How are we to go about our normal lives in West Somerset while using only a tenth of the fossil fuels? If climate chaos is to be avoided we will need to reduce our carbon emissions from transport by four per cent every year from now through to 2030.
Most carbon emissions from transport come from cars and planes.
For cars, electric or biofuels look to be the most promising technologies for reducing emissions. Battery technology for electric cars is improving and there is likely to be an affordable model with a reasonable range available within a few years. While pollution from the exhaust disappears the issue then becomes how the electricity is produced in the first place – if by fossil fuels then carbon emissions are just as high. Electricity from renewable sources would be the solution, but we have problems at present producing enough of that for other electricity needs. Perhaps in the 2020s electric cars will be a big part of the answer.
Biodiesel from processed vegetable oil after catering use is already available and can make a useful contribution. Bioethanol is more of a problem, because growing crops to produce it is already driving up food costs and causing loss of rainforests.
The most effective solution must therefore be to reduce the use of cars. Forum 21 believes one of the best ways to reduce car miles is to set up Car Clubs. These will allow people to use a car when they really need one without actually owning one. The local community club owns, taxes, insures and maintains the car – members drive it. The environmental benefit is that members tend to use alternatives much more often than car owners.
The really sustainable transport options are buses, trains, coaches, walking and cycling. The Minehead–Taunton service has increased to half hourly recently, and more passengers would allow higher frequency. The new Slinky Bus – a pre-booked bus-taxi hybrid that calls at your door in rural areas – is an interesting innovation. We encourage drivers to give buses a try – they could be pleasantly surprised.
Apart from our wonderful steam heritage railway, train travel for local people means the national network. The long awaited Taunton link from Minehead deserves support following its revival this summer. A full trial, hopefully leading to a commuter service into Taunton within a few years, could do much to reduce traffic on the A39.
Cycling and walking are the zero carbon options that also offer great health benefits. Many people leave their bikes unused through worry about risk from vehicles. Forum 21 sees a solution, at least in the Minehead-Williton coastal strip, as the creation of a network of mostly off-road safe cycle routes. The Cycle West Somerset project should provide an attractive boost for local tourism as well as a great way to help local people to get back on their bikes.
Electric bikes are already here, and, using only a tenth of the energy of cars, can help cyclists get up our hills.
Carbon emissions from flying have been much in the news recently with the climate action camp protests at Heathrow. Planes have the highest emissions per passenger mile of any form of transport, made worse by the altitude of the pollution. The rapid rise in the number of flights each year make plane travel completely in conflict with the need to cut carbon emissions.
Frequent flyers could think about a personal goal of reducing air miles by a proportion each year, and set themselves a target date for stopping flying altogether. The West Somerset economy can only benefit from a shift of habits back to UK holidays.
The future of low carbon transport therefore looks like being a mixture – walking, cycling and bus for short to medium journeys, coach and train mainly for longer journeys. Cars, probably through the community car club and biofuel or electric driven, will only be used where journeys can’t be done in any other way. We believe that, with these solutions, West Somerset would become an even more pleasant place to live. The change will be challenging, but surely better than climate chaos.