Together We Can

A conversation over breakfast at a church weekend turned to electric vehicles. I made the point that I do these days, that if we simply replace current vehicle use with electric vehicles, we’ll have to burn a lot of fossil fuels to provide that much electricity and so electric vehicles may not make much difference to the bigger climate change picture. So we moved on to how different expectations of how we use transport could make the difference.

Someone mentioned that in the early days of Fidel Castro in Cuba and the US trade embargo, the cars they had were seen as belonging to the nation. If you were driving and someone hailed you, you were expected to pull over and drive them where they wanted to go. It wasn’t your car, it was our car. That’s one thought: sharing resources as things we hold in common for the common good.

Trucks platoonedAnother thought we discussed is how technology might enable more sharing. By the end of this year, the UK government intends to have trialled ‘platooning’ three semi-autonomous trucks together, driven by just one driver in the lead truck. Similar trials have taken place in the US and on continental Europe. Driverless vehicles platooned like this can drive safely very close together, potentially hugely increasing the capacity of existing roads and thereby avoiding the environmental destruction caused by building new roads. Couple up driverless technology to planning and logistics systems overseeing the needs of business – where and when the goods in the trucks need to be – and road haulage could be even more fuel-efficient. That could be linked up to weather forecasting systems so that the logistics could be planned around the likely availability of renewable energy.

Something similar could be put into place with cars and the transport of people. A ride-hailing app could be linked up to the availability of transport. So if I want to go from my house to town in 15 minutes time, I just tap that into my phone and the system would tell me the best option, whether a bus or a car share with someone driving that way anyway, and hook me up with the driver. Or it could tell me that the pool car parked nearby is available for me, and on my way I could pick up a neighbour or two. With driverless technology, the pool car could pick us all up, drop us off and either park or pick up other people and later another vehicle would take me home. The same app could tell me that I can’t go in 15 minutes time, but 10 or 20 are possible. With longer journeys, platooning could provide the same energy and planning efficiencies as with freight transport.

This was just a breakfast conversation, pooling as much ignorance as knowledge and enthusiasm. The technology may or may not help us, and in any case the gate-keeper on the road to lower-impact transport is our attitude. The choice to hold resources in common for the common good entails sacrificing the comfort and convenience we’ve gotten used to, for example driving my car where I want and when I want, without needing to consider the needs and wants of anyone else.

It did make me think, though, that so much of my environmental campaigning has focussed on individual action: changes I can make to my energy use and my other consumer choices, and the collective angle is no more than the combination of many individual actions. What if more consideration were given to the social dimension of climate action, giving primary attention to how we interact with each other? Building a stronger sense of belonging together in community may enable greater reductions in human impact on the environment than if we go it alone, and becoming less isolated may make us happier, too. In the society that emerges after the collapse of this one, the whole will be greater than the sum of its parts and we will have learned that a good life is only possible through a choice to serve the common good.

Imagine you’re sitting at that breakfast table. What would you say? What do you think?


4 thoughts on “Together We Can

  1. perhaps an other option or better optionS are: electricity from renewable sources like solar power wind power and other. Human power meaning walking and cycling creating better bikes. Developing better public transport. Car sharing does not always work perhaps better making smaller cars, using smaller cars for private use.
    There are many solutions.

    1. Hi Roos, thanks for your comment. I agree with you. My point about electric vehicles is that they use a huge amount of electricity, so they can only be a climate solution if we re-think transportation& how we do it. But – absolutely! – walking or cycling for shorter journeys is so much better than any kind of powered transport, in so many ways. Alex

  2. One of the key sentences for me in your post is “The choice to hold resources in common for the common good entails sacrificing the comfort and convenience we’ve gotten used to, for example driving my car where I want and when I want, without needing to consider the needs and wants of anyone else.” As my most recent blog post ( sadly observes, many of us in the developed world have grown up with and/or inherited and/or successfully acquired many deeply-rooted assumptions about what we are able to do — whether it’s taking lots of vacations or owning a car (or more than one car!) or having a second home or habitually consuming more than one’s fair share of our planet’s natural resources. How DO we inspire folks to sacrifice “the comfort and convenience we’ve gotten used to?” From what I have seen, most of us change only after something huge happens in our lives — the conventional farmer who switches to organic practices after s/he (or someone in her/his family) is diagnosed with cancer, for example. Deep breath in. Deep breath out. THANK YOU for sharing some of your thoughts and feelings with all of us, Alex!

    1. I so agree. We westerners have so much deeply ingrained in us and it’s hard to imagine a different life. I wonder if little experiences of joy in connecting to others more deeply could gently lead people deeper into community where sharing resources and possessing less would be joyful and attractive. Of course, that leaves a ‘how?’ question hanging…. Thanks as always for commenting

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