Greening how we travel is essential to tackling climate change as transportation accounts for 16% of our total emissions. Running a car, for example, is one of the most environmentally damaging things we can do. So what does the future likely hold for transport?
Lack of activity due to COVID-19 reduced carbon emissions globally by 7%. A lot of that was a pause in industrial activity, but not an insignificant amount was due to a reduced number of trips being made on land, water and in the sky. Cities were quieter and less polluted, and we got a glimpse into what a greener future might look like.
Indeed, a recent study found that the most effective way to reduce your personal carbon emissions is to go car-free. By doing so you will remove 2.04 tonnes of CO2 emissions from your personal account (the global average needs to be 3 tonnes per person, it’s currently ~4.8 tonnes, the average American emits 16 tonnes).
But greening transport is easier said than done, so how will we achieve it?
Are electric cars/vans/trucks the answer?
Last week Elon Musk announced that his car company, Tesla, is three years away from improving their battery technology in order to make their electric cars better and more affordable—a critical step to becoming the norm. He also revealed plans for a new electric truck. Electric cars and hybrids have been around for a while, but Tesla made them cool and quickly became a household name.
Despite the hype, electric cars are still very much the minority, ~1%, and every year more and more regular cars are added to the roads. Having said that, some authorities, such as California, are banning the sale of diesel or petrol cars in favour of hybrids and full electrics.
Tesla Model 3
It's true that from an emissions perspective, over their lifespans, electric vehicles produce fewer emissions and don’t pump them directly into people’s faces. However, as The Guardian’s George Monbiot points out, this is only addressing part of the problem. Electric cars still produce emissions from their production (especially the batteries), tyres, and, until the green energy revolution is complete, electricity production too.
For these reasons, it’s still better to do away with personal vehicles altogether and switch to either walking, cycling or public transport. Admittedly this is much easier if you live in a town or city with easy access to everything, although that is the way most of us are headed.
Shipping is going back to the old school
Land transport is heading electric, but how about on the water? Globally, shipping contributes to 3% carbon emissions and 30% nitrous oxide, which is why we climate compensate all our shipping. If you like to go on cruises we have bad news as the emissions from cruise ships are just as bad, if not worse, than flying. Of course, back in ye olden times, ships harnessed the power of the wind and it’s an amazing feeling to be carried along by a ship under full sail.
Now it appears that shipping might be returning to its roots as a Swedish company (go Sweden!) is building a 200m cargo ship capable of transporting 7,000 cars across the Atlantic.
wind Powered Car Carrier
Can air travel go green?
We all saw how Greta Thunberg sailed across the Atlantic last year instead of flying and, in an ideal world, we could all have this amazing experience too. Unfortunately, most of us who fly take to the skies because it’s quick and cost efficient. But the lovely weekend break has a cost that’s transferred to the environment. Flying releases large quantities of CO2 and nitrous oxide, as well as water vapour and particulates that also contribute to warming. One transatlantic flight adds 1.68 tonnes of carbon to your personal account.
So can air travel go eco as well? Last year the first commercial electric flight took place over Vancouver in a six seater seaplane called Harbour Air ePlane. It’s only capable of carrying six passengers over short distances but still marked a significant milestone for the aviation industry. However, one of the challenges for electric planes over long distances will be battery efficiency, as batteries get real heavy real fast!
No flights to nowhere
Not gonna lie, we did a small collective sob when we saw in the news that airlines in Brunei, Taiwan, Japan and Australia are actually chartering ‘flights to nowhere’ aimed at customers who are missing the novelty of air travel (they’ve sold out!). We’re not into green shaming but this pointless trip, burning tonnes of jet fuel needlessly, is difficult to justify, so we’re just going to come out and say “please don’t do it!”
Be like Keanu
Obviously cycling and walking are the greenest, and we would argue the most pleasant, ways to travel. From there it gets a little tricky. This is difficult because a number of factors come into play such as the age and engine type of the vehicle and how many people are on it. For example, a trip by Eurostar is much more efficient than a train journey in Poland and travelling long distances by car can be more GHG efficient than flying if the car is full.
The best way most of us can do is keep car trips to a minimum, try and buy local to avoid shipping, and fly only when we really need to. Apparently, despite being a wealthy actor, Keanu Reeves still rides the public subway. Be like Keanu!
We hope you found this fun and informative. If you have any questions or fun ideas about this (or anything really) feel free to get in touch with Emilia Cullborg, Editor and Head of Communication & Community Outreach.