Away with All Cars?
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I didn't buy a car this week - not even an electric. The Commonwealth research organisation suggests the age of the car is coming to an end. How will that work? I didn't eat red meat this week which is just as well because both George Monbiot and Mark Lynas say I shouldn't. But what does the IPCC tell us? Can the four-day week or the four-hour-day become a reality? And I don’t know about straws in the wind, but there are still far too many straws in landfill at the moment.
No New Car
We had a test drive in another electric car. It was the Hyundai ioniq. It was very nice, very smooth, with all the latest safety features like lane departure warning, adaptive cruise control and the things you take for granted these days like air-con, sat-nav and digital audio. It was nearly silent, emissions-free of course and very comfortable. I wanted it. I could afford it. But did I need it?
“What can I do now to make you buy today? asked the sales manager. “Nothing,” I replied. We'd already agreed, my wife and I, that having kept the present car for 14 years we were not going to make a snap decision. “We’ll make a decision by the end of the week,” I said. That was Wednesday and by the following Wednesday the salesman still hadn’t bothered to follow up. I didn’t phone him. The thing is, as much as I’d like a new car, especially an electric one, like the average car in Europe it will sit unused for 95% of the time. I’ve got better things to do with £25,000 than that. We already have two cars, which dates from the time when my wife and I were both doing contract work at opposite ends of the United Kingdom. We now have the electric Smart car and my 14-year-old Toyota Prius for longer journeys. Given that the Prius runs like it did when it was new and according to the salesman it’s only worth £750 doesn’t it make sense to keep it indefinitely?
We heard that Jaguar has announced that it's going to retool its production line to manufacture electric cars. Is this really the future? Its current electric car, the Jaguar iPace, starts at £64,000 so it's not for everyone. Are we all going to sit in electric powered traffic jams instead of petrol ones? Isn't it time to think hard about what cars are for, about why we are making journeys and whether cars are the best way of meeting our transport requirements? We need to decarbonise and to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050 says the government. We're not going to achieve that by restricting the sales of fossil fuels cars from 2040. On average many of those cars will still be on the road in 2050. In fact 2050 is almost certainly far too late for zero carbon, and while electrifying the transport fleet would go a long way towards zero carbon it's not practical for a number of reasons.
32m EVs in 10 years
There are 32 million cars in the UK. If we wanted to replace the fleet with electric cars by 2030 we would have to register one new electric vehicle every 10 seconds from now on. We’d have to scrap a car every 10 seconds as well. We currently register a new car every 13 seconds, but will there be enough electric cars?
And then there are the practicalities of owning an electric car, and the main one is charging. Just assuming we can generate enough electricity to power the nation’s fleet, and that it will be green electricity, the difficulty is getting that power into the cars given that a very high proportion of them are parked in the street.
It's being reported that's the British government is looking at the installation of a wireless charging system working by magnetic induction. A consortium led by Renault has developed a stretch of road to test the technology’s capability. The 100-metre test track was said to be capable of a charge up to 20 kilowatts at speeds up to, and in excess of, 62 miles per hour (100kmh). At that speed the car will pass over the charger in just 3.6 seconds, and any charge received must be negligible. Let’s suppose then that the car travels at 50kph and the charger is extended to 2.5km. The car would take 180 seconds or 3 minutes to pass over it and could pick up 1kWh from a 20kW charger, assuming perfect efficiency. Depending on the model, that would be enough to drive the car for about 8km, less the 2.5km driven during the charging process. Not much! And if 20 cars drive along this charging route and all use it at the same time the total load is going to be 400kW. In slow or stationery traffic the load will be significantly higher because more cars can fit into the charging space. I’ve heard, and please let me know if you know better, that wireless charging is only about 60% efficient. That may not be a problem when you’re just charging your phone, but if you’re charging the UK’s transport fleet that way it could involve a vast waste of energy.
I’ve reported in the past about a system in Sweden which uses rails set in the road, and the car receives a charge through pick-ups which contact the rails directly. Apparently they retract if you swing out to overtake something. Clever! Direct contact is likely to be more efficient than wireless charging, but I wonder how it works in the wet, and whether it’s totally safe for cyclists and pedestrians.
BMW and other manufacturers are taking a different approach. They are developing the IONITY network, which has 100 charging stations across Europe delivering up to 350kW. At that rate a car can be recharged in under 10 minutes. If you can recharge that quickly you don’t need a charger in the street outside your house any more than you need a filling station next door for your petrol car. There are two problems with this, at least in the UK. One is that there is only one IONITY station in the UK at the moment. The other is that there are no cars currently available which are capable of receiving a charge at 350kW. When they arrive, an important question will be how well the batteries stand up to repeated high-power charging.
