Tuesday, 14 April 2020

A glimpse of a better future (where are we heading to after the pandemic ?)

Suddenly it seems that nearly everyone can see, hear and smell the benefits of fewer motor vehicles. Stories are appearing from all around the world about clear skies, fresher air and being better able to hear bird song. The corona virus lock-downs have brought us more peaceful streets, fresher air, less noise. Fish are seen to have returned to rivers, insects appear to be more numerous. Tourists no longer dominate historic cities. Stress levels are down (non corona related stress, at least).

Fewer cars
Most people alive now were also alive when there were half as many cars.
Many were alive when there were a quarter as many, or even less.
Your country is almost certainly similar.
Here in the Netherlands, car usage has approximately halved due to the corona crisis. This has made headlines. For the first time in as long as anyone can remember we've had no traffic jams caused by traffic for nearly a month. It's been described as an historic drop, but actually we need only go back about 30 years to find a time when this level of car ownership and use was normal. i.e. what we consider to be a relatively quiet situation now isn't actually extreme at all - this is something that most people alive now took for granted when they were younger. Indeed, it wasn't seen as a benefit back then because we were too busy looking at the problems which existed already due to this level of car usage. People had already started taking to the streets to protest about the effects of excessive motor car usage much longer than 30 years ago. The "historic low" level of traffic which we have now was seen by many as rather an excess when this was "normal", and there are people alive now who protested against the dominance of cars when they were less than a quarter as many cars in use as we think of as "normal" today. i.e. less than half of what we have during this "historic low".

At the time of writing, more than 120000 people have already died due to the corona virus. That's a terrible death toll over the last four months and all of us would of course like to see an end of this virus. However this terrible death toll is nothing in comparison with what is seen as "normal" due to cars. There have been more than a million deaths annually due to car crashes for some years now, and in addition four million or so people die each year die due to air pollution, a good proportion of which is also due to motor vehicles. To solve the problems due to motor vehicles, we need far fewer motor vehicles. Most people in the world already live without cars and it's not difficult to be one of them.

Fewer flights
Another thing which people have commented on extensively is that our skies are now spotless because there are fewer vapour trails due to aircraft flying overhead. Of course there is a difference, but again it's not as extreme as many people imagine. In March 2020 there were about half the number of flights that there were in March 2019. A halving sound quite extreme, but the number of flights doubles approximately every 20 years, so there are actually lots more aircraft in the skies now than there used to be.

I used to know what they all were...
Most people alive today were used to seeing far fewer aircraft than are in the skies now, even during this crisis. When I had a childhood hobby of aircraft spotting there were less than half as many aircraft for me to spot as are flying now during this crisis.

So with aircraft too, this dramatic change has actually meant that we have only returned to a time when the problems with aircraft were already apparent. People were already protesting about noise and pollution from aircraft when there were fewer of them as are flying right now during this crisis.

The current level of air travel, during this crisis, remains far too high. It is not sustainable. And it's not just air travel. Moving from one mode to another mostly just means a similar level of emissions from a different mode. That is not sustainable either. We will survive without holidays this year, without work trips. To solve the problems due to travel we must continue to travel far less.

Reduced oil production
The oil producing nations have agreed to an historic 10% reduction in their production in order to prop up prices. Note that this actually only takes the rate of oil production back to what it was about ten years ago.

People have protested about environmental destruction due to oil companies for decades longer than this and at times when their production was very much lower than is the case now. One particularly high profile case of a protestor who was executed was in 1995 when the rate of oil production was around half of what it was at the beginning of this year.

The oil companies have not reduced their output in order to try to save us from the inevitably destructive environmental effects of their product, they are merely trying to prop up their own profitability. The best way we can fight against this is to try not to buy their product. To solve the problems due to fossil fuels we need to go as far as we can to stop using fossil fuels.

Who really needs greener vehicles ?
Watch this excellent documentary about bullshit jobs
The subject of "bullshit jobs" has been discussed quite a lot over the last few years and some people are right now discovering that their 'important' job is actually either not quite so important after all, or in some cases an utterly pointless waste of time. This crisis has shown us who the real essential workers are. It's also shown us who we don't miss much if they don't go to work.

