Editorial: Why are we losing the sustainability wars? In transport, in cities, in our lives?

Consider these irrefutable unpleasant truths:

There may be successes and improvements in this project, in this  place, in this way, but when we look at the bottom line — i.e., the aggregate impact of our transport choices and actions on the planet  — it is clear that we (that’s the collective “we”) are failing, big time. And if we are frank with ourselves, we can see that this is quite simply because . . .

1.       We are not smart enough.

2.       We do not care enough.

3.      We are not original enough.

4.       We are not courageous enough

5.       We are not honest enough

And, as if that were not enough we can also see that our system failure (because that is what it is) results from the fact that . . .

6.       We are hopelessly mired in the habits of thought of the long-gone 20th century.

7.       We somehow fail to understand that there are powerful reactionary interests in play that profit from each day that we do not redress the structural imbalances that underlie our tragic situation

8.        We systematically over-compartmentalize our organization, analysis and actions, thus rendering effective reforms unlikely or impossible.

9.        As individuals we exhibit a discouraging tendency to want to take credit for any success, but avoid responsibility for anything that might go wrong.

10.       We are content to slide by today and avoid the pain involved in changing course; leaving the future as someone else’s problem.

11.       We are generally setting poor examples for youth, our neighbors and anyone else who may be looking in terms of our personal choices when it comes to getting around in day to day life.

12.       We have effectively given up (though we continue to make nice noises to the contrary just to retain our dignity and our place in society.)

How can we reverse this? How is it that Steve Jobs and a couple of others can put an entire universe at our fingertips, whereas our responsible institutions and actors, and the rest of us, are so patently unable to turn around the mega-trends that are murdering the planet and our future?

Think we are not losing this war? That we have grounds for optimism?  Let me help you. If you believe that you are either hopelessly wishful or misinformed or stupid or blind or  hypocritical or lazy or have an interest in things bumbling along as they go – or some combination of the above.  But in any event you are tragically wrong.

When are you, when are we, when am I going to change and start to get on with this, as if it were serious? We are not going to gt the job by sitting around and waiting or complaining. Remember what Keynes said: “In the long run we all are dead”? This is a positive challenge. It cannot wait; it demands concrete action today. We have the tools. We have the knowledge. Let’s set the bar high and get on with it.  We can, you know.

Could it be that the sustainable development confraternity needs a Jasmine Revolution, a Tahrir Square of its own? Or do you think the problem will fix itself? Your call!

Eric Britton, Editor

PS. I really hope this irritates you. If so, please share your displeasure with the author. You can be sure you will not be the only one.

7 thoughts on “Editorial: Why are we losing the sustainability wars? In transport, in cities, in our lives?

    • Decent point. I would say that the “we” in this case is all those who are in some way charged with the responsibility for advancing the sustainability agenda — which is in fact all of us. But particularly those politicians, administrators or others who are being paid to advance this agenda but who are, perhaps?, not making their fullest and best contribution.

      It is also a note of dissatisfaction that I address to all my colleagues and friends working in this area. I think we need to be more dissatisfied, more innovative, more firmly and intelligently committed to getting things moving in the right direction. (And what is that? Simple, very near term reductions of VMT and all that goes with it.)

      We is not “them”. It is not necissarly you. It is US.

  1. A couple more questions that “we” should be asking,,,

    Are we making “New Mobility”/”streets for people” interesting/relevant to the general population?

    Are we focusing too much on the interests of advocates, rather than the interests of the most influential in our communities?

    • I am not sure that I exactly understand what you are asking Ian. But let me see if I can respoond to what I think ou are getting at:

      1. Transportation (mobility, access) is not about

      a. Infrastructure or
      b. Vehicles or
      c. Energy or
      d. Technology or
      e. Speed or
      f. Etc.

      2. Transportation is about PEOPLE

      a. Nor is it about or should it give high place to . . .

      i. Males driving alone in their own car
      ii. Females, etc.
      iii. The mobility convenience of politicians, elites, administrators and public officials of rank
      iv. (These are of course people, but as you will see they rank low on the list of people priorities

      b. These are the people whom our public investments and activity should serve as a priority

      i. Children – on their trip to school, around their neighborhood and playing
      ii. Women using public systems or NMT
      iii. The working poor
      iv. The elderly
      v. All with mobility handicaps of any kind
      vi. Marginalized groups, including the unemployed, the poor poor, system drop outs, homeless, etc.

      3. Fair mobility is a human right for all in a democratic society.

      a. And the role of government is above all to provide for those who most need help.

  2. Could it be, that whilst it is morally sound to focus on those you mentioned above (b), are we missing those citizens who have influence or collaborate with others? Remembering that we are social creatures… how can we get everybody talking about streets, access and mobility?

    Perhaps it is not for “we” to convince the mass of society to change, but for us to simply coach “them” into encouraging one another to behave differently?

  3. I think there are far too many assumptions of understanding in everything that is said, and too few people who have the understanding. Who ‘gets’ the idea of ‘new’ mobility? Who understands what is meant by the apparently derogatory ‘habits of thought of the long-gone 20th century’? Who understands ‘sustainable’? And who understands ‘sustainable transport’?

    A Jasmine Revolution or a Tahrir Square would suggest someone has some power and can (could) be deposed. I see little power amongst the proponents of sustainable transport.

    Eric, I agree with everything you posited in the rhetorical sense that I think you meant it. Each of us in our own efforts to bring about change must see our failures and ask the same five questions that you started with. What we cannot see is the extent to which our efforts have a cumulative effect and move the world towards a tipping-point. No-one can predict when the tipping-point will be reached, nor what combination of conditions will make it happen.

    We have to keep doing what we are doing, and one day we might be overnight successes.

    In reality we also need to be better resourced. With economic power we could do much more. This is where I have some hope for the initiatives of the Carbon War Room. Richard Branson is funding an initiative to find commercial ways to make it better to emit less carbon. http://www.carbonwarroom.com

  4. Eric, my guess is that there is a big divide between us and them. We are not even speaking the language they speak. People, and by that, I mean the masses, want more cars, and more roads, and more motorways. We have the knowledge, and the know-who, but do we have the charm? In the current context, we are often seen as outliers. That needs to change.

    I’m hazarding a guess here, but I think that we need to focus on making more friends, and those friends will make more friends and make the revolution grow, albeit the Mexican wave.


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