Of course, to deliver this level of power to the charging stations will require industrial levels of electricity supply. Whether the chosen solution is induction, rails or superchargers there will be significant investment needed in infrastructure between the power station and the point of use. Events this week when a million people lost power across the UK and several London rail terminals were closed down for the rest of the day showed that the infrastructure is not as resilient as we might like, even at current levels of demand.
Shifting the Focus - Energy Demand
‘Shifting the focus: energy demand in a net-zero carbon UK’, was published by the Centre for Research into Energy Demand Solutions (CREDS) – an organisation made up of more than 80 academics across the UK.
“UK policy with respect to energy demand tends to focus on the benefits of lower carbon emissions and lower bills for energy users, often using the latter as an argument for minimal intervention. Reduced demand, improved energy efficiency, greater flexibility and decarbonised fuels have a much wider range of benefits, notably for health and employment. Addressing energy demand is generally more likely to promote sustainable development than increasing energy supply. As importantly, recognising all the benefits is more likely to motivate action. We recommend that all the benefits of demand-side solutions are considered in developing and promoting policy.”
“…policy instruments that were well-designed and effective have been modified, or much reduced in scale. This has significantly reduced the effectiveness of UK energy policy. We recommend greater consistency in demand side policymaking and, in particular, scaling up policies that have been shown to work.”
That’s telling you.
The authors emphasise that a transformation in the way that energy is used needs to be led by Government, but cannot be delivered by Government alone. All stakeholders need to be involved.
Chilling News from Asda
Today’s newspaper has an article about supermarket Asda which has come to an agreement with National Grid to switch off its freezers and chillers at times of peak demand in order to reduce the load on the network. It’s headlined as a “giant battery” but of course it’s not that at all. It doesn’t feed anything into the grid, it just stops taking it out at agreed times. The difference is expected to be 13MW, and if Tesco did a similar deal that could apparently add as much as another 50MW. I’m amazed that deals like this weren’t thought of long ago.
On your (e-) bike
Going back to the CREDS report, Cycling Weekly is delighted to see that the authors recommend bicycles, electric bicycles and e-scooters, but The Bicycle Association, backed up with research from consultancy Transport for Quality of Life, goes further. It shows that the cost of saving a kilogram of CO2 via schemes to boost e-bikes is less than half the cost of existing grants for electric cars – and at a cost per purchase of less than one tenth of the grant for electric cars.
The Bicycle Association believes that e-bikes should be a top priority for urgent Government support, saying that half of all e-bike trips replace journeys that would have otherwise been made by car.
It also points out that e-bikes don’t require infrastructure changes such as electric charging points, though it has been shown that improved provision such as segregated bicycles lanes does increase cycling volume.
CREDS is sceptical of the government’s ULEV (Ultra Low Emission Vehicle) standards as for the moment they still favour hybrids. In fact, throughout the report CREDS is concerned with inconsistencies between government policy, ministerial strategy and Committee for Climate Change recommendations.
Do we need cars?
But do we need cars? One way to cut energy demand is to use fewer cars. In fact graphs in the report show that car use is declining in all age groups, except the over sixties. The availability of public transport and dedicated cycle-ways are essential to getting people out of their cars. Or maybe we need cars but we don’t need to own them.
The Age of the Robotaxi….
Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla, is reported as saying that he will have a fleet of one million robotaxis on the road in 2020. That’s next year. Why own a car if you can dial one up on your phone and you don’t have the cost of a driver? Sounds too good to be true.
Geoffrey James writing in Inc. magazine certainly thinks it is too good to be true. He quotes rival manufacturers as saying that such autonomy is at least 10 years off. He reminds us that aircraft have been using autopilot for years, the skies are far less crowded than the average street and yet every aircraft has a human pilot. Musk’s claim is apparently based on technology. All self-driving cars use LIDAR - Light Detection and Ranging - with cameras mounted on the car. Tesla may or may not use LIDAR, I don’t know, but the difference is big data. Cameras on every one of the cars shipped by Tesla have been feeding back data to Tesla HQ since the very first car was delivered. Tesla therefore has a data archive superior to anything any of its competitors might have on which to build its self-drive software.
So will we see a million robotaxis next year? Tesla is currently producing cars at the rate of about 350,000 per year. It’s difficult to see where that million will come from.
Changing the system
Commonwealth.co.uk is a research organisation which seems to be exploring the type of system change which XR is seeking. (I have no idea whether these organisations are connected.) Commonwealth’s new report, “Away with all cars” is pretty clear about its conclusions.
“Unless we radically decarbonise our transport system, we cannot build a just post-carbon society. But rapid decarbonisation won't be achieved without re-imagining how we move and connect. The future will be different.”
