Friday, 19 December 2008

A letter to my daughter

This was written in response to a series of text messages from one of my daughters - who is currently in Australia.


It seems pretty certain that in the short to medium term we are going to run out of oil - quite simply they aren't making it anymore. Along side this, petrol cars are a temporary madness that the human race has allowed itself to indulge in. Similarly, mass international air transport - it is pretty obvious that it won't be affordable in say 30 years time (maybe not even in 10). A sensible policy would be to promote local living, production and mass public transport. This could be done by:
  • escalating fuel prices - in fact this was UK government policy, but they bottled it.
  • congestion charging - working in London, messed up in Manchester (they asked the turkeys to vote for Christmas) - this seems to work for city centres, but is unpopular.
  • road pricing - either satellite or some other - this could be flexible but would mainly be used to move journey times, though it might reduce some journeys.
  • lots of cheap public transport - this is very effective in reducing use of private cars, working with congestion charging and road pricing in general.
There are lots of reasons for taxing fuel, and different countries have made their own decisions. Where the government places its tax burden is a local decision, and looking at one measure will probably miss the point. I rather like the Big Mac Index for comparing countries.

I guess you won't like what I said about cars and planes, but you may not realise how new these phenomena are. We have seen air passenger numbers in the UK quadrupling between 1978 and 1999 - they are higher now, and were zero in 1904. Similarly for the number of cars on the roads, increasing by 11 percent in the UK over the period 1998 to 2002. That is about 3% a year - or doubling every 24 years...

This is just not sustainable even for the wealthy countries - but just think about what will happen if the growing economies (China and India for example) try to emulate our so called success! The Europe and North America combined have roughly the same population as either of these potential giants, so that would mean a tripling in the use of our resources. We world doesn't have that sort of resources.

The post-carbon future that you will see in your life time will be wildly other. If the governments manage to adopt sensible solutions, then it may look something like this...
  • many more people working on growing food - both within the cities, and in new greener communities in the countryside, from which people are bussed out to work.
  • public transport being much more available, even to the more rural communities.
  • electric cars being available for hire when you need personal transport.
  • intercontinental travel being a rare event, trains and coach networks will cover the countries and continents.
If they don't adopt these solutions then it will be infinitely more unpleasant and I apologise to you for not having done more to make our elected leaders behave responsibly.

1 comment:

  1. It changed the way I looked at things, very informative!

    Thanks Dad