Mike Robinson, Chief Executive, the Royal Scottish Geographical Society
© John Yellowlees, 2011
Climate change is the accidental consequence of acting unsustainably, and the fossil fuels which power our societies are also condemning them to death. History is cock-up not conspiracy, and human civilisations probably never were sustainable, always collapsing and giving way to their successors.
Travel is the most interesting climate change issue because it is about bringing people with you. Changing transport behaviour is difficult but everyone can play their part : and the Royal Scottish Geographical Society has the opportunity to influence the behaviour of its members, many of whom are enthusiasts for travel.
The real price of petrol includes overreliance on unstable dictatorships, the cost of buying and defending supplies, safety, fuel efficiency, congestion and stress. He who travels softly travels safely, and he who travels safely travels far. Travellers should learn to celebrate the getting there, and we can reduce our environmental impact by going less often or flying only when there is no alternative.
Transport is one-quarter of greenhouse gas emissions, and people need to be reminded as to the potential for convenience and enjoyment in travel. Mike is trying to get Business 2020 to buy into an awareness that driving is not a quality experience, with the impact of congestion often underestimated. The Government are committed to complete road and rail decarbonisation by 2050, yet aviation has been exempted and on current rates of growth will exceed the entire UK carbon budget by 2030.
The recent Scotsman experiment had shown the extraneous costs of flying and the more enjoyable experience by rail, where the Sleeper offered an incomparable experience. It was riduculous that 80-90% of Scottish flights were to and from London, and Mike's experience going by train to a meeting at Schiphol had been that rail took a little longer but was more productive. Travel had offered him his only quality time to tackle paperwork, which was building up now that he no longer commuted to Edinburgh - living within five miles of work, he had sold the second car and now cycled or took taxis, finding it impossible to spend the £7800 on them that the RAC said it cost to run a car. Where long journeys involved time spent awaiting connections, one could plan to make these enjoyable by building a meal or shopping into one's schedule.
The simplest, cheapest and most-effective way to save energy, reduce pollution and improve safety would be to reduce speed limits. Steps in the right direction are what is needed to improve quality of life, social interaction and the value of travel. Mike is trying to capture case studies that will influence travel behaviour. Governments need something to get their teeth into, and people fear behaviour change more than they do climate change.
The Scottish Region thanks the RSGS for hosting the meeting.
Report by John Yellowlees
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