Friday, October 31, 2008

Travelling Less?

As I sit at Gatwick waiting to get a flight home and feeling guilty at the huge increase in my carbon foot print, I wonder about how much travelling we will be doing in the future.

Oil supplies will be constrained in the future, which will hit first - a shortage in the ground or problems getting it out and refined, it is not clear. The recently publish report from the UK Industry Taskforce on Peak Oil and Energy Security estimate we have a 3-5 year window to make substantial cuts in our usage. The focus of this, and many other reports, is on doing what we do more efficiently - and this is great. But even without the cost factor, changing the car for the bus/train/bicycle etc. is also going to decrease our journeys simply because it reduces our ability to be spontaneous. At the moment, for a car owner, a quick drive down to the shops to get a frozen pizza because we have a sudden craving for one is just a case of jumping in the car and off we go. Without the car a bit more thinking has to take place first. Is it raining? When does the last bus leave? Is the local shop still open or do I need to go the bigger one further away? I'm going past the supermarket tomrrow anyway... At this stage the cravings for the pizza have passed and suddenly a bit of pasta made with ingredients in the cupboard looks a lot more attractive.

The ability for consumers to be spontaneous is a huge driver of spending - just put it on the credit card and worry about the bill later, 24 hour shopping - never go without a Ben & Jerrys tub of ice cream when you really need one, £1 flights to Budapest - lets just go. The freedom of the open road etc. etc. When freedom becomes more expensive and inconvenient we change our habits and I foresee a lot fewer miles driven as we plan our travel more carefully and combine tasks.

And it's not just people miles. Plastics are made from oil and a vast array of all that stuff we buy is made with plastic. Companies seeking to reduce costs will redesign products to last longer but with the ability to upgrade - ideally a software upgrade, meaning there is less stuff to ship around. As transport becomes more expensive, making and growing things locally becomes more competitative and again transport miles go down. As logistics systems become highly intelligent and adaptive, fewer vehicles travel with part loads, again pushing miles down.

By how much? And for how long? As we crack cheap energy and future cars become cheap to buy and run again will we want return to a country run by cars?

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