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Future Transport: roads, rail, air and sea problems

By JW Dowey - 31 Jul 2014 11:34:0 GMT
Future Transport: roads, rail, air and sea problems

By sea, air and land, the pollution by transport makes up 25% of the total greenhouse gas emissions. The worse news is that its growing fast! Earth image; Credit: © Shutterstock

We go on and on about the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) reports but does anyone actually do anything? That's probably their concern too! Angie Farrag-Thibault, the lead author of an enlightening BSR report reckons, "The transport sector relies overwhelmingly on oil. Without action, greenhouse gas emissions from transportation will continue to rise. Fortunately, this report points to a large number of options for reducing emissions."

CO2 emissions have to be curtailed because the changes in global temperature are becoming all too obvious in both atmosphere and ocean. If the simplest desert dweller hasn't seen any change in sea level or ice loss, then he can't be blamed. As for the rest of us, we can. The IPCC and many other scientists have told us exactly what to expect in 2020 and 2300 or whenever you care to assess global warming. The most recent report is very much on the subject. While transportation around the planet is a major emitter of carbon dioxide (assessments make it around 25% of the total, but rising fast), it seems likely that it will also be the major sufferer.

The problems preventing this rapid rise in emissions are slow stock and infrastructure turnover, lack of replacement fuels for some transportation and intense demand for more transport. We can all help by using more efficient methods of transport, by whatever means we have available. The aerodynamics, the fuel usage rate, the lower emissions; they all contribute to a cut in consumption that has to be made.

Low carbon alternative transport helps the poor to travel, saves time and improves the urban and other environments. Don't forget, we are all committed to environmental safety by both government and international agreement. Everybody comes across the retrograde attitude, but the answer for people is education, in the most appropriate way, or possibly it's a very slow realisation that a bad habit is so very harmful!

Oil is being dragged from the earth in every possible way. It supplies a disgusting 94% of transport's energy, producing side effects from ozone, particulates and nitrogen oxides. The greenhouse gases are regarded as just part of the emission problem. We now have huge disincentives from subsidies to the alternative energies and long-term planning of urban infrastructure. These costs are high, but much lower than the health, climate change and related disasters that we currently have on our plate. The advantage of change is the new industry and associated profits from successful technologies for the future. We didn't really want the steam engine to continue pulling trains, despite its obvious "glamour," noise and nostalgia!

Onto the effects of warming. The BSR (Business for Social Responsibility) have carefully laid out here what they have researched on every aspect of transport implications with the collaboration of Cambridge University and many other scientific sources in - BSR-Cambridge: Climate Change Implications for Transport.

The roads of the world will tend to soften and require more maintenance. More frequent freeze/thaw cycles will produce many more potholes and flooding will produce a variety of similar problems, plus the need for large-scale drainage. Unpaved roads of course are even more vulnerable, as they could simply be swept away. The effect on bridges is also fairly obvious, while if we switch to rail, the bridges could be even more vulnerable. Electrical systems in metros/undergrounds and similar systems would be flooded while thermal expansion on metal rails and overheating of engines would be a pretty universal problem. Here, the current fad for electrical transport from fork lifts to fast cars is best illustrated by the many trains that speed us at their most efficient when the electrical system has lost of alternative energy sources!

Take your pick: Japan, Europe, or Taiwan:

Taiwan rail image

Taiwan rail image Credit: © Shutterstock

Shipping could be forced to use smaller vessels for inland waterways as drought/flood bouts become more frequent. Water shortage would be likely to cause much more distress than simple loss of shipping, of course. The Arctic will be accessible to save fuel for many routes, but the impact, especially on such delicate land and ecosystems would be traumatic. Airlines would report more delays, we assume, as violent weather in the Atlantic and Pacific makes its presence known. Infrastructure for both modes of transport would be likely to be the most affected as flooding affected ports and airports, while less dense air would cause lower take-off weights and a need for longer runways, the report believes.

How resilient will the transport systems be? Other adaptations and decarbonisation of other sectors will affect them mightily. On land, quality is the key to survival, as storm and wastewater flow need reinvigoration. Mumbai is given as an example of the need for a drainage system upgrade, in order to avoid the gigantic cost of a severe flood. Canalising rivers is recommended for some threatened areas instead of or as well as flood defences. Our cities are much more threatened on the coast as we have mentioned several times:- eg. in SLR hotspot.

Rail will need vast adaptation for various threats, but one example is the London underground which is about to be given $290 million so that the cooling system for ventilation can be improved (unless it's subjected to severe flooding, of course) Conservation of cities is important , but natural systems should be conserved to help. Sand dunes, wetlands and deltas provide protection for lots of land, including the numerous American cities located near them. For example, 70% of ports and 33% of roads in the Gulf Coast region between Alabama and Houston will be flooded permanently by a 1 meter (3 foot) rise in sea level in just over 50 years' time. Barriers and barrages will need strengthening and removing inland, but artificial barriers cost so much more than the existing, or pre-existing natural ones.

How successful are we in adapting to this challenge? Apart from electrical vehicles or even hybrids, business is adapting with a worrying slow speed. Strategy, especially in accelerating the pace of development will probably literally pay dividends. New partnership will often seem productive, even with governmental help, as in the funding and subsidy area which Germany so profitably used in the development of their now enormous solar energy sector. Maybe they will need to encourage smaller shipping on the Rhine next.

Good luck to you all, whatever sector you are in. We all realise now just how urgent the actions are.