Tuesday, 5 January 2021

Electric Vehicles – the answer to all our transport woes – or not?


It’s tempting!  We all seem to love our cars, but wouldn’t it be great if they could run on something that didn’t cook the planet.  Along come EVs and - hey presto – problem solved.


But maybe it’s not that simple. 


There is a tiny proportion of EVs on the road and even if we changed tomorrow all those ICE (Internal Combustion Engine) cars will still be there for at least the next decade or two – the time in which we will have to reduce their emissions to zero.  If we were going to change to EVs we should have done it 30 years ago.


And maybe they are not as good as made out.  The so-called “Astongate” (the story goes that this emerged from an Aston Martin advert) claimed that EVs emit almost as much CO2 as ICE cars, but this has been well and truly busted.  EVs are inherently better.  As a technology, ICE cars belong in the dark ages – slow, noisy, inefficient, complex, temperamental, polluting.  But there are still huge environmental costs in EV production.  And a change to EVs will do little to help congestion.  Indeed, having cars that are expensive to buy but cheap to use will force up both inequality and congestion (if you’ve spent all that money on a car then you will be keen to use it).


The problem with EVs goes far deeper than “they are not quite as good as we thought they were”.  Furthermore, the problem with EVs extends to other technological fixes to transport, indeed to technological fixes in general.  To understand this, we need to understand "Jevons pardox"– bear with me….

This paradox dates back to 1865.  At the time it was thought that the invention of more efficient steam engines would reduce the demand for coal.  William Stanley Jevons, however, observed that it had the opposite effect.  Better, more efficient technology reduces relative resource costs increasing the quantity demanded more than outweighing any possible reduction of resource use from efficiency savings.  More efficient steam engines effectively drove the industrial revolution – and that did not reduce the demand for coal!  This is not an isolated occurrence with rebound effects often coming from improvements in efficiency causing increase (not decrease) in demand.


EVs fit into this category.  Imagine if we all had gas-guzzling, polluting, expensive (but pretty) monsters.  We’d leave them in the garage (perhaps polish them on Sundays) and find other ways to get access to our needs and services – the congestion problem would be solved.  EVs, however, give us an easy, efficient, cheap (to use) method of transport.  So, their use will shoot up, congestion will shoot up, and emissions will increase from EV production.


Jevons’ paradox will also extend to other transport issues.  If we still insist on traveling everywhere, even without EVs, our countryside could be covered in infrastructure for electric busses, trams, and high-speed railways.  Environmentalists hoping that “modal shift” will solve our problems, will probably also fall foul of this rebound effect.  Making these things far better (by themselves) will probably make life far worse.


As with many of our global problems, faith in technology alone is a dangerous diversion – dangerous because it gives the impression that we are solving a problem when we are not.  For transport problems the solutions are more likely to lie in reducing the need to travel. This will require far more complex, but desirable, changes to society.  How do we keep access to our needs and services local?


Improvements in efficiency alone will be insufficient, indeed counter-productive to the low resource-use society we need to move to.  As environmentalists we often forget this, we focus too much on technology and not enough on the context within which it must sit.  Technological improvements are vital but at best they buy us more time to address the underlying problems – time which, so far, we have simply wasted.  EVs are the same – a step-change improvement on the old technologies that have hung around for far too long.  But they are a diversion, we must address our underlying societal problems that drive ever-increasing demands for travel.


You may be wondering – what do I drive?  And yes, I do drive an EV.  It’s great!  From now on any new car should be an EV.  But I do not kid myself that this is the solution.  Shopping locally, buying local produce, working remotely, using the bike more and walking to local green space rather than driving to distant countryside might help.  But EVs might only help once we have solved our transport problems, they are not the solution in themselves.  Our EV has a range of just over 100 miles – plenty for our needs.  But EVs are not new.  About a century ago there was an EV – the “Baker Electric” – smooth, reliable, comfortable.  It seems that vested interests in oil pushed a superior technology into the background.  The Baker Electric had a range of – just over 100 miles!  Progress?


Thursday, 8 October 2020

Your Better Nature – Our new human story


Our world is broken. The current human story (the tale we tell ourselves of how human nature is meant to be) is toxic, suicidal and, more importantly, FALSE.  This was the premise of a series of 5 webinars entitled “Your Better Nature” that we held through September 2020. 


