Jeffrey Sachs was interviewed today on MorningJoe about the just released report to the UN Secretary-General on climate change and energy. The report addresses the goal of reaching a low-Carbon economy by mid century in the countries that release the most fossil carbon today.
One interesting thing about this report is that Joe Scarborough, Morning Joe himself, seems to be pretty much on board with the reality of climate change science. Since Joe occupies a centrist to right position in Mainstream Media, this is important. Good for you Joe.
Here is the show:
What cars we're going to drive...
While this is important, I think it's far more important to talk about moving away from a car based transportation system. We're not only faced with a climate and energy crisis, but also a peak everything resource crisis. A transportation system based on cars seems to be an awful waste of increasingly scarce and expensive resources.
It's wrong to perpetuate the belief that if only we can eliminate greenhouse gas emissions, we can go on living as before.
I don't think those are the same issue at all. Changing to a transportation system that uses very few personal vehicles absolutely needs to happen. But the time frame for even implementing a single strand of a metro/suburban transport line is decades. If we moved now to do this maximally and somehow found a trillion dollars to spend on it as needed it would still take decades.
Meanwhile, we can replace internal combustion cars and trucks with mainly electric vehicles, and build the infrastructure to produce the electricity with no carbon in a very few years.
This isn't about perpetuating beliefs. That is only the case if we are all allowed to have only one believe, and that it be simple, but we are much smarter than that.
OK, well, maybe we are not that smart, but nonetheless, moving ONLY or even at this time mainly towards a personal-vehicle-free transport system and not at the same time taking meaningful action to ensure that in a few years we are not even selling gas cars is simply not going to work. We need to do both, full throttle. As it were.
Some things can be done fairly quickly and cheaply. Improving conditions for pedestrians. Bike infrastructure. Congestion fees / road pricing. I've read that 50% of the traffic within Copenhagen is by bike. The rest is divided between mass transit and cars. More walking and biking means lower resource use and reduced health costs.
I'm not talking about a car-free transportation system – I don't think America's settlement patterns would allow for that – but about (gradually, where possible) reducing dependence on cars. I agree that transitioning from ICE to electric vehicles is beneficial, and I'm sure we agree that to the greatest extent possible, that electricity should be supplied by renewable sources. Our disagreements seem to be about whether changing from ICE to electricity and creating a less car dependent traffic system are two different issues or two sides of the same issue, and about the idea of perpetuating an insufficient solution. Briefly, my contention is that they're two sides of the same thing. Not so briefly, there are persons who are deeply concerned about climate change, who are totally unaware of the challenge posed by a general shortage of resources, and who believe that they can eat as much meat as before and drive as much as before, etc., and that the only thing we have to do is eliminate carbon emissions. Perpetuating that idea doesn't face up to the realities of the future.
Developing a better biking and pedestrian environment is indeed something that can be done fast, vast, and cheap. Minneapolis went from a city with a lot of people who bike to a city that was actually friendly to bikes in a few years. Mostly takes a lot of design and engineering and then a whole bunch of paint, though other things are done as well.
Also, figure out how to make it possible for people to live near where they work. My wife has a long commute to a school district we can not afford to live in, and there is no real public transit option even if we moved to some other location. She will always have to commute there. In that sort of case, schools or other destinations could have PV powered charing for work commuting eCars, in five months after they decide to do it and fund it.
I would go along with the idea that they are two sides of the same thing . And yes, since eCars and eBuses etc. can use batteries, they can be charged with PV mostly.
Right now, a new electric school bus is cheaper over its lifetime than a new diesel/gas school bus. Right. Now. But the initial cost outlay is larger. For a bit more, charging stations and PV sources could be added. I want the US congress to fund the transformation of our entire school bus fleet nationally to PV charged (mainly) electric school busses. That can be completed in a few years, but first we have to decide to do it!
What I really want is a totally new infrastructure. New cities (if that is the appropriate form of settle met) entirely wind/PV based and linked with high speed rail that essentially runs along solar and wind generator routes. Also, may be a new delivery system where stuff people get is normally simply sent to your house rather than you bringing it yourself . No excuse for a car.
Changing the car culture is essentially a third rail of political undertaking. The alternative to everyone having a car, used to be every family had a car but now every adult within a family has to have a car, is public transportation. Public transportation is associated with sticky seats, stinking vagrants, and people urinating in corners. It is a dirty word for many in politics.
Of course, if you are willing to spend real money, most of those issues can be minimized but you can't spend real money if all the money you have to work with is what you get from fares. Europe has long understood that public transport is a collective public good that can only be made desirable for use by the middle class, the people who will make it politically viable, if you subsidize it.
Spread the cost across the wider public and the individual cost, even to people paying a lot in taxes, is quite a bargain if the service is comprehensive enough to largely eliminate the need for most people to own a car. This is one of those virtuous cycles that works quite well once it gets up and running. Nut it is also one of those which will always fail if you try to do it on the cheap and fail to get buy-in by the middle class.
So many social goods are that way. Brits love to complain about the National Health Service but the majority know how bad the alternatives can, you should see middle class Brits visiting US hospitals, and wouldn't give up the NHS for love nor money.
I would love to have the German integrated public transport system, a coordinated array of modalities, in the US but we aren't ready for that debate yet. We still have a good number of people who think it is both moral and more efficient to allow people to starve and pay the steep price of endemic poverty than making sure everyone has a roll in the economy, even if they don't work.