There is a realisation now that the lower level of car traffic due in large part to cutting back on the bullshit commutes used to travel to bullshit jobs is beneficial for everyone. But another thing that we've seen is that rather than getting in the way of "essential" commuters, some of the other vehicles on the roads (e.g. ambulances, tractors, trucks and vans) actually provide truly essential services such as keeping us healthy and providing us with food and other supplies.

The realisation that we do need food, we do need (some) goods, but we don't actually need nearly so many commuters demonstrates something important: we've not only been placing emphasis on the wrong workers but we've also been putting the majority of our efforts at greening transport into the wrong vehicles. Building electric vehicles is a resource intensive and polluting industry. Instead of using the limited resources available to build so many electric cars, trains and buses as possible to enable people to continue to travel excessively we should all along have been looking to green the essential vehicles (ambulances, tractors, trucks and vans etc.) while we encouraged people not to spend their time travelling regularly back and forth on commutes. Some of us have of course been saying this for a long time now...

Tackling emissions and improving our quality of life fit together and both can far more effectively be achieved by reducing the number of motor vehicles than by merely substituting the latest examples of what the motor industry wants to sell as a slightly greener alternative to the already greatly over-used motor vehicles which already exist.

At present we see that existing road infrastructure has become more welcoming to cyclists because there are fewer cars. While we can design infrastructure to maximise safety around cars (e.g. the safe roundabout design), it's always best to remove the cars. No roundabout or traffic light actually exists for the benefit of cyclists and pedestrians. They all impede cyclists and pedestrians while they attempt to reduce the danger of motor vehicles.

How much more pleasant could our towns be if we went further down the path of giving more space to people by taking it away from unnecessary motor traffic ?

Reducing carbon ?
We need a much more rapid downward slope in emissions than the
side-effect of the corona virus will result in. It's not even close to enough.
A small carbon emission reduction looks likely this year due to the virus. But at best this will be very small and at worst there may be no reduction at all. The likely outcome is that this year's emissions will end up around 3% lower than last year's emissions. We might think this small reduction will help, but over time this will merely look like another year in which we did not act. It is unfortunately not even close to the 18 percent per year steady decrease that we need to keep our planet in a condition where human life is supported.

Meat and travel
It is highly likely that COVID19, like so many other human illnesses including swine influenza and avian influenzabovine tuberculosis, EbolaBSE/CJD, and very many other diseases, was transferred from animals to humans due primarily to people raising, killing and eating products derived from those animals for food. The disease was then spread around the world in a very short period of time because people travel so much.

So this world-wide pandemic, like so many previous disease outbreaks and just as we expect for future pandemics, was caused by meat and travel. Meat and travel. Also amongst the biggest contributors to global warming.

For the sake of ourselves, our children, our children's children, if we want to avoid disease or merely keep this planet's climate such that humans can continue to live here we need to limit our consumption of meat and dairy products and reduce the amount we travel.

Keeping up with the Joneses ?
Will people still feel a need to "keep up with the Joneses" if they no longer see the Joneses ? Could the virus trigger a change in thinking and reduction in pointless consumerism ? Will the rich people who now buy far too many clothes, electronic gadgets etc. still feel a need for those things if in the future they go out less ? Over consumption by the richest 10% of the population (this probably includes you, dear reader) is one of the other great drivers of climate change and another of those things which needs to change.

What future shall we choose ?
There is no herd immunity against climate change. There is no immunisation, no easy cure. While we're all talking about COVID19 now, the biggest problem facing us all last year was climate change, it's still the biggest problem this year and it will remain the biggest problem next year and after we have solved the problem of this virus.

There is currently much discussion about an exit strategy from the virus and about how we will "get back to normal", but a return to a "normal" which is similar to that which existed a few months ago would not be any more sustainable now than it was before and will not in all ways be better than the situation which we have now. The death rate from the expected effects of climate change due to "normal" behaviour will be far higher than what we currently have from the virus. We of course need to do what we can to tackle this virus, but let's not jump straight back into a situation in which we return to the smog, noise and road deaths which we had before. A better future world is possible. Our future doesn't have to be a continuation of the past.