A strong environmental vision is vital, and effective actions to deliver it are equally important.  But what the environmental movement may have lacked is a human story, or narrative that brings these together.  A vision for a sustainable future will never be achieved if we see human nature in the same toxic way that has dominated society in recent history.  This is what our “Your Better Nature” discussions challenge.  COVID-19 has shown us that the myth of the selfish, competitive, uncaring human is just that – a myth.  When put under pressure, we do not turn into monsters, we return to our inherent caring, sympathetic better nature.  We need to develop a new story about what it means to be human. 


Our online discussions attracted more than 150 people in total and the YouTube videos have been viewed over 300 times.  This was, however, trialled on a limited audience to judge interest and get some feedback.  Indeed, the series has proved popular and the quality of the feedback is inspiring us further.  We therefore aim to develop these discussions and we are now making plans to roll it out to different audiences. 


Watch this space!


In the meantime, see the article Tuning in to Your Better Nature by Viviane Doussy in Sussex Bylines on 23rd September 2020 .


Take a look at how our first set of discussions went on YouTube


and follow us on Facebook






Friday, 11 September 2020

YOUR BETTER NATURE – we are part of nature, not separate from it


On 2nd September 2020 we launched the “Your BetterNature series of webinars. 


The assertion in this series is that our current human story – the story we tell ourselves about what it is to be human – is toxic and false.  The idea of the competitive, selfish, consumptive, exploitative human is wrong.  It is destructive to nature and destructive to us.  “Your Better Nature” maintains that humans do have a better nature, one that is inherent in us and has underpinned humanity for the bulk of our 200,000 years of existence as a species.  We now need a new human story to replace the falsehood of the current tale that we are sold and repeat to ourselves. 


In “Your Better Nature” we look at some of the principles that we feel underpins a new human story.  One of these is that a new human story insists that, fundamentally, we are part of nature, not separate from it.  The old human story sees nature as a resource to exploit and a dumping ground for our waste.  A new human story would see nature in a very different way.  On 9th September we discussed this in Webinar 2 and you can watch the video here.


Seeing ourselves as part of nature will have many implications on our world view.  But as an illustration, I imagined a walk in the woods.  How would we perceive the experience of a walk in the woods according to the human story we tell ourselves?



A walk in the woods


Our current (old) human story holds that the wood is simply a timber production resource.  It is a crop, managed as a crop and eventually harvested as a crop.  It is a resource for exploitation.  We might call it a forest but would think “plantation”.  The only value would be the timber, looking after the forest would just be a “cost”.  Profits would go elsewhere; workers would be external contractors.  Little value would accrue to locals.  The local community would now see a devastated area of land where once there was a living forest. The old human story is one of exploitation, destruction, and conversion into financial value. 


Partial transition to a new human story would see the forest as a sustainably managed resource providing many things and if managed well, could do so forever.  But if the old human story of never-ending growth and exploitation remains, then sustainably managed forests become an ever-decreasing element within an ever-increasing demand.  Continual growth means other places get damaged.



The new human story will see things very differently. 


A walk through a wood will be a walk through a story book.


We wouldn’t be thinking “resource and profitability”, we would be thinking “place and how we are part of it”.


You would read its history in the structure of the trees, in its landform and in the plants and animals that you see.


You would see its links to products that you use day to day, you would know the people that work there and the families that are supported.


You would understand that this forest ecosystem was locking up carbon, that the soils were growing.  You would know that it was reducing our risks such as flood risk, soil erosion even disease risks.  We would know about the wildlife that was flourishing and spreading into surrounding areas.


Most of all, you would see the forest as a diverse and intricate living system.  A natural ecosystem which works and regenerates by itself forever with people cherishing it and receiving continual benefits. 


It would be seen as a system to learn from and emulate in gardens, such as in permaculture, forest gardens, productive food forests, as well as in agriculture more generally.


In this place you would see the past and our ancestors written in the forest.  You would see yourself as a good ancestor to future generations because you would be supporting a system that is self-sustaining in perpetuity.


The value of the forest would be as much in its simple existence, and as a place for re-creation, inspiration, creative arts, health and wellbeing, as it is as a place providing practical benefits and products.


The need for growth would not exist as we, our community and our society would be thriving whether or not we grow (rather than growing whether or not we thrive).