Transport and climate change

Transport and climate change are closely linked in our conscious because almost all our vehicles are powered by fossil fuels.

Cars, trucks, ships and aeroplanes, even many trains, burn derivatives of oil.

Even many electric trains get their electricity from a grid supported by coal-fired power stations.

And all our vehicles contain huge embodied energy. The heat and power needed to convert the raw materials of metal and plastic into the complex machines that move.

As we become more affluent so we require more and more transport to move ourselves and the goods we want to buy.

Moving around is what we do. It is both innate, pleasurable and an economic necessity.

Every 24 hours there are

  • 50,000 aircraft in the skies moving people and cargo around the world.
  • 50,000 ships are moving in and out of the world's ports or cruising the oceans.
  • 600 million vehicles scoot along on the world's roads.

All this transport adds up to 6.5 GtCO2e of greenhouse gas emissions annually or 22% of the total emissions.

The challenge is that we have always moved around.

Exploring is in our blood. The thrill of discovering the unknown, climbing the peak, seeking the pole or even the depths of the oceans create legends and heros.

The explorers are rapidly followed by the pioneers seeking a fortune to be made from untapped resources. And so it has been ever since Homo sapiensleft Africa.

This ability to move around is large part the reason for the success of the human species.

Now there are 6.7 billion of us, many with that innate urge to move around.

Transport and climate change was likely as soon as we found oil and figured out that could use it to power engines that helped us move.

In the past this was not an issue as only a few had sufficient resources. Add technology and everything changed. In the last 40 years the relative price of air travel has dropped by 40%.

We have built planes, ships and vehicles and now many people can move around and arrange for goods and raw materials to be transported to where they can fetch the best price.

It is a huge and recent change.

Last year my grandmother passed away after a long and active life that she spent almost entirely in her own neighborhood of Cannock,Staffordshire in the midlands of the UK.

Not until her late 60's did she travel overseas, to Spain for a seaside holiday in the sun with her daughter and her family.

My father travelled in his early 20's on military service and then in his mid-life he made it from the UK to Asia, Africa and Australia.

My first plane trip took me to Paris when I was 18 and since then I have been to every continent except the Antarctic and on more flights than I can count.

My sons went on aeroplanes as babies.

This is now a common pattern. More affluence = more travel.

Consequently, transport and climate change will be with us until we can decouple our vehicles from fossil fuel use.

Transport and climate change

What causes climate change 

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