The richest 10% of the people on this planet consume wildly
too much relative to the poorer people on this planet. Top
ten percent salaries begin at $13700 per year. If you are
reading this then you are probably one of the elite.
Outside of the direct and unpleasant effects of the virus itself, we also now have before us a glimpse of what a possible better future for all of us could look like. We need to grasp the positives and build upon them, creating high quality and low stress conditions for local transport by bicycle and by foot while encouraging people not to make the longer and more polluting journeys, especially those which lead nowhere except to a high stress but perhaps also completely unnecessary job. We need to change our society so that we do not emphasize the most pointless aspects of that society, for it is the pointless jobs, pointless commutes, pointless vanity and pointless greed which have got us into this mess. We need to consume less and be happy to do so because the alternative to doing so is far more terrible than this virus.

Some of the same solutions work for both the virus and climate change. But not all. We need to go much further in limiting our excessive consumption but while the negative effects of climate change could be far more destructive, they are also in many ways less cruel. For example, the climate places no demands on our social behaviour and we do not need to isolate ourselves from nearby neighbours and friends in order to live in a sustainable way. All we need to do is live within our means, i.e. within what is possible with the resources available on the planet we share. We need to learn to live in a way which is possible for the entire population of this planet, without some people demanding a far bigger slice of the pie, a higher standard of living than is possible for everyone. Let's start now, by consuming less.

Please don't forget about developing nations
At present much of our concern is about our own nations. Many of us are worrying mostly about other relatively prosperous people who are likely to have access to health care and who probably have enough to eat, and who have the luxury of being able to isolate themselves. Not everyone in the world has such an easy life as we do in the developed world and I fear for the effects of the virus in the nations where people are not so well cared for. At this time, if you can, please consider donating to development charities who can help those who are not in the top 10%. They didn't spread this virus but they are likely to be the worst affected by it - another unfortunate parallel with climate change.

Will this be remembered as the summer of "corona blue" skies, a brief moment when the air was clear and we could breath more easily, or will we return to what has been seen as a "normal" level of pollution in the near future ?
Trivia which demonstrates how long effects of health crises last: Because I lived in the UK during the time of the BSE/CJD health crisis of the 1980s/90s I am not allowed to donate blood in the Netherlands. That applies even though I didn't eat meat so I'm a long way from being a high risk donor. People who lived in the Netherlands during that time frame and who did eat meat can give blood in the Netherlands. I could find myself receiving their blood donation even though Dutch people are not allowed to give blood in the USA for the same reason that I can't here and this is true even though the USA had its own cases. Such restrictions often have more to do with national exceptionalism than logic, this being a factor which also contributed to many Western nations including the Netherlands apparently thinking initially that they'd somehow be immune to COVID19, leading to slower responses and much worse outcomes than in several Asian nations where the disease was taken seriously earlier.


Tuesday, 18 February 2020

Who are the one percent super polluters ?

Our starting point for this article: We needed to reduce our emissions by 18% a year, beginning in 2019. Of course, we now know that this is not what actually happened in 2019 so we now need to reduce our emissions even more steeply beginning in 2020. This will not be achieved by any easy measures which allow us, i.e. the relatively rich people who live in developed nations, to carry on our lives as usual, consuming more and more each year. We cannot rely upon negative emissions because the technology to achieve this does not exist.
In October 2018 we received the IPCC's latest report on climate change which gave us 12 years to turn around our behaviour to preserve conditions on the planet which are compatible with human life.  Soon afterward I noted that life carried on as usual immediately after this news as if everyone was waiting for everyone else to take steps. We now know that 2019's emissions, far from being the 18% lower than those of 2018 required to start to tackle the biggest problem that mankind has ever faced, were actually the highest ever recorded (while power sector only energy emissions, where small drops were balanced by rises in others, barely changed from 2018).

Our lack of action last years means, of course, that we now have to take even more drastic steps than were required a year ago. You can see what is required in the graph above. The red lines become steeper for each year that we wait before we take action. We now need to reduce our emissions not by just 18% per year but by more than 20% each year. Can we we do this ? Will we start to try to save ourselves ? Will I be back here in a year's time with the same message once again ?

Source: Oxfam
Who are the 1% richest ? The answer may surprise you.
It's quite well accepted that the richest people on the planet cause the most emissions. It's quite obvious why this is the case: the more that people earn, the more they spend and the more they consume. Higher income results in higher consumption and higher consumption results in higher emissions. Some products are more harmful than others, but anything extra that we buy has an impact.

