Friday 22 April 2011

Transport - Where Are We Going?

What immediately comes to mind when I think of “Transport” are cars. And buses. Mostly because at the moment I don’t own one of the former and so rely on the latter. And in rural Suffolk where I live, the number of the latter seems to be shrinking by the month.

Then I think lorries, trains, boats and planes. Bicycles. Horses. But the theme of transport goes beyond just the forms. It’s about more than whether I personally own a car or have access to a decent public transport system.

Mass transportation of goods (and people) is key to the present globalised industrial economy. Those goods whether they be food, clothes, computers, white goods or cars, already have embedded within their manufacture the use of vast amounts of oil. And that’s before you get to the fuel in the tank (see Rob Hopkins’ recent post on the energy in a litre of petrol).

If we look at the predominant aspirations and narratives of our present culture, they are still predicated on the cheap abundant oil supply we’ve enjoyed for the past fifty years. We can all have a car, own a house, fly anywhere in the world for holidays or special occasions… or dream of it for the future. In theory we can have it all. The recent economic difficulties have yet made hardly a dent in this narrative.

We know all this, you might think. We’re transitioners. But just because we are aware of something doesn't mean everyone is, even other transitioners. I still have conversations where people say that Peak Oil is a hype and that we’re not running out of oil, there’s plenty left. That’s where I need to be on the ball about, yes, there might be half of what we’ve used so far left but where is it? What Peruvian rainforest, Arctic tundra or Canadian boreal forest does it lie under? How easy is it to extract? What’s the Energy Return on Energy Invested (EROEI)? What are the environmental and political considerations? Who is being dispossessed of their ancestral lands? What about Deep Sea Drilling? Take a look at Naomi Klein’s extraordinary and lucid TEDS talk on oil and risk.

The fact is that once you start looking at Transport you’re soon looking at the culture as a whole. One car, one person and an i-pod. “We’ve had so much, we’ve become selfish. We don’t really want to share any more. And we’re not really looking at what’s coming.” And that’s from the woman who runs the (very successful) Voluntary Help Centre in Southwold.

One of the best things about being in Transition is the context it provides in which the bigger picture of diminishing fossil fuel reserves, carbon emissions, climate instability and the global economy can be brought to the table and discussed. We can begin in these conversations to forge a different and perhaps more satisfying future. And sometimes we admit, as happened in our latest Low Carbon Cookbook meeting, that we don’t really know what the future will hold.

Back to Transport. Transition Norwich has hosted many conversations about transport in the past few years, here on This Low Carbon Life, in the Transition Circles and as part of Carbon Conversations. A Transport group did form after the Unleashing in 2008 and although currently dormant, acted for a time as an umbrella for campaigners wanting to improve public transport in Norwich city centre and prevent the Northern Distributor Road from going ahead. There are several expert cyclists on the blog team some of whom have led weeks on Cycling, reported on Otesha and been active cycle path campaigners. There are posts about inconvenient carless living, giving up the sexy sports car and its identifications, the trials of rural public transport (as well as its delights) and getting from A to B in Norwich traffic. And our week on Flying last March emerged from a fiery group email debate… whew hot topic!!!

And what about in the broader Transition movement? Have a look at this superb article by Mike Freedman, published yesterday on Transition Voice, Inconvenient Truths about the Coming Transition (see part 3 on Transportation).

Some initiatives have transport-related activities up and running. Transition Town Brixton just received funding for their local cycle delivery service. And Transition Ilkley are part of a chip fat biodiesel project that has been going three years.

I'll sign off today with a mention of Sustainable Bungay's Biodiesel project, which has been taking shape over recent months. No one has gone anywhere yet with the diesel we've made, but it's early days and we're refining (sic) our methods!

And before I forget, Happy Earth Day!

Pics: One Man (with partner) and a Car, Arizona 2001; Making Biodiesel, Suffolk February 2011

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