A Sustainable World

A Sustainable World…………..well, nobody said it would be easy!!!

Last week was not a good week in the UK for those who have a belief and a passion that we can genuinely move towards the delivery of a global society living on a sustainable planet Earth.

At the start of the week, we had newspaper column inches devoted to the 25th anniversary of the M25 London Orbital, called the largest car-park in the world in one breath and “how could we ever have done without it” in the next. It’s interesting (and challenging) that there still exists such a dichotomy in the expressed viewpoints of “congestion and gridlock” and “lets build more capacity”. For transport professionals grappling with these issues and opinions, and being kidnapped by the political interference in stable long-term planning, it can be a very disheartening experience on top of the day-to-day pressures of economic survival.

So, we weren’t entirely cheered up later in the week by the news that “the greenest government ever in the UK” is not going to deliver on that one. It is quite astonishing that this “headline” managed to slip under the media radar in most quarters, since it is nothing short of a national disgrace and shameful to those responsible that they can dismiss the longer-term needs of our children in favour of short-term expediency for their own gain. This will be an ongoing battle in our coalition but I fear that its importance will not be recognised in time to make the right calls.

And then to round the week off we learned that the planet’s population had reached the 7 billion people milestone. Media coverage was all about when we will reach 8 billion, then 9 billion as if this was some further glorious target for man to achieve in the interests of growth and the economic success that this brings.

…………but will it? Is this an opportune time to stop and reflect?

Some readers may have come across Jevons paradox.

In economics, the Jevons paradox (sometimes Jevons effect) suggests that technological progress that increases the efficiency with which a resource is used, tends to increase (rather than decrease) the rate of consumption of that resource. In 1865, the English economist William Stanley Jevons observed that technological improvements that increased the efficiency of coal-use led to the increased consumption of coal. He argued that, contrary to common intuition, technological improvements could not be relied upon to reduce fuel consumption.

The issue has more recently been reexamined by modern economists studying consumption rebound effects from improved energy efficiency. The Jevons paradox occurs when the effect from increased demand predominates, causing an increase in overall resource use; reflected in UK transport by the increased demand arising from providing increased capacity….under a terminology of “induced traffic”.

The bigger challenge here from a sustainability perspective is that the Jevons paradox has been used to argue that energy conservation is futile, as increased efficiency may actually increase fuel use. Nevertheless, increased efficiency can improve material living standards. Further, fuel use declines if increased efficiency is coupled with a green tax that keeps the cost of use the same (or higher).

Maybe there’s an interesting sustainability message here from a transport perspective; efficiencies increase demand and that increase in demand may not always be good for the planet’s future unless we pay the appropriate costs.
So the challenge for us as professionals is to understand the macro effects of global change and ensure that local measures are aligned appropriately.

To date, the evidence suggests we have failed………….can we change that? Can we afford not to?

Experience suggests that we will not succeed in “designing” a solution; a catastrophe will occur and the world will respond…………..that’s how it’s always been. But that’s not a reason for not trying!!