Thursday, January 24, 2008

Sustainable Automobile Transport: Book Review

Sustainable Automobile Transport (SAT) is a good title for a recent book by, Lisa Ryan and Hal Turton, on motorised transport. The title is appropriate as it stretches the idea of sustainability beyond its sensible definition, reflecting a major flaw in the book. The aim implied by the subtitle 'Shaping Climate Change Policy' is inevitably damaged by this basic mismatch between more sustainable technology and real sustainability. In it's most elementary form sustainability is the ability to continue without coming up against the physical limits of a system. Being 'more sustainable' in the context of carbon emissions is just taking a more gradual path towards destabilisation of the climate. I was left with the feeling that i hadn't seen a real path towards sustainability, the real conclusion to be drawn is that automobile transportation is an inherently unsustainable sector and that a more holistic approach that includes mass transit, planning and public education is required. SAT therefore fails in it's main objective but actually offers a very good guide to the more humble task of guiding us towards the most effective policies and combinations thereof to reduce the climatic impact of this highly significant sector.

SAT first shows signs of bulking at the scale of the problem we face in the introduction where it states that “Long-term environmental stress is mitigated significantly. In particular, carbon emissions at the end of the are approximately at or bellow today's levels”. Considering that conservative estimates suggest a 60% reduction in GHG emissions globally by 2050 is required a stabilisation of emissions from the transport sector isn't relevant to climate policy. The focus on a horizon going out to 2100 is also insufficiently urgent, climate scientists tell us that the next 20-50 years is the key challenge. It is inconceivable for this reader to contemplate discussion of long term energy scenarios without explicit reference to carbon budgets resultant globa l temperature changes.

I felt that SAT did far better at covering the details of taxes and charges currently levied on drivers. Comparing national policies is often fascinating, in the case of cars the German Eco-Tax was a fascinating instrument which i hadn't heard of before. This tax levied on gas, petrol, diesel, electricity and heating oil, increasing incentives for efficiency, and was given back to society as reduced pension contributions. It has been said before that Detroit is struggling under the weight of health and pansion contributions perhaps a similar deal would work in the US? In fact a whole range of interesting schemes where discussed, from mid-stream emissions trading where car companies are given responsibility for emissions and therefore a motive to reduce emissions, to local congestion charges and raising parking prices.

A good part of this book was devoted to technological development of automobiles but i was personally unconvinced by the projections. I am more concerned by the negative potential of biofuels and more optimistic on the potential of battery powered cars the the authors.

In conclusion, i feel that SAT is a useful book for those working on policies for automobile management, either working for government or for NGO's. For people generally interested in the transport sector and solving it's climate change related issues i would recommend a book taking a inter-modal approach. I also offer words of caution to those who would use this book as a guide to the future of automobile development, this is all rather uncertain at present.


Hardcover: 304 pages
Publisher: Edward Elgar Pub (December 7, 2007)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1847204511
ISBN-13: 978-1847204516

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At 1:09 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Cars could be enhanced to not pollute at all, but the problems of traffic congestion, road toll, obesity and social polarisation will continue to exacerbate as a direct result of pro-road policies. Let's put public transport ahead of spatially inefficient and erosive forms of transport - ie the car.


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