We need to be more strategic about how we tackle greenhouse gasesPosted: March 10, 2010 | |
Do we need to tackle climate change and peak oil on all fronts or would it be more strategic to focus on priority areas?
This question is prompted by reading Victoria’s Greenhouse Gas Emissions, 1990-2005, prepared for the 2008 Victorian Climate Change Summit by George Wickenfield & Assocs. This report calculates that 64.4% of all carbon emissions in Victoria are generated by the residential, commercial and manufacturing sectors. Almost all of these emissions are in the form of electricity generated by brown coal.
In contrast, all passenger transport in Victoria – by both car and public transport – generates only 13.9% of the State’s total carbon emissions. That’s less than a quarter of what the electricity sector generates.
The message I take from these numbers is that we should give priority to reducing the carbon emissions of electricity by, for example, switching generation from coal to natural gas in the short to medium term, with a longer term objective of making all generation carbon-neutral.
It would also be good policy to encourage smaller, better insulated dwellings so that less electricity is needed in the first place for air conditioning, swimming pools and flat panel TVs, as well as less embedded energy. But I’m not so much of a puritan that I think we need to be excessively zealous about that if we can get to the point where the electricity we’re using is generated with little or no carbon.
Similarly, rather than expect Melburnians to use public transport when they overwhelmingly and plainly prefer to use cars (except in a limited number of situations, such as CBD commuting), it makes much more sense in my view to give priority to reducing the oil consumption and carbon emissions of Melbourne’s car fleet by, for example, encouraging a shift to smaller, more efficient cars and switching to gas or electrically powered vehicles.
Billions of dollars invested in making electricity generation more sustainable would give far more bang for the buck than the same money invested in trying to shift reluctant motorists out of their cars and into public transport – see my post on public transport from 9 March for some background on the outlook for public transport.
That’s not to say there aren’t other reasons for suppressing car travel, such as congestion, road injuries, noise and the environmental impact of making and maintaining millions of car. However if carbon emissions and peak oil are eliminated as relevant considerations, then the warrant for ‘forcing’ people out of their cars and on to public transport is much less compelling and probably politically impossible in the foreseeable future. The BBC’s Ethical Man had something to say about that.
Returning to my starting theme, how far do we need to go? It’s bad strategy to attack on all fronts at once – we should instead prioritise our scare resources and focus on those actions that give the highest pay-off.