Do you like the idea of being stuck in a metal box, alone or with just a couple other people? Not me. What if I said it was for four years? Definitely not me! Yet that’s the average time a driver in the UK will spend behind the wheel in their lifetime.
Car companies and airlines like to promote the idea of freedom in their ads, but their products – fancy metal boxes – are tying us to a climate crisis and a society that puts individualism, status and personal gratification way before what’s best for society as a whole, ensuring everyone can get around and social cohesion.
More than one quarter of greenhouse gas emissions in the EU come from transport, and that’s not even including the production of the petrol and diesel used to fuel most of Europe’s cars. Perhaps even worse, such emissions are increasing rather than decreasing: in 2017, transport-related emissions were 28% greater than in 1990.
And in the wake of the Corona crisis and the economic fallout, our governments are currently investing billions of euro – that’s our tax money – in carmakers and airlines who want to keep us locked into outdated, polluting technology that will only make the climate and social crises we are facing worse. But still, they lay off workers.
It’s a pivotal moment to take the next exit and break free from the car, air and oil industries’ grip on the way we move, not to mention their noxious advertising. We think it’s possible to build a more environmentally conscious and more equitable way to move ourselves and goods around, share who does it and how often.
By calling on our politicians to invest in community spaces over private profit and by making our own informed travel choices, we can transform transport. We’ll get around better, come together more, pollute way less, open up parking spaces for neighbourhoods that could be put to better shared use and get better jobs for our communities.
New research from Climact and New Climate Institute shows what we need to do to decarbonize transport in the EU by 2040.
We’ve got a few bold suggestions for how to make this happen in a socially just, green and collective way:
All transport-related investments should be directed to increasing trains, cycling and public transport, as part of the EU-wide and national recovery plans. This will provide greener alternatives to cars and planes for everyone and create good, sustainable and satisfying jobs.
Our governments must also stop all investments in airports and highways, and tax breaks that increase the fleet of (conventional) cars. Any kid of industry bailout or recovery money should always be contingent on participating in national emissions reductions targets in line with climate science. On the other hand, we need to invest in people over technology, and make sure the people and communities who rely on large-scale polluting industries for income today are provided with the skills, training and opportunities to find alternatives, such as local cooperatives or changing sectors.
To shift from individually-focused transport to societally-focused mobility, we also need to ban short-haul flights where there is an alternative and invest more in affordable and accessible day and night trains that link urban and rural communities within and across national borders. One way to do this is by putting an end to the tax exemptions airlines benefit from, at the expense of trains.
The internal combustion engine is also a dangerous dinosaur (yes, the hybrid too) and sales of new combustion or hybrid cars must end as soon as possible and at the latest by 2028 in the EU.
To achieve this, everyone needs to pitch in. Although much rests with local, nationals and EU leaders doing the heavy lifting, corporate lobbyists are working hard to get their way. Here’s a few things you can do to help us stave them off:
- Write to and/or call your political representatives. Tell them what your vision of good mobility is and ask them what they are doing to transform transport. If they have corporate bailouts, call them out and tell them you won’t stand for it!
- Join a local Greenpeace group working on better mobility in your home town or join other local advocacy groups.
- Consult a carbon calculator and keep track of how much you travel, how you do so and what emissions you’re responsible for. Here are some alternatives.
Laura Ullmann is Deputy Project Lead & Communications Lead for the European Clean Transport Now project.