Wednesday, December 23, 2009

stay put!

Guardian | Hypermobility is now the opium of the people, an obsession that wrecks communities and planet. There are no free trips.

My solution to winter travel chaos? Don't travel. Stay indoors. Build a fire. Live and shop within walking distance of civilisation. Associate with neighbours. See distant relatives some other time of the year. Above all, do not complain if you insist on laying siege to motorways, stations and airports and the weather or the labour force let you down, as they do every year. It is not their fault, it is yours for being there.

Of all human activities that bring out the selfish in mankind, nothing compares with travel. The externalities of travel economics should be on every school curriculum. We see mobility through our own eyes alone, with no view of the similar demands of others. I am a free and independent spirit innocently enjoying the right to roam; you are a travel-mad lemming who thinks he has a God-given right to tarmac, train or plane just when I am there. Get out of my way.

I need not dwell on the miseries of Copenhagen, except to suggest that it illustrates the problem rather than the solution. The craving to move and to congregate – not least by those who bore all and sundry on the glories of the internet – has been the greatest contributor to CO2 emissions over the past half century, above all from the internal combustion of carbon. Total greenhouse gas emissions from homes (24% of England's total) are now equalled by road transport emissions. Travelling does as much damage to the earth's atmosphere as all other domestic activities put together. Yet powered movement is a craving no government is willing to curb. Hypermobility is the totem of personal liberty. New Labour under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown has been very indulgent of mobility. Under Blair the cost of private motoring fell to the lowest for a quarter of a century. Sir Rod Eddington's 2006 report calculating that vehicle congestion charges could raise £24bn was rejected. So, too, was his conclusion that better management of the railway could handle demand with no need for new lines. Rail subsidies (which burn carbon too) have quadrupled. Air travel remains largely duty free. Airport construction continues apace, despite some 90% of air travel being discretionary or leisure.

Meanwhile the government pursues a policy of closing such local institutions as primary schools, cottage hospitals and post offices and encouraging out of town shopping and rural housing estates. All lead to an increase in the need for motor travel. If a hospital visit requires a drive of 50 rather than five miles, the NHS does not pay but someone does; indeed everyone does.