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Getting my head around green issues

10 November 2021

What does it all mean? Are you confused? 

People are pretty confused about how they can act on green or sustainability issues generally.  

Our recent report on sustainability highlighted this confusion. Recycling makes sense and people try to do that. But otherwise, it’s pretty tricky and transport is especially bewildering. Changing how they travel doesn’t immediately come into people’s minds and many feel they lack viable alternatives. 

Why worry about walking to the shops rather than driving when other countries in the world do not seem to be playing their part in moving to net zero? 

Why worry about cycling when planes are soaring overhead spewing out fumes? Yes, think global and act local but it all feels difficult. It does not feel like we are all in it together. 

Add in the tribalism and politics that also fracture these debates and mapping a way forward feels difficult. But, if possible, we need to work out how Transport Focus can make a difference. 

Confession 

I admit it. Until about a year ago I didn’t think much about green transport issues. I didn’t know very much about some of the debates, issues or the science. As an organisation we have concentrated on the core of improving bus and rail services as well as on the English Strategic Road Network – in line with our legal remit.  Also, when we have asked transport users in the past about their priorities, the environment hasn’t been one. 

Personally, I use a car: a sixteen-year-old Nissan Almera petrol automatic with a rather fetching fading, peeling red paintwork. Does the job. At one point last summer had five people in, luggage and three bikes on a rack. It works every time you turn the key. We will probably run it into the ground and then think again about whether we need to own a car. 

Beyond that I cycle around London a lot and use my Oyster 60+ free-ish (well £10 a year renewal fee) pass. Throw in a Senior Railcard and I feel like I have choices. We try to use public transport when we can. But when value and convenience are added into the mix, taking the car feels like a better choice. 

We went down to Ramsgate a few weekends ago. Usual problem. We know exactly which train we would take there but not when we wanted to come back. So, you need to buy a SouthEastern ‘Weekender’ ticket. Not bad value but even with a railcard it was £60 for two versus about £15 for the petrol max. So we went in the car – the journey time was about the same. 

Like everyone else you calculate the petrol vs public transport cost – not the whole cost of owning the car. Those costs have already gone. The cost disparity of different forms of transport is alluded to in the Transport Decarbonisation Plan – much more thinking is needed. 

Action!? 

What could I – we – do more or less of?  

The only simple, memorable set of actions which sank in with me come from the excellent Chris Stark, chief executive of the Government’s Climate Change Committee. He said the three main things you can do to help save the planet are: 

  • fly less 
  • change your diet (less red meat and dairy) 
  • buy fewer new clothes. 

Well, Covid helped with less flying. My diet has changed. I now eat red meat as a treat. More chicken on the menu. Much less fish. Buying second-hand clothes has never been easier – charity shops are now the new High Street. My kids buy and sell second-hand clothes online the whole time to have a varied wardrobe. 

Note Mr Stark said, ‘less’ not ‘stop’. A much more practical and politically palatable set of choices. But not a ‘carry on it’s all fine’ message – a bit tougher! 

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