Zero Carbon, Zero Jargon
Julie VerrillView bio
I started writing this blog post last year and realised I was getting the angle completely wrong. After attending the CIHT’s Future Transport Conference on 2 February 2023, I came to realise what I really wanted to say and who I wanted to communicate this to. What I aim to do is help ‘translate’ what the carbon agenda language means for us in the Transportation team and what we can do to help the zero carbon agenda. There were many great sessions at the conference but the two that resonated with me personally were from Nexus and Transport North-East with particularly motivating talks on sustainable modes of travel.
If I tried to explain to certain members of my family the terms, decarbonisation, net carbon or zero carbon, I think my grandma would think it’s the name of a spaceship. For many people not working in the industry, whilst they will have a level of awareness of climate change and its impacts, they potentially have no idea what is meant by zero carbon. I did ask a relative what it meant, and they thought it was about saving whales and sharks. They aren’t completely off the mark, but I was pleased they didn’t think it was a spaceship. My point is, I’m not here to necessarily provide any clarity on these definitions but instead, I would like to explore what we can be doing to help the climate agenda, from a transportation perspective.
Ultimately, we are facing a climate emergency and things must change and they will change. Consequently, social attitudes need to change. As we touched upon this at the conference, social attitudes can change and we have seen this before with attitudes to smoking. Smokers didn’t hesitate to light up in a nightclub (giving my age away here) and make other people breathe in their fumes. Nowadays, smoking is largely frowned upon from a health and social perspective.
We know we need to travel more sustainably, but why are we still using cars to make our journeys? Personally, I don’t own a car and I feel quite passionate about commuting more sustainably around the region (but side note, I do live within 800m of a metro station and in an area with frequent buses). Interestingly, but also more shocking was when Philip Meikle (Transport North East) stated that 322 million journeys of two miles or less are made a year in this region. As a Mum myself, the juggle is real. By the time I have dropped off my little one at nursery over a mile and a half away and made it to work, I could have knocked off about 45 minutes from my daily commute had I just used the car, so I most definitely do understand why people do it as it is not easy. We know cars are vital for public use and particularly in rural communities, (another interesting session covered this at the conference) but for those who use the car daily to make these small trips and who are able, you could start making a change by reducing your car use by even one journey a week? If everyone did this and changed one of their normal journeys, the shift would be huge overall.
We are creatures of habit. Again, based upon my own personal experiences, I really don’t like driving, it gives me anxiety and I would much rather be on the metro reading my book than sitting in rush hour traffic. My preference is to use the metro and not the bus, my view is that bus journeys are longer and less frequent. People hold perceptions of certain public transport systems when they haven’t even tried it (myself included) and Helen Matthews from Nexus spoke about this at the conference. Perhaps people think it is too ‘dirty,’ expensive and not as frequent, however, I can agree that the more people that use public transport, the better it will become, the cheaper it will become, the more frequent services will become and the greener it becomes. I’m making it my mission to get the bus at least once a month as a starting point.
My late Grandad lived until he was 98. He walked his little dog Alfie everywhere for at least three hours a day, well into his late 80’s. He also used to walk frequently to Newcastle from Blyth to meet my grandma, a distance of approximately 12 miles! My point is that we all know the health benefits of walking and cycling. But based on my own experiences, I wouldn’t dare cycle the 15-mile journey to work as I do not feel safe on our road networks with so much anger towards cyclists that I see (sorry, but it is true). I would do so if we had a similar cycle infrastructure to the Netherlands but we do not have cycle routes that I would feel comfortable with using on my commute...yet!
I really don’t want this blog to sound like I’m preaching, but instead I hope it will make people think about changing just one journey a week to a more sustainable mode of transport. The climate will benefit, our bank account will probably benefit, and our health most certainly will. We have probably all nipped down to the local shop in the car (rather than walk) for a loaf of bread when it’s been raining but here is a fact of the day for you, did you know walking in the rain is indeed good for you and will in fact create "an abundance of negative air ions, created as water and air molecules collide making a molecule with an extra charge – which can improve respiratory health and immunity." (theguardian.com, 29 Oct 2022).