Children in the car era: bad for them and the planet


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Children’s travel needs are a big factor in private car use.
Pablo Rogat/Shutterstock

Hulya Gilbert, University of South Australia; Andrew Allan, University of South Australia; Carolyn Whitzman, University of Melbourne, and Johannes Pieters, University of South Australia

Children today spend more time in cars than previous generations. They also spend less time playing on the streets and in unstructured and unsupervised activity outdoors. The lack of opportunities for physical activity and the loss of freedom to explore their local neighbourhood is bad news for children’s physical, social and mental well-being.




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Though equally important, the environmental cost of these trends is not well understood. As rapid urbanisation extends across the globe, transport planning continues to be challenging. Transport is one of the biggest sources of greenhouse gas emissions. And 46% of transport-related emissions come from private vehicles.

We know surprisingly little, however, about the detailed reasons for individual private car use. An international study highlights that households with children have higher rates of car ownership and use. In Australia, official statistics on transport pay a great deal of attention to the “journey to work”, but car travel that can be attributed to child-related activities has not been fully explored.

Research on children’s travel patterns tends to focus on the “journey to school”. While school trips are important, this provides only a narrow image of children’s actual travel patterns. They also make many trips to non-school destinations and extracurricular activities such as sport, music and dance classes.

We recently reviewed local government policies related to sustainable mobility and child-and-youth-friendly cities. Our review found little consideration of children and young people in transport planning policies across Australia. This is despite the fact that the decline in their walking and cycling rates was widely recognised.




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Why are walking and cycling rates decreasing?

Several factors contribute to lower rates of walking and cycling among children and their limited use of public transport. These range from urban form to social and economic conditions.

Australian suburbs typically have low density and segregated land uses, which privilege the car over other travel modes. This situation is worse in outer suburbs which have limited public transport and poor provision for walking and cycling. These outer suburbs are also more likely to have lower socio-economic status and a larger proportion of families with children.

All together, these suburban conditions add to the social disadvantage resulting from limited access to services and activities that are critical for families with children. This further encourages private car use.




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Changing social structures mean families usually are on tight schedules. These changes include increases in employment for women and in the number of both single-parent families and families where both parents are in paid work. Because the car is relatively cheap and easy to use for individual mobility in Australian cities, it is generally the uncontested way to manage these schedules.

In addition, the increased individualisation as a common characteristic of Western societies usually means parents are expected to provide strict supervision of children’s movements. In the conditions described above, the most practical way to do this is usually to drive them in a car.

Of course this increases the number of cars on our streets, particularly around schools and other common destinations for children. This then perpetuates parents’ concerns about traffic safety, leading in turn to even more private car use.

Notice the difference? Drop-off time at an inner-city Copenhagen school.
Hulya Gilbert, Author provided



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Child-centred sustainable mobility

What is perhaps most striking about the trend towards chauffeuring children is that these facts are seemingly becoming accepted as unavoidable outcomes of modern society. They are largely ignored in transport planning.

We have argued that children have a pivotal role in sustainable mobility. Greater attention to the mobility needs of families with children will produce many social and environmental benefits.

The importance of children’s role in sustainable mobility can be grouped under two themes.

First, children’s needs in today’s lifestyles mean they have an active role in contributing to increased private car use. The daily lives of families with children offer a good example of the context in which carbon-intensive travel patterns occur. If their mobility needs can be met more sustainably (even partially) we are likely to achieve significant carbon savings.

Second, and perhaps more importantly, children have a role as catalysts for behavioural change towards sustainable cities. This is because childhood is a key stage for establishing sustainable travel habits as opposed to “trying to modify already ingrained habits later in life”.

A better understanding of children’s travel patterns would provide a solid foundation for sustainable mobility policies. Planning and transport policies that are responsive to children’s specific needs are likely to have more effective and longer-lasting outcomes, with many related benefits for social sustainability and public health.The Conversation

Hulya Gilbert, PhD Candidate, University of South Australia; Andrew Allan, Senior Lecturer in Urban and Regional Planning, University of South Australia; Carolyn Whitzman, Professor of Urban Planning, University of Melbourne, and Johannes Pieters, Lecturer, Regional and Urban Planning Discipline, University of South Australia

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Delaying action on car emissions will make Australia more vulnerable


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We don’t know what the car of the future will look like – but that’s no excuse to delay transport reform.
www.twin-loc.fr/Flickr, CC BY-SA

Bonnie McBain, University of Newcastle

France has set its car manufacturers the goal of halting sales of diesel and petrol cars by 2040. The announcement last week came a day after the Swedish manufacturer Volvo declared it will build only hybrid and electric cars from 2019.

