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Transport, air travel and the environment

This page offers thoughts on how to travel and get around sustainably. It applies to 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. Traffic fumes are a dominant cause in London.

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 warming. Nevertheless, diesel was promoted 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 are 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.

London’s Ultra Low Emissions Zone (ULEZ) controls tailpipe emissions from most vehicles, including motorcycles, cars, vans and lorries (but sadly 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.


Due to the air pollution referred to, the major routes in London suffer from poor air quality.

Pedestrian safety from vehicles and to some extent bicycles is also a major issue. It makes sense to plan our route 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 are also thought to be a factor. 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 Underground

The Tube remains the best public transport option in London from the point of view of carbon emissions.

Cars and buses

Electric cars

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.

Most electric cars run on lithium-ion batteries. Battery technology is improving.

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. In order to contribute to tackling climate change, the charging point needs to use renewable electricity. The benefit is still reduced by the emissions from manufacture and delivery of the vehicle.

To assess whether an electric vehicle is better than a petrol driven car, you should compare it with the mileage which would otherwise have to be by car – not with journeys that could be by public transport, cycling or walking.


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 being trialled on London’s streets – though the latter technology has some way to go.

Two routes are now planned to go fully electric with a fleet of new buses.

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 appearing on the streets instead.


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.

Air travel

We should think at least twice 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.

See air travel and the environment.

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