“To get onto an emissions pathway consistent with our commitments under the Paris Agreement, it is estimated that the UK will need to see a reduction in overall traffic volumes of between 20% and 60% by 2030, depending on how fast we can switch to EVs.  That is a lot of traffic to lose. Yet the DfT’s Road to Zero strategy for decarbonising transport contains no measures to reduce traffic growth. Instead, the government projects that traffic will increase by up to 50% by 2050, and plans to spend £30bn of public money between 2020-2025 on road building to facilitate this Car traffic is known to expand to fill whatever space is given to it; the DfT’s own assessments show that these schemes ultimately worsen traffic jams, rather than alleviating them.”
The report is strongly focused on London, although it draws conclusions for the wider UK.
“…London is [also] the only region of the UK with a long term trend of declining traffic. There are two underlying reasons for this. First, London receives far higher per capita spending on transport infrastructure than any other region. Second, London’s public transport system remains under democratic ownership and control via its transport authority, Transport for London (TfL).
“When bus services were deregulated in the rest of England in the 1980s, London was unique in retaining its ability to strategically plan and manage bus routes and fares, deciding when, where and how frequently to run the services. Since then, bus use in the capital has risen by 52% while it has declined in other English cities by 40%. TfL mandates that a single bus fare in London today costs £1.50. In Manchester, there are 47 competing private bus companies, and a single fare in some of the most disadvantaged areas can cost £4.40.”
The study points out that as long as private cars are permitted in London there will be congestion, with delays to buses, emergency vehicles and everybody else. At least until every vehicle is electric, air quality will remain dangerously poor.
A view from 2030
Commonwealth paints a scenario for 2030 where cars are all but eliminated from London. People can walk or use free buses. There will be a small charge for a much extended tram network or for the underground. Taxis will be widely available, as will e-bikes and e-scooters. There will be ride-sharing buses and auto-rickshaws. School buses will take the kids to school and then take people from the suburbs into town. There will be cleaner air, safe streets for cycling and some of the 50km2 currently used for carparks - some of the most expensive real estate in the world - will be converted into leisure parks and community areas. And then it can all be rolled out to the provinces. Interesting ideas and I recommend you read the full report which is only 3 or 4 pages. Find it via the blog.
Of course whether it will ever happen depends on government action. I leave you to make up your own mind on whether the present UK government has the foresight, desire or competence to carry out such a project.
One question we haven’t addressed is why people travel. Quite a lot of travel is commuting, but aren’t we warned that AI is going to take our jobs away? Not everyone can work from home, of course, but some organisations are promoting a 4-day working week and a best-selling book in the US suggests a 4-hour working week is possible. (It isn’t.) Even so, car use is declining among most age groups and will decline rapidly if the public transport infrastructure described above covers the whole country.
For the moment though, the car industry seems to be relying on business as usual and the government is planning for road traffic to increase by 50% by 2050.
The Meat of the Matter
One thing that can't be ignored is the IPCC Special Report published this week on Climate Change and Land.
“Land provides the principal basis for human livelihoods and well-being including the supply of food, freshwater and multiple other ecosystem services, as well as biodiversity. Human use directly affects more than 70% (likely 69-76%) of the global, ice- free land surface (high confidence). Land also plays an important role in the climate system.”
Diversification in the food system (e.g., implementation of integrated production systems, broad-based genetic resources, and diets) can reduce risks from climate change. Balanced diets, featuring plant-based foods, such as those based on coarse grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, and animal-sourced food produced in resilient, sustainable and low-GHG emission systems, present major opportunities for adaptation and mitigation while generating significant co-benefits in terms of human health.
…options include better grazing land management, improved manure management, higher-quality feed, and use of breeds and genetic improvement. Different farming and pastoral systems can achieve reductions in the emissions intensity of livestock products.
The report has led to a host of headlines mostly about food, although it actually covers a much wider range of issues.
“In exhorting us not to eat meat, green preachers place morality over reason” - says the Telegraph. Charles Moore correctly points out that the report does not suggest that we should all go vegetarian or vegan, so he is criticising those who say we should.
Both the journal Nature “Eat less meat: UN climate-change report calls for change to human diet” and Time magazine, “How Eating Less Meat Could Help Protect the Planet From Climate Change” get the point, but the Financial Express says, “Turning vegetarian could help fight global warming.”
Two well-respected environmental writers - probably the people Charles Moore is complaining about in TheTelegraph - roundly criticise the IPCC.
“The planet is being consumed by humans,” says Mark Lynas.
“Humanity is on a collision course with nature. Already 72% of the global ice-free land surface is dedicated to supporting our species, and between a quarter and a third of the entire 'net primary production' of the planet is consumed by humans.
“Because we grab so much for ourselves, smaller and smaller amounts are left in the food chain for the rest of life on Earth.
