Let’s Switch to Active Travel

A sphere of life where we’re bound to encounter many challenges on the route to net zero is definitely transport. It’s heavily dependent on fossil fuels and carbon-intensive infrastructure, such as roads, airports and the vehicles themselves. And on top of all that, it fosters car-dependent lifestyles. The electric car market is growing quickly, however, and statistics show that in 2020, one in every 50 cars worldwide was electric and that number will only rise in future (in the UK, for instance, one un 14 cars is electric). But even if all new cars were electric right now, it still wouldn’t be 15 or even 20 years before the world’s fossil fuel car fleet was replaced.

A sphere of life where we’re bound to encounter many challenges on the route to net zero is definitely transport. It’s heavily dependent on fossil fuels and carbon-intensive infrastructure, such as roads, airports and the vehicles themselves. And on top of all that, it fosters car-dependent lifestyles. The electric car market is growing quickly, however, and statistics show that in 2020, one in every 50 cars worldwide was electric and that number will only rise in future (in the UK, for instance, one un 14 cars is electric). But even if all new cars were electric right now, it still wouldn’t be 15 or even 20 years before the world’s fossil fuel car fleet was replaced. And we need something quicker than that, something that will have a significant effect in the next five years or so. There is a way, though: to reduce transport emissions relatively quickly, and potentially globally, we could swap cars for cycling, e-biking and walking – active travel, as it’s called.

In a new study published in ScienceDirect, a group of researchers from Europe, UK and the States reveal just how much lower the carbon footprint of people who walk or cycle is. They collected data from around 4,000 people living in London, Antwerp, Barcelona, Vienna, Orebro, Rome and Zurich over a two-year period. Participants completed 10,000 travel diary entries which served as records of all the trips they made each day, whether going to work by train, taking the kids to school by car or riding the bus into town. And for each of those trips, the scientists calculated the carbon footprint.

The results that came in were quite striking: it turned out that the carbon emissions from all the daily travel of people who cycle on a daily basis are 84% lower than those who don’t. They also found that “the average person who shifted from car to bike for just one day a week cut their carbon footprint by 3.2kg of CO₂ – equivalent to the emissions from driving a car for 10km, eating a serving of lamb or chocolate, or sending 800 emails.” Altogether, the data is pretty encouraging. They also estimated that urban residents who “switched from driving to cycling for just one trip per day reduced their carbon footprint by about half a tonne of CO₂ over the course of a year, and save the equivalent emissions of a one-way flight from London to New York.” And if just one in five urban residents permanently changed their travel behaviour in this way over the next few years, this could actually cut emissions from all car travel in Europe by about 8%. So, it should be a no-brainer: active travel is cheaper, healthier, better for the environment, and actually not that slower on congested urban streets.

If you’re interested in more data from this study, check it out in the journal here.

Think Like Beavers!

Natural habitats around the world are seriously degraded by a myriad of human activities and climate change, so we need to promptly find a way to improve their condition. Luckily, in some cases, fixing the environment might be as simple as releasing a few beavers.

Natural habitats around the world are seriously degraded by a myriad of human activities and climate change, so we need to promptly find a way to improve their condition. Luckily, in some cases, fixing the environment might be as simple as releasing a few beavers. They used to be quite common in America and Europe until the 1800s, when they were hunted mercilessly, mostly for their fur and because of their general short sightedness.

Once the beavers were gone, we discovered that, through their dam building habit, they play the role of architects in the ecosystems, designing micro-habitats like wet meadows and small ponds. Their absence badly hurt waterways, same like road-building, removal of trees and reshaping of streams. We then discovered that nothing in nature works in isolation and that those small habitats played a role in shaping the bigger picture. The land got drier, the fires got harsher and food for livestock got less abundant.

Now, in various places around the world, an effort is underway to reintroduce beavers and their benefits. The positive effects are many and they begin to show very soon. The best thing is that we can even take lessons from beavers and improve the habitats that can’t support them, like deserts, which often only have seasonal streams. In the US, public agencies and nonprofit organizations now launch projects like Gunnison Basin Wet Meadow and Riparian Restoration and Resilience-building Project that works to revive streams and green-up the meadows in arid areas by imitating beavers and building simple structures that slow the flow and increase the retention of water. The effects are quite amazing, increasing the period of lush vegetation for a whole month, providing effective barriers for wildfires, boosting wildlife and considerably increasing the availability of pasture for livestock. It turns out that instead of hi-tech solutions, sometimes it’s enough to think like a beaver.