Airplanes do more damage than motor transport

21st September 2016

David Williams, national motor journalist and road safety award-winner I get some fascinating – and some downright dull – books sent in for reviewing and when ‘Urban Transport Without the Hot Air’ hit my desk the signs weren’t good. Remember those dull school textbooks with bright primary colours, thin covers and long appendices? That’s right, it looked just like that. Written by Professor Steve Melia it was subtitled ‘Sustainable solutions for UK cities’. It said it was volume one and was 263 pages long; what could possibly be left for volume two? I was sucked in from the very first page. Cleverly – like any good lecturer – Melia kicks off by posing questions to which there were ‘obvious’ answers. Except they weren’t. “What happened to UK duty on petrol between 2000 and 2012?,” he asked (“It shot up”, I heard the crowds roar). “What percentage of households in Britain have a car?”. “Do Germans own more or fewer cars that Britons?” “What percentage of dwellings in England are flats?” And so on. They’re the kind of questions you think you know – or at least that you think you ought to know and could probably guess. But they’re trickier than you’d think. Without doing a ‘spoiler’ on his book I’ll reveal one or two of the answers. Petrol duty? It fell by 16 per cent. Car ownership? 75 per cent of households have one or more. The German question? Yes, of course they do and the ‘flat’ question? Actually, it’s 20%. So what this book does is make you think – think about transport and motoring, how it meets (and fails) our needs and what some of the solutions might be. Steve Melia, senior lecturer in transport and planning at the University of the West of England, sets out to bust many myths and misunderstandings which stand in the way of intelligent debate. He points out that transport now accounts for just over a quarter of greenhouse emissions in the UK, second only to power generation. Officially the ‘culprits’ are cars (over 40%), aviation (over 20%), followed by HGVs, vans, shipping and ‘other’ in that order. But it turns out that greenhouse gases emitted in the upper atmosphere – ie from planes – have a far greater effect, meaning that aircraft are, in fact, just as responsible for emissions as cars. News to me too. Melia looked at the UK Climate Change Act of 2008 which set legally binding targets for reducing greenhouse gases, and which established the Committee on Climate change… which anticipated a market share for electric cars of 60% by 2030. “Optimistic”, says Melia, pointing out that by 2013 electric cars represented just 0.1% of new car sales. The thought-provoking findings come thick and fast. Did you know that roughly 15 per cent of carbon emissions over a car’s life are from its manufacture and disposal? That the average car spends 97 per cent of its time parked? And that the population of Britain will rise from around 64 million today to 70 million by 2017 and possibly 86 million by 2087? Whew. Melia also points his debunking-stick at speed cameras, the ‘war on motorists’ and flying (did you know that 74% of flights from the UK are for leisure or personal purposes?) For anyone who loves streams of essential facts, it’s brilliant. But it goes much further than that, stringing them together to form a compelling narrative. I’ve given away enough of Melia’s secrets and don’t want to put you off enjoying his book too. So forget the textbook cover and grab a copy. You won’t like – or agree with – everything he says but it will change the way you think about cars, travel and transport. And we’ve got a suggestion for volume two, if he needs it. There are plenty of stats around the rise of dash cams, otherwise known as in car cameras’. According to retail data from independent analysis, GfK, the purchase of dash cams by UK motorists has increased by more than 800% in the past 18 months. Halfords has talked openly about the increase in interest and therefore sales of dash cams and, our TVs are increasing in the use of dash cam footage. Check out the latest incident highlighted by the Daily Mail – dash cam footage. Admittedly, it’s not a dangerous overtaking manoeuvre but it does beg for more stats? Just how many motorists experience road rage these days? Off the top of my head, it was declining but these types of scenarios make me wonder.

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