“The majority of the world's land is used not to feed humans directly but to support livestock. Over-consumption of meat is unhealthy, and also an environmental disaster: rainforests are cleared in Brazil both to provide pasture for beef cattle, but also to grow soya crops for export to markets like Europe where they are mostly used in animal feed.
“A largely vegetarian -- or better still, vegan -- planet would be able to dramatically reduce agriculture, sparing more land for nature.
“All is not yet lost, but getting to a better future will mean letting go of some of our most cherished habits and myths. Are we ready to do this? The answer will be on the plate in front of you when you next sit down to eat.”
George Monbiot goes further. “We can’t keep eating as we are – why isn’t the IPCC shouting this from the rooftops?” he asks.
He goes on,
“It’s a tragic missed opportunity. The new report on land by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) shies away from the big issues and fails to properly represent the science. As a result, it gives us few clues about how we might survive the century. Has it been nobbled? Was the fear of taking on the farming industry – alongside the oil and coal companies whose paid shills have attacked it so fiercely – too much to bear? At the moment, I have no idea. But what the panel has produced is pathetic.”
The IPCC explains that around 23% of the planet-heating gases we currently produce comes from agriculture. But Monbiot complains that this overlooks opportunity costs. If we were not using the land for agriculture, he says, this land would be absorbing 9 tonnes of co2 per person eating a traditional Western diet per year.
“If we want to prevent both climate and ecological catastrophes, the key task is to minimise the amount of land we use to feed ourselves, while changing the way the remaining land is farmed. Instead, governments almost everywhere pour public money into planetary destruction.”
Butter mountains and wine lakes
He’s referring there to the butter mountains and wine lakes that used to exist in the EU, and the millions of pounds promised to farmers by the British government to compensate them for disruptions caused by Brexit.
I’ve been told that the true answer is regenerative farming, a balanced mix of livestock and arable. If that’s what’s meant by “extensive farming” then George Monbiot is against it.
I need to do more research on regenerative agriculture and will bring it to you in a future episode. If I find that both Mark Lynas and George Monbiot are against it, it could be hard to make the case.
Where’s the beef?
Meanwhile, Goldsmith College in London has announced its intention to become carbon neutral. It's putting a 10p levy on plastic bottles, installing solar panels, buying clean energy, growing plants to absorb CO2 on its allotments and making sure that the climate emergency is covered in every course. Oh, and it's banning beef. No burgers, no roast beef sandwiches, no lasagna and no meatballs in the campus cafes. I was asked about this by Julia Hartley-Brewer on Talk Radio. I get the impression that she is not only a Brexiteer but a climate sceptic as well. I'll publish the recording of the interview separately, and you can decide how I got on.
I saw a sign in a shop window the other day: “It’s only one straw, said 7 billion people.” Then I saw a headline in the paper: “MacDonalds defends its ‘un-recyclable’ paper straws".
An industry insider comments,
"Yes, from our experience of finding an alternative to plastic straws it feels inevitable that a story like this was going to break at some point. Unsurprising also is that it is the biggest brand imaginable in this space who take the flak, but the truth is likely to be that McDonald's will be far from being alone. Indeed, with the difficulty of truly measuring the impact of any given product or service, let alone that the impacts may be very different and not directly comparable (e.g. plastic in the ocean vs carbon footprint), we've not found any straw which is measurably better than the incumbent plastics. So, our focus has been to reduce usage.
We're also waiting for the media to realise that almost all cardboard packaging in the food industry suffers from the same problem of not being recyclable anywhere other than incredibly specialist providers- from fish and chip paper and pizza boxes which are oil stained by the food, to plastic-lined and chemically-treated cardboards.”
And that’s it…
I think I’ve said before that there’s nothing simple in sustainability. All too many silver bullets seem to ricochet in unexpected if not dangerous directions. None the less, I’m not going to keep my head down. I will continue to bring you stories about what’s going wrong, what’s going right and what the future might look like. And there are so many more stories out there as well. By the way, I came across the video of a presentation that I did only four years ago. Some of it was dead right and is very much the message that I’m promoting now. You’ll be amused to see what was dead wrong. I’ll publish it for you to enjoy over August Bank Holiday. (Well, it might be raining.)
I’m Anthony Day.
And that’s it for the latest edition of the Sustainable Futures Report.
Read more at https://www.cyclingweekly.com/news/e-bikes-trump-electric-cars-climate-change-battle-says-research-group-430051#ePsUHr1GzddXlE73.99
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We can’t keep eating as we are – why isn’t the IPCC shouting this from the rooftops?
2.4m registered in 2018 = 1 every 13 seconds, given 31,536,000 seconds in a year
Owned for 8 years on average.
7,800 miles pa on average = 1750kWh
56,000GWh or 56 Twh
6.5 GW 24/7
Electric cars 'will not solve transport problem,' report warns