Golf sexier than gridlock

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A future-facing report released at the Dynamic Earth in Edinburgh earlier today paints a picture of carbon-rationing and enforced vegetarianism by 2050 but the media has preferred to focus on the submersion threat to the Old Course at St Andrews.

The Press Association headline was Golf course ‘could be gone by 2050’. The BBC also liked the golf angle and it turns out both stories were based on a press release from the University of St Andrews. The press department clearly thought the drowning of a golf course would get more column inches than any other part of ‘Reducing Carbon Emissions from 2050’, a report commissioned by the Edinburgh-based David Hume Institute.

The report is a series of essays by Scottish academics, business leaders and thinkers. All had to imagine they were writing in the year 2050 and had to report on the climate change reduction stategies that were put in place at the start of the 21st Century and how they panned out fifty years later.

On the whole, the experts foresee a great future for electric cars. These wonder vehicles will be lauded on that great TV programme ‘Top Volt’ and somehow congestion will be a distant memory. The fact that an electric car – or hydrogen-cell car – will get as choked in congestion as a car powered by an infernal combustion engine doesn’t overly trouble most of the experts. They believe car-clubs will become the norm and that vehicle availability will be beamed to the iPhones of 2050. Only one of the experts predicted a big future for bicycles.

“More carbon friendly cars which developed very quickly from 2010 did have a big impact and due to the ever increasing cost of petrol and diesel these were adopted quickly….Hydrogen power and fuel cells meant that by the 2020’s the car had changed out of all recognition, and was effectively not using carbon as it was used. New design and different materials even lessened the impact of its construction and assembly, whilst manufacturers developed a major offsetting programme for the residue – effectively resulting in a carbon neutral car! Public transport was also expanded…[but] our carbon neutral car remains the transport mechanism of choice.”
David C Watt, Director, Institute of Directors, Scotland

“Today, in 2050, people have not relinquished the huge personal mobility that the motor car still provides, by comparison with inflexible public transport. They have not needed to, because shared electric cars powered by our renewable energy sources are now the norm. Based on technology developments reaching the mainstream during the 2020’s, these provided us with the mobility we needed within better-functioning local communities –using the local grid and renewable energy for plug-in functionality.”
Richard Wakeford, Director General, Environment, The Scottish Government

“But for most, the fleets of self-drive vehicles scattered across our towns and cities answer their travel needs. With real-time information about the location of vehicles flashed to our communicators, everyone has access to a vehicle meeting their needs for the trip they want to make – a small van for a trip to the store, a small car for running round town or a more spacious vehicle for a day out in the country. And for purely local trips, walking, cycling or the excellent public transport system available in most towns is an adequate solution.”
Jim Skea, Research Director, UK Energy Research Centre

“The central concept is that we can base the system on choice and incentives – a carrot/carrot approach rather than the traditional carrot/stock; this is delivered through the “personal mobility planner”, a device developed from the PDAs of the early 21st century, and its links to databases containing details of every form of available transport in every corner of the planet. So, if today, we want to travel from Edinburgh city centre to Novosibirsk or North Berwick, our PMP will tell us what trains, planes, airships, buses, bicycles, electric cars, etc we can use to get there and how much the journey will cost by each means both in money and carbon units. We know that if we use a low carbon output route, we will get mobility points on our mobility smartcard wchih we can use for other travel purposes.”
Professor George Hazel OBE and Dr Steve Cassidy of McLean Hazel Ltd

“It is doubtful Scotland would have been able to meet its Kyoto 3 commitment to reduce its carbon dependency by 90 per cent by 2050 if it had not been for peak oil. As experts had long predicted oil production began to decline after 2012 because there was not enough readily available oil left in the ground. The price of oil rose from $300 to $900 a barrel between 2012 and 2025 and for most people driving and flying became too expensive. The streets got quieter and less polluted as electric buses and delivery vehicles increasingly replaced cars and trucks…Many people gave up owning cars as urban car clubs, begun in 2002, spread to rural areas. As the streets emptied of ‘private’ cars people also took to cycling and in the major cities 40 per cent of all journeys were made by bike by 2030.[Emphasis mine] To aid in the transition local councils put in physical separation for on-road cycle paths, reducing fear of accidents among novice cyclists.

“Electric bikes and cars were the other crucial innovation. Those who could still afford to run their own cars increasingly moved to electric cars though many others went over to electric tricycles which came with canopies and wind screens to protect their occupants from the weather. A Scottish entrepreneur went into a business partnership with the largest Chinese electric bike producer and set up a manufacturing plant in Port Glasgow which brought much needed jobs into an area that had formerly been a major producer of car tyres and car parts. The factory turned out tandems, tricycles and bike trailers as well as bikes.”
Michael Northcott, Professor of Ethics, University of Edinburgh

‘Reducing Carbon Emissions from 2050? makes the same basic mistakes as ‘Emission Impossible, a vision for a low carbon lifestyle by 2050? from the Energy Saving Trust, released earlier this year and from which the pic at the top of the page was culled. It, too, predicted a big future for electric cars but didn’t say how we’re going to fit them all into our finite amount of road-space.

As I said here, traffic and transport psychologist Dr Ian ‘long blonde wig’ Walker, a lecturer at the University of Bath, has got it spot on as usual:

“Cars are fundamentally badly designed in various ways (e.g., their need for huge slurpy soft tyres to stop them flying off the road), and one of their basic design faults is that they take up the same amount of valuable road-space to convey one person as five.

“The car is so amazingly dominant in our collective psyche that their use is totally habitual and alternatives, despite being plentiful, much cheaper and logically more appropriate, simply never occur to people. So everybody carries on using completely, wildly, infuriatingly inappropriate vehicles to get around and our cities get less and less pleasant and accessible.

“People are going to have to realise that if they travel alone 95% of the time, it is better for everyone – including them – if they get a one-person vehicle and hire something bigger on the odd occasion they need more space. It’s such a shame that we’re going to have to go through masses of congestion and heavy-handed legislation to make people act rationally. Bah.”

In the Department of Trade and Industry’s Foresight report of 2006 (PDF here), transport was seen as having to go green and bikes would lead the way:

“Even before nationwide road pricing was introduced in 2015, charges and tax penalties were imposed on motorists’ benefits such as ‘free’ parking. The initial outcry was damped when the Government, following the lead of New Zealand, ran an expensive advertising campaign on the back of research which showed convincingly that – quite apart from the impact of vehicles on climate change – the revenues it received from road taxes and fuel duty represented only about
half of the cost of driving in the UK, especially once health costs were taken into account.

“Changes in infrastructure have had a significant part to play as cities have invested in public transport and cycle paths, and more people are getting out of their cars as the overall image of public transport improves. Transport innovation came at the local level rather than the national.

“Cities are changing, driven by the twin pressures of competition and the Government’s continued push to make it safer and easier to access jobs, shopping, leisure facilities and services by public transport, walking, and cycling.

“Vehicles need to be controlled to ensure equity between drivers and vulnerable road users, to reduce noise, and to encourage community cohesion. One policy test is whether children can play on
the streets in residential areas.

“Cycling is now a way of life.

Cars are lighter, smaller and more efficient, and more and more people are cycling, even for long distances.”

All of this too far-fetched? A pessimistic part of the Foresight report said the UK banking system collapsed in 2026 and that oil reached $200 a barrel in 2015. Hmm, perhaps we’re closer to the future than we think?