One of the key features of the environmental movement is the insistence on changing our lifestyles. Their beefs with the way we live range from the lightbulbs we use in our homes to the food we eat, from the energy we use to how we get around. Sometimes their instances are intrusive, even dictatorial, such as an “anti-transport policy“.
Coverage of proposals for a new international airport, super-fast trains between British cities or road building, has said almost nothing about why governments and transport users want these multibillion-pound projects. A lot was said about generating jobs and prosperity, but little if anything about what they are ultimately for. To help people fly, take the train to a meeting or an exhibition, or drive more quickly. Yes, but why are they flying, training, driving? To enjoy a holiday, earn a living, or visit relatives and friends. These are the ends: planes, trains and automobiles are the means to those ends.
For too long transport debate has been dominated about the how, not the why: the means has become and end in itself. It is time to spend more time and effort thinking about how people can live, work and play without needing so much transport. We need an anti-transport policy too, if you like.
For decades, transport planners have begun to argue against the traditional “predict and provide” model of building ever more capacity to satisfy the seemingly insatiable human demand for freedom of movement – including freedom from being held up by other people doing the same thing.
Now, to the Department for Transport’s credit, the Liberal Democrat parliamentary under-secretary of state Norman Baker has appointed himself minister for alternatives to transport.
In a report on this very subject in November, Baker spelt out the logic: “If we are to realise the prize that alternatives to travel offers, of fewer needless journeys, of better work-life balance, of congestion and carbon down and company profits up, then we have to do more.”
People travel because they want to or need to. They are aware of these drawbacks which Baker mentions, and yet continue to chose to travel, and as such, a demand is met by the free market, and to a lesser extent, government-run services. If people wanted to travel less, they would. They do not need environmentalists telling them what they want, deciding what is best for the rest of us.
The article then touts the benefits of internet broadband and video conferencing and lauds the fact that they don’t have any greenhouse drawbacks. Yet, we have politicians, dignitaries, youth activists, actors, celebrities, scientists and bureaucrats jetting off to some luxury location every year to make a deal on reducing these same greenhouse gases. If only they would subscribe to the same anti-transport policy that their friends in the environmental movement want to subject the rest of us to.
I wonder if our own transport minister will propose such a plan. If he does, he may just copy the report from the UK.