There’s been a lot of talk lately about how our daily routines affect the climate, and vice versa. Take travel, for instance. Tourists – our economy depends on them – have to fly long distances to get to New Zealand, which means a lot of carbon emissions. But even those of us who aren’t here for holidays are constantly on the move. We meet people, transport goods, bring our kids to school, and have to get to work and back. Cars equal freedom and flexibility. In New Zealand it’s a necessary evil that we have the second highest car ownership rate in the world, but transport-related climate issues are among the biggest threats for us and for the environment.
Global warming sends weather patterns crazy – be it floods in Australia, droughts in Sudan or melting Arctic ice shields – and globalisation means there will be implications for New Zealand.
What do we do – stop travelling? Leave the kids at home? Go hungry? Not quite. What we need are ideas to make the way we travel more sustainable, economically feasible, socially just and friendly to the environment. We have to adapt our travel lifestyles to the requirements of the 21st century.
Admittedly there isn’t much we can do about the impact of air travel, apart from not flying— difficult to impossible for a remote island nation—or getting airlines to invest in eco-efficiency and new technologies. What we can do is think about possibilities to get people out of their cars. Better public transport is an obvious answer to that, but it’s only really feasible for bigger cities.
Taking a look abroad, something we should probably do more often, the signs point to electric cars. Germany, the birthplace of the petrol car, aspires to have a million of them on the road by 2020. All around the world, renewable energies will be fuelling powerful batteries and intelligent grids. In Belgium, they got a whole train running on solar power by covering a tunnel with solar panels. The first solar plane just made it from Switzerland to Brussels. Clearly, things are on the move.
But we don’t have to look as far as Europe for smart ideas. Instead, you might like to try Shweeb, the pedal-powered monorail. It’s the brainchild of Geoff Barnett, a former English teacher who got tired of riding his bicycle through heavy Tokyo traffic. His new urban cycling technology is promising enough to make it from its current home, the Agroventures fun park in Rotorua, to your doorstep soon.
This new form of transport takes its inspiration from the Schwebebahn, a well-served suspension monorail of sorts, located in the German city of Wuppertal. Journalists and corporate investors have come knocking on the door, not least due to Shweeb winning Google’s prestigious bright ideas competition some months ago, worth no less than US$1 million of investment from the tech giant.
Ultimately it’s up to us to seize the opportunity and give these projects a go. Not only for the environment, but also for future generations.
This article was first published in the Idealog magazine, October 27, 2011
Picture: Shweeb in action, Rotorua, NZ