastics.

The need to drive – and the assumption of car ownership appears to be a given in most sectors – even those that should be looking at alternatives. I was really irked this week when I looked into attending an event that billed itself as a “sustainability exhibition”. Opening its web page the statement “free parking” screamed out at me, but no mention of how to get there by public transport, no options for car sharing, no suggestion of offsetting travel miles or encouragement to cycle. No matter what technological fixes are being pedalled at events like these unless they address the inherent assumptions about car ownership and driving they are never going to be sustainable.

Image by Niek Verlaan / Pixabay

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