Moving away from highly polluting cars is an urgent global priority. Worldwide, transport accounts for 26% of humanity’s carbon dioxide emissions and, of these emissions, 81% comes from road transport.

Our latest research, published in the International Journal of Sustainable Transportation, shows that car ownership and the total distance travelled by cars are both likely to keep growing, globally and in Australia.

But just because there will be more cars, covering more ground, that doesn’t necessarily mean CO₂ emissions will continue to rise. It depends on a complex mix of population trends, income growth and the impacts of new policies and technologies.

It might therefore seem sensible to delay policy decisions until we can see what type of future emerges. However, our research found that a “wait and see” approach will dramatically increase our economic, social and environmental vulnerability.

Lower-income Australians are particularly at risk. This is because transport accounts for a greater proportion of their household income and they tend to live on the urban fringe where daily travel distances are necessarily higher.

Future-proofing our transport policy means we must engage with uncertainty, not ignore it. That means choosing policies that allow us to adapt to a range of technological or social developments.

We modelled different policy options in Western Australia, looking for options that reduced CO₂ emissions without creating social vulnerabilities. The most effective approach requires simultaneously improving fuel standards, making cars more efficient, and increasing city density to reduce both car ownership and the total distance we need to travel in cars.

However, CO₂ emissions alone don’t provide the full picture. Our model found that encouraging biofuels, for example, could mean increasing our agricultural footprint to grow feedstock.

Similarly, electric and hydrogen-fuelled vehicles require energy supplied by the electricity sector. As this sector itself decarbonises, technologies such as solar, hydro and wind will require greater areas of land than coal and gas technologies.

However, managing carbon dioxide emissions and demand on land is not necessarily mutually exclusive. Wind turbines can co-exist with grazing, and decentralised solar panels are already common on existing buildings. Offshore wind farms and solar installed on otherwise unproductive land can lessen impact. Targeted investment in technological efficiency can further reduce this impact.

Using land for both agriculture and energy production could actually give farmers greater economic resilience. Alternative fuels that use waste products or are low-impact (such as biofuel made from algae) are also promising avenues.

The economic case for expensive changes

Although the implementation of stringent transport policy will be costly – it requires massive changes in capital infrastructure and behaviour – it will open up other benefits and saving.

Vehicle emissions are recognised as the source of more air pollution than any other single human activity. These emissions cause hundreds of preventable deaths in Australia every year. (As well as saving lives, we’d also save billions of dollars in related costs.)

Well-designed, more compact urban spaces encourage more biking and walking. This, in turn, reduces chronic diseases that also cost Australians billions every year.


J G/Flickr, CC BY-NC

Research shows that compact cities reduce infrastructure costs by 11%; a 2015 report found gridlock alone could cost Australia A$53 billion by 2031. Curbing urban sprawl can reduce the clearing of native vegetation, which benefits the rivers and animals that live around our cities.

Changing the type of fuel used by cars, improving vehicle efficiency and increasing city density are all policy levers that can reduce the footprint of urban cars, but these must occur in tandem. To minimise costs and realise the potential savings, policymakers need to collaborate on finding policies that are flexible enough to adapt to an uncertain future.

The ConversationShould we have the leadership to implement such sophisticated policy, we might accidentally design a future in which we are healthier and happier too.

Bonnie McBain, Tutor in Sustainability Science, University of Newcastle

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Sustainable shopping: with the right tools, you can find an eco-friendly car


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When we look at the latest car models we want fast cars, all-terrain cars or cars to fit the whole family. What about an environmentally friendly car?
REUTERS/Toby Melville

Anna Mortimore, Griffith University

Shopping can be confusing at the best of times, and trying to find environmentally friendly options makes it even more difficult. Welcome to the second instalment of our Sustainable Shopping series, in which we ask experts to provide easy eco-friendly guides to purchases big and small. The Conversation


Cars are vital to Australians. As of 2016, we have 18.4 million registered motor vehicles, producing vast amounts of carbon dioxide from the combustion of fuels..

