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Invited talk: “Carbon transport: an interdisciplinary opportunity”

Prof. John Whitelegg
Stockholm Environment Institute / University of York

Wednesday, 19 January 2011, 2:00 – 3:00 pm, Glamorgan Building
Sponsored by the Research and Graduate Schools

Talk abstract:

For several decades the transport sector has had an untroubled existence supported by large  amount of capital investment in new infrastructure, abundant supplies of cheap oil supported by a geopolitical system designed to maintain these supplies and an ideology of modernism and progress that celebrates mobility.

This era is over. Transport now faces huge challenges that embrace the possibility of less infrastructure (fiscal deficits), less oil or expensive oil (peak oil), re-thinking the nature of mobility so that it celebrates accessibility and localism rather than distance as a consumer product. There is also a stronger awareness of the health impact of transport decisions (obesity and 300,000 deaths every year in the EU as a result of air pollution) and a stronger sense of ethical and social justice questions that have surfaced in the Swedish Vision Zero road safety policy.
Perhaps the most pressing challenge is the need to de-carbonise transport systems as a contribution to climate change policies designed to limit atmospheric concentrations of CO2 to less than 350ppm. This challenge requires an increased scientific effort, stronger political will and a broader view of co-benefits, synergy and visions of what society could look like in (say) 2050 in a transport de-carbonised world.

This brief presentation will emphasise the urgent need for de-carbonisation, the significance of co-benefits, the urgent need for transport to play a full proportionate role in climate change policy and the even more urgent need for significant improvements in the ways in which disciplines work together, embrace each other’s perspectives, democratise decision-taking and define desirable futures and how these can be achieved.

This will require new approaches to interdsiciplinarity and new ways of valuing alternative perspectives. It will also produce long-awaited improvements in most aspects of quality of life and transport decision-taking.

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