There is a great inequality built into climate change. Half of all climate changing emissions result from the behaviour of the richest 10% of the population of the planet. The effects of the resultant climate change are, however, mostly felt by those who had little or no impact, with 99% of casualties so far being in developing countries.

If you earn over $32400 per year you make up part of the left-most
green bar - the super polluters who produce more than 10x the global
average emissions. If you earn less than that but more than $13700 then
you're in the next highest column - with about 5x average emissions.
If we go beyond the richest 10% and look at the richest 1% of the population then we find ourselves focusing on a truly elite group of people. The 1% are the "super polluters", earning vastly more than the average person, consuming vastly more and with an environmental footprint which is also vastly higher than the average. As you can see from the graph left, the impact of the 1% is more than 10x greater than average. These super consumers are disproportionately responsible for climate changing emissions.

Now comes the part which may surprise many readers of this blog. You are almost certainly in the 10% and you're quite likely to be one of the truly elite top 1%. You may not feel like a member of the elite and this may initially sound hyperbolic, but only 1% of the world's population earns more than $32400 per year so if your annual income is higher than US$32400 (equivalent to about 30000 euros or 25000 UK pounds) per year then you are in fact a member of the exclusive 1% club. i.e. in comparison with 99% of the world's population, you are the elite. If your annual salary is less than this, but still more than about $13700 (€12600 / 10500 pounds), then you're still in the top 10%. i.e. even people who earn minimum wage in many nations are still part of the top 10%.

How will we answer future generations' questions?
What to do if you realise you're part of the 1%
How should we react to this revelation ? To my mind it is clear that the people who can do most to reduce climate changing emissions are those whose emissions are highest in the first place. i.e. the elite few who earn in the top 1% or top 10% worldwide.

If we know that we're part of the group then we have a responsibility to do something. If people who are part of that group, who have choices in their behaviour and who are amongst the highest earners and highest emitters on this planet, can't be convinced or convince themselves to cut down on their consumption in order to emit less carbon, who then can we convince ?

Isn't it better to push someone else to make cuts?
Of course, the problems faced won't be solved by a few individuals acting alone. We actually need many individuals to recognise their part in this problem and act. Even then, if all the 1% eradicated all their emissions (perhaps by the "eat the rich" meme becoming reality) even that wouldn't eliminate more than at most about a fifth of the emissions. i.e. "eat the rich" as a policy would achieves just one year's worth of reduced emissions. But the rich are still personally responsible for a disproportionately large part of the problem so while they should use their voices to campaign for governments and big businesses alike to take action to control their emissions, and they should try to ensure that such things as pension funds are invested in ways such that they result in low or zero emissions (even if this might mean a lower pension), they also need to remember that it is only the relatively rich who even have such things as pension funds and given the extraordinary size of emissions per comparatively rich person they do have a responsibility to tackle the problem that they are causing.

For us to see a 20% annual reduction in emissions we need a change in the patterns of consumption of the richest people on the planet because anything else places far too much of a burden on the people who have the least to lose. If the richest 1-10% remain the biggest supporters of large polluting companies, the most enthusiastic consumers of steadily more of the planet destroying products made by those companies, happily consuming reassuring marketing greenwash from those companies while also continuing to buy their products, then they really have to take a good proportion of the blame for those products destroying the world on which we live.

We won't be able to do this without targeting consumers, especially the big consumers. The elite group who are lucky enough to have choices can change their behaviour and their doing so will make a disproportionate difference.

There is no way out of this without taking some personal responsibility. To reduce emissions we need to consume less. We probably also need to earn less to achieve this because as we've seen, people who can use their discretionary spending to consume and emit more than people who have fewer choices. We cannot rely upon rich philanthropists who otherwise pay very little tax deciding how much of their wealth they will give away and what should be funded. That does not result in an fair society. A tax system which reallocates wealth more equitably has to be part of any attempt to tackle the climate change.

How can it be ethical to hold onto a pattern of income and consumption which we know harms others ?

Leaving the club
I'd never ask anyone to do anything that I wouldn't. Personally, I left the 1% club on purpose nearly 20 years ago by choosing a different way of living. Initially I asked to work three days a week at my existing job, but this request was rejected so I stopped working in software development and did something else instead. I left the 10% club more recently, this step coming a little sooner than expected due to politics elsewhere.

Having a lower income does not necessarily mean living badly.

