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Sunday, 8 November 2009

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Green Transport

Minister Patali Champika inspects a modern car.

When I was in Rome in 2008, on a private visit, I happened to participate in a series of meetings and cultural events in Milan, Neples and Rome, organized by the Sri Lankan expatriates. In Rome, I visited its waste management sites and found that only 40% of waste was being properly recycled and disposed. The authorities there informed me that due to the involvement of underworld elements, the waste management in Nepals was much worse compared to that in Rome and Milan. Although, they had experienced similar problems that we were facing in Sri Lanka in the field of waste management, they had been much better than us.

In Rome, my hosts - the Sri Lankan expatriates, had arranged a guided tour of the old city of Pompeii, which had been devastated by volcanic flow of lava from the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. The mummified human bodies, trees, houses, streets and many other places I happened to see there, prompted me to an unprecedented outburst of feelings. The rock paved streets with wheel tracks of horse carriages and coaches there had much resemblance to deeply cut modern railway tracks and they were similar to the old Roman street ways I saw in England when I was there on a visit, some time back.

These similarities raised my curiosity to observe a certain pattern.

The widths of the roads and the widths of the carriages are the same in modern times although the modes of transportation have evolved drastically. Once a friend of mine - a businessman, told me that the Apollo Rocket was actually carried on the backs of two horses.

I was amused. When I inquired the reason for it I was told that during the designing stage of the rocket, the scientists had seriously considered as to how they could transport the rocket to its launching pad. As they had decided to use the railway track to transport the rocket the width of the rocket had been designed to suit the width of the railway carriage. The present day carriage widths have been standardized based on the carriages driven by two horses! Although, horses are not used for modern day vehicles they are being designed to the same scale and proportions!

During the conversation I have had with my friend on our way back from Rome, we discussed about the soaring fuel prices that prevailed at the time (2008) which was affecting almost all the economic activities in the world. Was it due to the reasons of market manipulation or the scarcity of resources? I thought it was due to both reasons, notwithstanding the fact that the world was heavily dependent on oil.

We are experiencing the oil peak or the maximum oil production at present, although it is expected to decline after 2015. Then what would happen to the oil prices? The most important fact to remember is that oil will no longer be a feasible source of energy as it will be exhausted as a commercially viable commodity by 2050. After that what would happen? Nobody seems to have found a satisfactory answer! However, concepts like sustainable transport or green transport may shed some light, leading to a possible solution.

It has been estimated that 20-25% of the world energy consumption and the resulting emission of carbon, which causes global warming and climatic change are due to transportation and the rate of its usage of oil is faster than by any other energy using sector. In 1960, it was estimated that nearly 200 million cars and other vehicles were being used and 90% of these vehicles were owned by North America and Europe.

However, in 2005, the total number of cars used was nearly 800 million, whereas 60% of it was used in the western world. The rapied phase of development in India and China has shown that the car industry in those super economies is a booming industry. If we assume that India and China were to achieve the same level of development and purchasing power of the USA, then the oil reserves may exhaust by 2020! So, the mode of transportation and the development are coupled to each other and share a common limitation.

In addition to the economic cost of rising fuel prices, (once again it is rising to 80 US$ per barrel) the transportation sector seriously pollutes our environment.

The green house gas emissions from transportation is increasing at a faster rate than from any other energy using sector like heavy industries, agriculture or commerce.

The road transportation also contributes towards local air and sound pollution. In addition to many other social problems, such as road accidents, there are health hazards caused by air pollution, noise pollution, physical inactivity and mental alienation.

Here the concept of alienation means the slavery of the human beings towards their own constructions like cars, trains and aeroplanes. It should also be noted that the fuel price increase would affect the most vulnerable poor social groups who are not likely to own or drive cars. It is a known fact that in addition to the waste of time and resources, traffic congestion cause mental depression as well.

If we glance through the history of transportation, walking and running are considered to be the first mode of transport which is also most sustainable.

Later, the human beings were able to tame and obtain the services of animals for transportation purposes. Buffaloes, Bulls, Camels, Donkeys, Horses and even Elephants were properly trained and were used as sustainable means of transport. It is reported that Chinese invented the wheel and Indo-Europeans enhanced the technology by introducing spokes etc. and had constructed carts and carriages. The boat and ship building industry too was scaled up and developed during the war times and these technologies were considered a significant leap forward.

Once again it was the Chinese who invented the know how of transforming the linear motion into the circular motion which led to the basic theory of modern combustion engines.

While the flying machine was developed by Wright Brothers, many others contributed immensely for the development of aeronautic industry and rocket science. The war played a vital role for the evolvement of these technologies and therefore were based on reductionistic rather than wholeistic sciences.

The public transport was introduced by Blaise Puscal by inventing the public bus in 1662. The first passenger train and the first passenger rail service began their operation in 1807, and in 1825, respectively.

The world sustainable transport came into being with the world sustainable development. According to the EU Council of Ministers, the sustainable transport or mobility means that which allows the basic access and development needs of individuals, companies and society to be met safely and in a manner consistence with human and eco system health and promotes equity within and between successive generations.

Does affordable operators fairly and efficiently offer a choice of transport mode, limits emissions and waste within the planetís ability to absorb them, uses renewable resources at or below their rates of generations and uses non renewable resources at or below the rates of development of renewable substitutes while minimizing the impact on the use of land and the generation of noise.

Currently 95% of the transport energy is generated from petroleum and it contributes to 24% of the world energy related green house gas emissions (in 2004) where about 75% of it emanates from road vehicles.

The citizens of the USA are the worse polluters and their passenger transport per capita carbon dioxide emission is 4500 Kg., whereas, the Western European Countries comparable figure is 1200 Kg. The Asian passengers emit less than 500 Kg and the Sri Lankan figure is 200 Kg! That clearly shows who the worse polluters and the least polluters are when it comes to the question of world transportation.

The electric trams and trains are common modes of transport and natural gas is also used as a source of energy. For their public transport sector, India and Bangladesh had introduced LNG and bio fuels are also used to a lesser extent. Brazil uses bio thermal and it meets 17% of its transport fuel needs.

A sustainable transport system should include not only the introduction of green vehicles, but also it should include the related urban designs, green infrastructure development like green ways, cycle ways and public transport, access restrictions like car restricted zones, parking managements, traffic calming, introducing pricing strategies like city road pricing, integrated ticketing, travel information, introducing proper urban goods transport system which includes clean vehicles distribution scheme, fleet management etc.

Restricting air travel by introducing other communication technologies, carbon natural airlines, introducing non transport mitigatory measures like flexible working hours and flextime, introducing new laws and most importantly political commitments and public awareness about the danger we are going to face.

Green transport includes walking (also called ambulation), bicycling or biking using of zero emission vehicles like battery powered, solar powered or wind powered etc. Now hybrid vehicles are being introduced and commonly used.

Animal powered or human powered modern transport vehicles are also introduced. Whatever the means, the introduction of green transport is essential. The scarcity of petroleum resources coupled with global warming caused by burning of petroleum have forced us to change our mode of transportation.

(The writer is the Minister of Environment and Natural Resources)

 

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