The harms of CO₂ emissions from fossil fuel burning have been hammered home time and time again: they are the main driver of global warming and sea level rise, and they harm vulnerable communities. So how can our choice of car minimise these devastating outcomes?

The issue

Without reducing road transport emissions , the Australian Government will find it difficult to meet our climate target of a 26-28% reduction on 2005 emission levels by 2030.

A simple way to reduce transport emissions significantly is to guide consumers towards more fuel-efficient vehicles. Many other countries have minimum national standards for new cars, but no such targets currently exist in Australia.

This means global car manufacturers can dump high-polluting cars, which can’t be sold in countries with stricter regulations, into the Australian market. The most fuel-efficient, low-emission vehicles offered in Australia are on average less efficient than those offered in other countries with fuel efficiency standards. Car manufacturers offer those vehicles that are cost effective to supply and maximise their profit in the Australian market.

Internationally, this makes Australia a laggard when it comes to energy efficiency in the transport sector, ranking last out of 16 major OECD countries.

How can we increase sustainability?

The federal government has proposed a set of fuel-efficiency and CO₂ emission regulations, to be introduced by 2020.

The regulations will encourage car manufacturers to import and promote the most fuel-efficient models. Evidence shows that motorists’ vehicle choices play a key role in decarbonising the transport sector.

The current Australian fuel consumption label is confusing and doesn’t give people enough context.
Climate Change Authority

But as it stands, if you want to make an informed choice about your new car, you generally have to rely on the mandatory fuel-efficiency and CO₂ emission labels (displayed on all new cars), and information provided in the Green Vehicle Guide.

Unfortunately, current car labels can be very confusing, presenting numbers with very little context. There is a simple way to make this labelling more effective, which other countries have done very well: rate vehicles against a benchmark.

The Irish fuel label, for instance, includes colour-coded bands to rank CO₂ emissions, and an estimate of the amount of fuel needed to travel 18,000km. Buyers can tell at a glance if a score is good or bad, and thus easily compare models.

Irish fuel consumption labels are well recognised and easily understood by consumers.
Ask About Ireland

Irish car labels also tell buyers about the vehicle’s registration tax (stamp duty), which varies based on its CO₂ emissions.

What can Australians do?

The best starting point when buying a new car is the Green Vehicle Guide, which gives you the CO₂ emissions intensity for each model.

Let’s say I really want a fuel efficient medium-sized SUV. Searching in the Green Vehicle Guide will lead me to the Mitsubishi Outlander (petrol-electric) hybrid, which emits 44g of CO₂ per kilometre.

I can see that’s better than the other SUVs detailed in the guide, but I want some more context. My next step is to look at the Carbon Dioxide Emissions Intensity report by the National Transport Commission, which will give me an idea of how the Mitsubishi measures up against other new vehicles in Australia.

That report is a whopping 66 pages long, but the graph below is on page 21. It shows the range and average of CO₂ emissions of 2015 vehicle models, so I can see that the average medium SUV emits 175g per km, and the upper limit is over 250g per km. The Mitsubishi is therefore a pretty sound choice – it’s actually under the average emissions of all classes of new vehicles.

The average and the range of carbon dioxide emissions intensity of car models during 2015. The average emissions are represented by the horizontal lines and the range of emissions are represented by the vertical lines.
National Transport Commission

Ideally, finding a less environmentally damaging car would not take this much work.

The Green Vehicle Guide should compare all categories of new vehicles against the “best in class” chart on page 22 of the Carbon Dioxide Emissions Intensity report. Better still, manufacturers should have to provide this information in an easily understood way on each car they sell.

Such rankings would inform people whether the vehicle they are choosing is an eco-friendly brand, and put pressure on manufacturers to improve their Australian offerings.

