as far back as i can remember, there have been repeated warnings that the oil is about to run out. this was long before anyone discovered a hole in the ozone layer (which seems mysteriously to have repaired itself), but exercised dire warnings for those beloved of their motor cars. yet some forty plus years later, there's still no battery operated or hybrid powered car that has completely replaced either the diesel or petrol-based internal combustion engine.
in the intervening years, predictions of doom and gloom as the result of global warming have reared their ugly and insistent head, leading to alarmingly frequent summits all round the world to which many a delegate has to fly on aircraft that contribute to the malady they're intent on discussing, but are mysteriously exempt from any directives that attempt to limit the use of fossil fuels. in other words, they're just playing at it.
however, not everyone believes that a) global warming actually exists or b) that human beings are the cause in the first place. the fact that the arctic ice shelf has proven itself to cover a larger area than previously recorded would tend to somewhat undermine the theory.
but even if we exclude such matters from the discussion, there's little doubt that ever increasing car numbers have long had a stranglehold on the world's principal cities. even if looked upon with barely a glance, london's congestion charge would at least pay lip service to that contention. according to hickman's and banister's copiously annotated and highly academic book, the world gained its billionth car in 2011, and is currently on target to acquire the two-billionth around 2020. it would be a foolish town planner who ignored such statistics. writing in 1999, science fiction writer arthur c clarke wrote:
"The car is an incredible device, which no sane society would tolerate [...] millions of vehicles, each a miracle of (often unnecessary) complication, hurtle in all directions, at very close quarters, under the impulse of a few hundred horsepower. Many of them are the size of small houses, with incredible sophistication, yet carry only one person. They can travel at over 100 miles per hour, but usually at no more than 40mph. In one lifetime they have consumed more energy than the whole previous history of mankind [...] the casualties are on the scale of a large war (every year)."
however, transport, climate change and the city is not directly concerned with specifically knocking the car as a means of transport, though it would be pointless to pretend that it doesn't form the main target.
the book opens with a highly impressive, yet academic discussion of the means used to quantify the substantial amount of information and statistics contained within the book's 376 pages. i cannot pretend that i understood every word the authors used, at least not in this context. their contention that aspects of traffic congestion and climate change are thought of as only solvable by technological means, rather than by sociological methods is one that rings particularly true. if we accept the basic premise of climate change as being caused by normal human activity, then it seems more than sensible that alteration of that activity or behaviour might possibly have greater effect that finding a scientific means to minimise its continuing effect.
the basis of the authors' arguments, predictions and advice is conducted by way of specific case studies concerning selected major cities of the world. as the services of both gentlemen are retained at oxford university in the uk, it is not unusual that the book commences its investigations in london, but delhi, jinan and auckland are also dealt with in similar fashion.
academia intrudes, if that is the correct term, not only through the language and terminology utilised in each chapter, but by way of a five page index and stretches to sixteen pages of extensive references. however, i can't help feeling that they might be preaching to the gallery. for all their good works and copious research, it's more than likely that the book will be principally read and dissected by other academics. though we've had it continuously pointed out that humankind is on a slippery slope to self-destruction, nothing much seems to have changed. mass public transport within the city limits, along with catering more widely to the pedestrian and the cyclist seem particularly sane alternatives to daily gridlock, yet apparently this only applies to everyone else.
definitely not to the one guy in an suv.
they also make a good point regarding the uk system of government, whereby the secretary of state for transport tends only to be in position for a few years before being moved to a different cabinet position. his or her replacement has then to get up to speed with transport developments before beginning the process all over again. this is hardly the most efficient manner of dealing with a constantly moving target.
the book is copiously illustrated, frequently with photographs that seem somewhat tangential to the subject under discussion. i'm somewhat unclear as to what film stills from 'being john malkovich', 'dr strangelove' and 'the time machine' have to do with transport, climate change and the city. however, there are much-a-plenty relevant illustrations by way of paintings, drawings and photographs to illustrate the pertinency of much of the text.
cycling is referred to in each case study, simply as a means of diminishing the car's impact; i can't say i'd noticed any recommendation to cycle for the sheer joy of pedalling. but it really isn't that kind of book. perhaps if governments were required not only to read, but to take specific note of many of the solutions proffered by messrs. hickman and banister, the existence of this book would not be in vain. sadly, i doubt this will be the case, and at a price of £86, it seems very unlikely to find a space on the average cyclist's bookshelf. however, if the subject is one that concerns you as much as it probably should, it's well worth a slow and deliberate read.
car owners will likely avoid it like the plague.
"This new form of transport is wonderful! It causes congestion, wastes energy, ruins public spaces, encourages sprawl, kills thousands of people every year and destroys the planet.
"Lets base our whole transport system on it!"
transport, climate change and the city forms a part of the 'routledge advances in climate change research' series.
thursday 9 october 2014..........................................................................................................................................................................................................