Those who are lucky enough to have a choice can in many cases make a decision to earn and consume less without any adverse effect on their lifestyle. For instance, opting to work four or three days a week in an existing job results in less income and lower consumption. It also means lower emissions because you spend less, and has the positives of less commuting and an extra 52 days of free time every year. Who wouldn't want that extra time to themselves ? Reducing one's income and stepping out of the 1% gives it to you.

Is there such a thing as "good" consumption?
We have a green self-image, but these things only help us to
reduce emissions if they're part of a pattern of lowered
consumption and we don't compensate by spending and
emitting more
in other parts of our lives.
Not all consumption has the same effect of course. For instance, spending money on things like far better insulation results in a short term increase in emissions due to the embedded carbon in the product but reduces energy consumption and resultant emissions by a far greater amount in the longer term. It also makes your home more economical and more pleasant to live in. Similarly, installing solar panels costs about as much as buying a second hand car but instead of resulting in years of expense and emissions it results in years of lowered costs and emissions. Both these examples are of things which may be difficult to afford initially on a lower income but afterwards they make life on a low income both easier and more pleasant. However this only works if it really results in a reduction in consumption. If what we saved by insulating our home is used for some other activity, such as travel or maintaining a high consumption of more or less any other product, then our emissions will remain high. A high income is a problem in and of itself: If a saving is made in one place, it will probably lead to more being spent elsewhere.

Of course this blog has generally had transport and cycling as a subject. Living car free results in instantly lowered costs and emissions. The most efficient vehicle on the planet is you using your own muscles to push the pedals of a bicycle. The bicycle is not only a very inexpensive form of transport which is compatible with living a lifestyle of lower consumption and lower emissions but also improves your well-being. Working fewer days per week leaves more time to enjoy it. But the task ahead of us enormous. Merely riding a bike a bit isn't enough.

Wednesday, 27 November 2019

The extraordinary efficiency of bicycles, the potential of active modes, and the role of active travel in transport poverty

Last month my eldest daughter ran the Amsterdam marathon. She achieved her aim of running the 26.2 miles (42.2 km) in under her target of four and a half hours. A marathon is something you need to train for. The race was won by the spectacular Eliud Kipchoge, an extraordinary athlete and the world record holder, who has won nearly every race he's ever entered and who finished with a time of just over 2 hour and 5 minutes, but I'm still also very impressed with Eliza's achievement. It takes a lot of effort to run that far without stopping. I certainly couldn't do it.
One of several stops on our route through the countryside. We
weren't in a hurry today.

Twice as fast using a quarter of the energy
Like many people these days Eliza uses an electronic device linked to her mobile phone which monitors heart rate and speed and can calculate her energy usage. To run the marathon required about 2800 kcal.

Two weeks later I went for a bike ride with my daughter. It just so happened that this was also over 42.2 km and as she carries the same device for all exercise we could make a comparison. On the bike ride the energy consumption was just 700 kcal (about the same as one home made pizza). What's more, though we weren't in anything remotely like a hurry (we stopped for refreshments, for coffee, to buy bread from a baker and vegetables from a farm), our time was still several seconds better than Kipchoge's best ever marathon time and remember that Kipchoge's faster time over the marathon distance required him to expend somewhat more energy than Eliza had to.

A sack of onions joined us for the second half of the ride.
Running or even walking 20 km doesn't really work with a load
The difference in efficiency between running and cycling is extraordinary: On a bicycle an average person can easily travel faster than a world champion can run. We can use a quarter of the energy to travel at twice the speed. Because it takes so much less effort to cycle than it does to run we need no special nutrition or training before setting off to travel the same distance as a marathon. There's no expectation of damage to your body from a bicycle ride of marathon length. What's more, we can do all this while carrying far more than it is practical to transport if running or walking.

