Guest writer | Bridget Doran, Chair of Transportation Group New Zealand & Principal Researcher of MRCagney
Bridget has 17 years of experience in transport policy, research, planning, and design. Her thought leadership is seeking to contribute to better transport decision-making. In the face of the climate crisis, her passionate article ends on a high note – one filled with solutions and hope. Read this opinion piece for a sharp dose of reality and motivation!
Transport, climate change, and equity: the uncertain future of asset management
The short story of what transport professionals in Aotearoa can do about climate change is, “LOL you are worried about climate change? That’s cute”. Crises facing humanity’s survival in coming decades are far more serious than just a changing climate. Scientists agree that we are highly unlikely to change our consumption patterns enough to keep warming within survivable temperature limits. Climate change and other problems like biodiversity loss, the explosion of microplastics, and other new organisms have at their core humanity’s pursuit of growth. Individual consumption encouraged by capitalism ignores the limits of biology, geology and physics.
We are doomed.
And we are delusional if we think ‘decarbonising’ through electrifying our energy and mobility will fix it. There aren’t enough minerals in the earth’s crust to do that. Politicians announcing that we are now ‘leading the world’ in the race to import electric cars make me feel physically sick.
You can’t clean a goldfish bowl by polishing the stones in one little area. If 10% of the goldfish race to clean their stones, using stone-cleaning brushes mined from the other 90% of the bowl, all that happens is the whole bowl gets more polluted… and all the goldfish go belly-up.
We are driving our electric cars around on the tip of a melting iceberg. “Lalalala, turn up the air conditioning. It’s getting hot in here.”
Survival of humanity depends on global action, and I’m not seeing effective global cooperation going on. Politics is too corrupt, individuals are too power-hungry and greedy, and lifestyles of the elite are too precious for any of them to sacrifice.
What’s left to hope for? Transport people need to work with planners, health professionals and anthropologists to start with the question, “what access do people in this community need to connect and thrive?”
How can tangata whenua strengthen cultural connection, to nature, and to the activities that make a good life? What enables disabled people? What activates the mana of queer communities? The question that can get in the bin is “what does the traffic network need?”. Traffic network efficiency is out. Community resilience is in.
And that means a shift in focus towards what most of us are already thinking about. Here are my preferred priorities:
- Streets as community space: less asphalt. More urban food forests, seating and swings, greenery, and social connection – right on our doorsteps.
- Accessible local walking networks, so everyone can meet basic needs close to home.
- Safe cycling infrastructure and e-bike libraries for longer trips.
- Frequent, reliable mass transit for true urban thriving.
See? What a good news story after all that doom! And guess what, these solutions are a good idea even if 99% of the scientific community is wrong and endless growth on a finite planet is actually possible! Happy days. If nothing else, coming decades will be an adventure that we will all ride through one way or another, if we are fortunate enough to survive. Best we all make friends with all the other goldfish, and quickly.