Making it easy to find greener cars can have a big impact. If all Australians buying a new vehicle in 2015 had picked the “best in class” for their model, the national average for new car CO₂ emissions that year would have been 55% lower.

The government can help the environment and consumers by following the European Union’s example. This would mean imposing better industry standards and raising consumer awareness by providing information on car labels that is easily understood and transparent, such as ranking vehicles against colour coded CO2 emission bands. Until then, a little information and some homework can help you find the most eco-friendly vehicle for your needs.

Anna Mortimore, Lecturer, Griffith Business School, Griffith University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Check In: Day 2 of Holiday


I have had a most interesting couple of days on the road and in the bush. Currently I’m in a motel room at Woolgoolga, near Coffs Harbour on the mid-north coast of New South Wales, Australia. ‘Hardly the wild,’ I hear you say, and you’re quite right – it isn’t. The weather was beginning to change I noticed on the final leg of my day’s itinerary, so I decided to hide out in a motel room for the night – good decision, it’s pouring outside.

I won’t give all away – I’ll leave the main description of the holiday to the website – but just some of the ‘downlights’ of the first couple of days for this post.

I didn’t arrive at Cathedral Rock National Park until just on dark, but did get the tent up prior to darkness arriving – when it did, it was dark! The campfire took an eternity to get going as all of the timber was damp and by the time I got it started it was time for bed – all-be-it an early night (7.30pm). I had decided to not spend the money on replacing all of the gear I needed to replace for camping, following the loss of a lot of gear over the years due to storage, etc. I hadn’t done much in the way of bushwalking or camping for years due to injuries sustained in my car crash and a bad ankle injury, so I left it all a bit late. I figured that for this holiday I’d make do and replace the gear with quality gear before the next trip. In short, I’ll get by – but it would have been nice to have some good gear just the same. It was a very cold night let me tell you – and long.

When I reached the heights of my first walk today, standing on top of Cathedral Rock National Park, my digital camera decided to die on me. I knew there was something wrong with it during the ascent as it was really chugging away taking pictures. I did get a couple of reasonable panoramic shots on the top of Cathedral Rock before it died, so that was good. I took stills with the video camera I was using, so it wasn’t a complete loss. When I completed the Woolpack Rocks walk I made the trip to Coffs Harbour to seek a replacement and got one for a reasonable price. It’s just another compact and so I will also buy a digital SLR prior to my next trip I hope. My previous SLR was basically destroyed when the camera cap came off during a multiple day bushwalk and all manner of stuff got into it. It wasn’t digital so I didn’t bother repairing it.

So tomorrow – off to Dorrigo National Park I hope and several lengthy walks I haven’t done before. Hopefully the rain will clear.

 

Holiday Update


My latest holiday plan has gone flop – the back packing holiday is a no-goer. Reason? It would seem from all reports that the Tops to Myalls Heritage Trail has been abandoned, with parts of the route now so overgrown as to be unrecognizable. I have been told of walkers in recent times having to back track a fair distance when the way ahead was no longer able to be walked. So as disappointing as it is I have abandoned the trail myself and will now do something else.

With time running out for a settled option, I have decided to fall back on an earlier idea and that is to visit the Cathedral Rocks National Park and possibly do some further walks at the Dorrigo National Park. I have booked a vehicle (car rental) for the trip so things are fairly settled now as far as the destination is concerned. I am now going to put some meat on the bones of my idea and draw up an itinerary, Google Map, etc. So some real detail of what I plan to do will be coming over the next few weeks.

This isn’t going to be an expensive holiday or a long one, but is mean’t to be a simple time-out break and one that will allow me to plan some much bigger holidays for later in the year and into the coming year also.

Holiday Planning


It is time to start planning my next holiday. First step in the process was to settle on a date for it – this has been done and I have booked in two weeks annual leave for it.

The second stage is now to establish a location for the holiday. I’m toying with a couple of ideas at the moment. The first is to travel to Cathedral Rocks National Park and do some walks in that area. The second idea is to do some overnight walks through the Myall Lakes National Park through to the Gloucester area. I ruled out the possibility of travelling to the red centre due to rental car restrictions, so it is down to these two possibilities at this stage. I am leaning towards the latter at this stage however.