Transport, air travel and the environment
Our choices of where to travel and the means of transport to adopt have a big influence on energy use, the environment and climate change. Smart and responsible choices contribute to our care for God’s Creation.
This includes our daily journeys to work, to church, for recreation; and also to long distance travel on business or on holiday.
Travelling to Church
Church members are encouraged to plan how they travel with the environment in mind.
We encourage walking or cycling (safely and responsibly) where possible, or taking public transport, or sharing cars and seats (when car use is essential).
Traffic and emissions
Air pollution is a hidden killer of thousands each year. Until the coronavirus crisis, traffic fumes were a dominant cause in London – and most not be allowed to become that again. Any shift to car use while easing the lockdown, other than to electric cars, needs to be very temporary and short-term.
Traffic fumes include particulates (small particles of grit), and nitrous oxide which also adds to the greenhouse gases which cause global warming.
The soot in diesel exhaust also adds to global heating. Nevertheless, diesel was promoted in the late 2000s, as on balance diesel engines emit less greenhouse gas than petrol engines. But it is now clear that the effect of diesel on local air quality has been worse (and far worse than electric cars obviously). This causes more immediate harm than climate change – even if that may turn out even more dreadful in the long term.
New diesel engines were said to be rapidly improving, but there are doubts about whether test results can be trusted. The fixing of emissions tests by at least one car manufacturer has made the situation far worse.
Those most exposed to traffic fumes belong to socio-economic groups gaining least advantage from vehicle use. We now know for certain that traffic fumes kill, and are a particular threat to children.
London’s Ultra Low Emissions Zone (ULEZ) controls tailpipe emissions from most vehicles, including motorcycles, cars, vans and lorries (but not taxis).
A viable and sufficient nationwide policy and plan to reduce air pollution to within legal limits has so far eluded the UK government. The effects of coronavirus seemed to offer a golden chance to start afresh – but may have made the problem even worse by drawing people away from public transport.
Due to the air pollution referred to, the major routes in London have suffered from poor air quality. This may now become less of an issue, as streetscapes are re-designed to constrain traffic and advantage safe walking and cycle.
That’s so long as the narrowing of carriageways does not increase congestion and thereby reduce fuel efficiency and exacerbate pollution and carbon emissions.
Pedestrian safety from vehicles and to some extent bicycles is also a major concern. It makes sense to plan our personal routes through quieter streets (except perhaps at night unless in very safe areas).
Even a quiet residential area can suffer from surprisingly high levels of pollutants.
Domestic wood burning stoves also contribute to poor air quality. Your wood burning stove must either be on the local authority’s approved list, or else you must be burning an exempt smokeless fuel.
Cycling is to be encouraged both on environmental and health grounds (although cyclists are also exposed to poor air quality).
Accidents to cyclists, including a significant number of tragic deaths, are notorious. The new cycling super-highways are intended to reduce accidents.
New regulations for lorry design should help considerably. Banning lorries during peak hours has also been suggested.
The Tube remains the best public transport option in London from the point of view of carbon emissions.
Let’s hope that we can return fully to the Tube and buses once Covid-19 is brought under control.
Cars and buses
Alternatives to the internal combustion engine are getting more viable (and save on the Congestion Charge).
Hybrid cars are familiar, though their life-cycle emissions – manufacture and importation – are controversial.
It is now clear that electric cars out-perform petrol or diesel cars, both in terms of local air quality and in reducing the contribution to climate change. That’s even after including emissions from manufacture, delivery and marketing.
Most electric cars run on lithium-ion batteries. Battery technology is improving. Though resources are scarce, and accessing them requires more mining.
Electric cars have the huge benefit of eliminating exhaust fumes entirely. However they do still produce some particulates.
Their range is increasing, and potentially easier to take advantage of by booking a rapid charging point at the destination, e.g. using a smartphone app. The network of charging points still needs to be greatly increased in order to ensure viability. In order to contribute the most to tackling climate change, the charging point needs to use renewable electricity.
Hydrogen fuel-celled cars are starting to appear. Before the 2015 Paris climate talks, Sky News organised a London to Paris race between a Hyundai hydrogen car and Nissan electric. The hydrogen car got there first because an electric charging point failed on the way.
Buses are improving, on the whole. Hybrid electric and hydrogen buses are appearing on London’s streets – though the latter technology has some way to go.
The ‘New Routemaster’ bus (sometimes known as the ‘Borisbus’), was intended to achieve 11.6mpg and 640g CO2 /km. Sadly it has not delivered what was promised, due to problems with the batteries and the air conditioning. New types are gradually replacing it.
‘Personal mobility solutions’
Although now almost ubiquitous in the street – most dangerously on pavements – for the time being privately-owned electric scooters are not permitted to be used except on private land, with the landowner’s permission. Rental e-scooters are permitted under officially sanctioned trials. It is however perfectly legal to own an e-scooter, just not normally legal to ride on it!
The carbon impact of e-scooters is currently unclear. They may be far less environmentally friendly than is generally assumed.
To summarise, from worst to best, aeroplanes and ships, cars, buses, rail and tube, cycling and walking rank in that order as far as emissions are concerned.
Even without the restrictions imposed due to coronavirus, and even more in the future, we should think at least twice or three times before jetting off to our foreign holidays.
The more we fly, the more greenhouse gas we produce which add to climate change, and the more our airports want to expand.
The Diocese of London opposes the expansion of Heathrow airport with a new third runway.
Ultra Low Emissions Zone (ULEZ).
Environment and Sustainability, front page.