Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Archive for November 19th, 2007

Town and Gown

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Two good op-ed pieces to-day in the Sun, and both about the impact on us of cars. This is part of the paper’s series of articles promoting local academic research.

First “What we’re doing to the air we breathe” looks at the effects of outdoor air pollution on a large group of B.C. children that the reserachers have been following since birth. Not just asthma but also middle ear infections are strongly associated with vehicle exhaust – still the biggest single source of air pollution (though those ships at our expanding port are catching up fast).

Secondly the impact of so called “green vehicles” which might be better than older cars, but much of the benefit is being squandered though our taste for ever larger vehicles – like the “green car of the year” Tahoe. By the way, in Norway, the car companies are no longer allowed to call cars “green” – because they aren’t. They might be a bit better in some aspects, but when you look at the whole cycle of production and so on, no car can be called green because no manufacturer can support that claim.

And I have an added the Car Free web page to the blogroll, which has all sorts of ideas how we can reduce our automobile addiction.

Written by Stephen Rees

November 19, 2007 at 2:28 pm

Ethanol “bust”

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I have expressed my doubts about ethanol as a transportation fuel here several times.

But now Bloomberg reports that recent sudden increase in capacity to make the stuff has resulted in oversupply. If you can’t make money with an alt fuel when oil is around $100 a barrel, then the writing is most definitely on the wall. As also noted here, the environmental benefits of corn based ethanol have been greatly overestimated. It has always been a way to win votes in the farm belt – a classic “pork barrel” program for rural areas – just like prisons and highways.

It will take a while, and I expect that Bush will stick to the program, but I anticipate that this will send distillers looking for cheaper feed stocks, and hopefully non-food sources. It would also be nice if Ottawa decided on the basis of this report that it’s decision to mandate ethanol blended fuel now looks rather silly, since it is obvious that emissions of greenhouse gases are not necessarily reduced by biofuels: there has to be a careful lifecycle analysis. Which, as usual, the ethanol lobbyists have never been all that keen on – for obvious reasons.

Alternative fuels of all kinds are simply ways for us to keep driving our cars the way we do now.  Politicians like them as they look like easier options, especially fuels that can be delivered through existing gas stations. But we have to face up to a new reality that requires significant changes in both our transport infrastructure and our land use. We have known about this need for many years, just from looking at the health impact on society of car use, as well as its many environmental impacts. But we have been in a collective state of denial about transit and urban density. There are still lots of votes in suburbia – and they want to keep their “comfortable” lifestyle – no matter that it is killing us and our planet. But our politicians must stop catering to this obsession. We must stop supporting and promoting car culture, and look for ways to make our society more sustainable – because suburbia isn’t.

That means making places where walking is the most obvious option for short trips. Where cycling is safe and fun for everyone – not just a strange aberration for the greenies in spandex. Where transit use is actually practical and attractive – not an  obstacle course – slow, uncomfortable and inconvenient. There is no place for a bigger freeway in this future.

Written by Stephen Rees

November 19, 2007 at 11:31 am