Decarbonising the UK

There’s an important consultation going on in the UK that I’ve only found out about by accident. It’s a Dft call for ideas on decarbonising the UK. My initial thought was this is an important topic which shouldn’t be a topic hidden away and only discovered by accident. Then, as I was filling out the survey, I was thinking these things should be fairly obvious. Why are they reaching out for ideas? Will this be like the consultation on pavement parking in that they’ll admit the reality that it’s a bad thing but then nothing comes out from it? Basically that they’re just going through the motions of appearing to care.

It seems fairly obvious the high level view of how to decarbonise the UK only has one solution - get rid of cars. The NHM recently highlighted how unrealistic it is to move to electric cars due to material requirements. But the thing is, even if you ignore the unrealistic demands on various minerals in order to make the batteries for electric cars, there’s the notion that catering to cars only results in more cars. Much of the UK still has roads which have basically been design before cars even existed and the British love of old buildings (and no major even like a war to wipe them out, like the rest of Europe to be honest), means these roads aren’t going to change. More cars simply cannot be the answer. Surely, they should see that? It seems fairly obvious.

Understanding how we got here

You can understand the origin of the car. In any country you’re almost certainly living somewhere with lots of roads. They’re filled with slow means of transportation. Horses, bikes, etc and you want to allow people to get from point A to point B quickly. Well, how do you do that with the existing infrastructure? A motorised means that can use those same roads makes sense. The problem is, it kind of assumes that either the infrastructure will change to accommodate growth or that perhaps the population will never really grow that much. The problem is it has.

From a local government point of view cars are handy. You don’t have to do much other make and maintain roads. But even then, you don’t really have to maintain the roads. Certainly not to a high standard like rail lines. Cars will tolerate the abuse they get from rough roads for awhile. When they do break down, it’s not on you, the government, to resolve the issue but rather the owner of the car. The UK has an especially lazy government. It also has a central government that’s happy to starve local government of funds making it harder to do the right thing. So you can see why they opted to back the car.

But now we’re at a point where the righting is on the wall and something will need to be done. If they’re responsible, it will need to be drastic too due to years of negligence. My guess is that’s why they’re asking for ideas. They’re sniffing out ways to easily win by picking the things they find are the most agreed upon. Okay, but if you’re going to do that then doing it on the quiet isn’t particularly helpful.

What should be done?

So, back to the survey and the ask for ideas. It’s simple. You need to get away from cars. They are just an inefficient way to get move people and goods. I can’t repeat that enough. Regardless of the infrastructure it’s a bad idea. Los Angeles is a perfect example.

With that in mind, I think the way I would go about it is as such. First, focus on more densely populate areas. Make it difficult to get cars into these areas but then provide decent alternatives. This means exceptional public transportation. Not one bus that runs once an hour between 9am and 6pm. As it’s a densely populated area most people will travel within this area. Most people aren’t serious cyclists. They don’t want to share poorly maintained roads with cars. This means focusing on good segregated cycle lanes. Decent pavements, without cars parked on them, without most of it being over taken by hedge overgrowth.

This allows all those people who will primarily stay within the area to move about easily without anything if they can do so. Light rail is a great option for public transportation. Where you put it down it is unlikely to get stuck due to having its own ‘road’. Buses can be fine too but you will need to push hard to keep cars out so the buses flow. Trucks and vans bring in goods won’t be much of an issue for cyclists if they do need to share the road if the only thing on the roads are those vans and some buses.

Now that people can easily move about within the city you should aim to discourage ‘to the door’ deliveries. Amazon on its own is contributing heavily to traffic and pollution simply by having many people in white vans darting around delivering packages. It’s easier for them and clean to offer a central place to pick up packages. Another upside to this is the location can be where post offices are. Post offices are a valuable community resource that everyone complains about when they go away. Well, now there’s a reason for many people to be there.

That sorts out densely populate areas. Then next step is to help those further out. Cycle lanes can still be an option and in rare cases are within the UK. The UK used to also have many more rail lines. There’s little reason you can’t go back and connect up all the villages to the cities they were once connected to. These aren’t particularly quick solutions so one quick win in to use “park and ride” style sites. The car park is out of town and is easy to get to. Then hop onto a bus and you’re in town. Either pay for parking and get a free ride or the other way around. Make it very cheap or free for kids.

Rail travel in general should have its cost brought down. In the UK at leas the cost of rail keeps going up considerable with no real improvements. This will stop people from using it and especially if it’s a long journey trip from say London to Scotland. Rail can’t beat the time it takes in a jet but the mere fact it costs more to take the slower option is just crazy. Yes, it is fun to lay back and enjoy the sites on a slower journey via a train but people will care more about the cost.

Quit pandering with populist politics and just be honest with people that we backed ourselves into a corner and took too long to sort it out. It might be rough for awhile but the end result will be better. People will respect a leader who has their best intentions and a good vision. If they don’t, the worst outcome is they won’t vote you out and you can carry on doing the right thing. Often they don’t even get voted out for doing the wrong things.

In conclusion

This is just a brief, quick explanation of what I think is the obvious. They shouldn’t really need to ask or the ideas to do this. It’s basically how things were before cars but on a larger and improved scale if they do it right and that is the key point to this. Maybe my ideas aren’t the best. Someone may have even better ideas but regardless of the ideas if the government takes the lazy or cheap option we’re screwed.

In fact we are screwed either way if we don’t do something meaningful. Much of the UK’s money and innovation is made in low lying areas that will be destroyed by rising water thanks again, to poorly thought out planning which has centralised many important things in the south east and London.

Again, it’s obvious what the problems are and I think the solutions are too. They just need to care enough to do something about.