The potential of walking as a mode of transport
My cargo bike loaded up with parcels full of bicycle parts.
I ride this to the city centre often. If it were not possible to do
this by bicycle then I'd have to use a motor vehicle.
Both walking and cycling, the two really practical active travel modes, should be encouraged. But there is far more potential to cycling than there is to walking. Walking is of course a lot less tiring than running, but this comes at the expense of even lower speed. Speed is not everything, but the distance we can travel by any given mode is dictated more by available time than it is by the distance itself. That's why many everyday distances are are longer than is practical to walk. A relatively fast walking pace is only around 5 km/h (3 mph). This works only for the shortest journeys because the time taken out of the day is just too long if we try to walk for longer journeys. What's more, it's not possible to carry much when walking. All these things limit the potential of walking as a mode of transport. Children who live really near their school can practically walk to it, but even most of those who live within the same suburb as their school will need to use a faster mode of transport. Similarly, people who live in a city centre may be able to reach nearby shops by walking, or those who live in a suburb can reach some local facilities by walking, but it doesn't work over a larger radius.

A successful pedestrianized city centre, accessible to all.
Conflict is avoided by obvious demarcation of where cyclists
should ride by use of different colours and kerbs (forgiving).
The two hours that it took to make the leisurely 40 km recreational ride around the countryside described above are about the same amount of time as it would take us to make a reasonably brisk walk to the city centre and return again. We have done this occasionally, on a Sunday just for the novelty of it, but it's not something that we do on a regular basis. On the other hand, we cycle there almost daily for one reason or another. Cycling to the centre takes less than 10 minutes, which makes cycling a highly competitive mode with driving a car the same distance. Also, by using a bicycle we can transport almost anything and do so with far more ease than by carrying it while walking. So that's how we make those journeys.

Pedestrianization projects in city centres are not generally intended to be used by people who have walked to the city centre because almost no-one does that. They are instead used by people who have travelled by motorized vehicle to reach the city centre. Pedestrianization projects which exclude cyclists actually work against active travel.

Walking and cycling policy need to be different because walking and cycling are different.
If someone runs through a crowded area for pedestrians it's likely be seen as an anti-social act. Yet many places combine cycling and walking policy and even the infrastructure for both modes as if this is reasonable. It's not.

A few weeks ago Judy and I brought home a new floor for
our home by bicycle. Two 10 km round trips were required.
This would not have been possible by walking.
Cycling and walking are not the same. A bicycle allows anyone to travel at twice the speed of a world champion runner, to cover marathon distances without any great difficulty and a bicycle also allows people to transport loads which are well beyond what they can lift, let alone practically carry over a distance of kilometres.

Unfortunately this potential is often not understood. Through a non-cyclist's eye, cycling is often perceived as being much like walking. This is one of the reasons why it is common to hear that it's "not possible" to carry home grocery shopping by bike, that it's "too far" or "too sweaty" to cycle to work or "impossible" to cycle in winter. None of these things are true, of course. They're just the ideas that people have because they've not actually tried and experienced for themselves how easy and convenient it is to do those things by bike.

The objection to shopping by bike can be due to a misunderstanding of how convenient it is to carry items on a well equipped bicycle designed for everyday use. The concerns about commuting are often based on overestimation of average commuting distances combined with perceptions that cycling is no quicker than walking or that it will take as much effort as running and therefore result in sweating a lot. The objection to winter is often due again to a lack of familiarity, or perhaps also to having seen people on less well equipped bicycles struggling.

In this photo my other daughter, Alice, and her dog demonstrate
parallel cycling and walking infrastructure in Groningen.
Pedestrians and cyclists shouldn't be mixed on through routes.
In places where which lack well designed cycling infrastructure, any trip by bike will likely be seen as akin to an extreme sport. Indeed, it may well be both difficult and dangerous if the infrastructure is lacking and that is a good part of what prevents people from even trying to cycle in many parts of the world.

Cycling can be made very inconvenient indeed if cyclists are required to behave as pedestrians or weave through motorized traffic. Indeed where bicycle riders are given a choice of either not taking advantage of the efficiency of the bike or riding in conditions which cause danger, the whole point of the bicycle as a practical and safe means of transport is lost. Not cycling where conditions are poor is in many cases actually quite a rational decision.

The importance of cycling policy
It's of vital importance that we reduce climate changing emissions.
Cycling is the best way to reduce the emissions of transport.
But cycling policy is important, especially now, because bicycles are the most efficient vehicles in existence. Unlike other low or "zero emission" vehicles, bicycles in most cases genuinely have zero emissions. After all, we all need half an hour of exercise a day to be healthy and drivers eat too so in most cases the carbon cost of the "fuel" for cycling is zero. But even if we forget about our actually needing to eat and count the full carbon cost of food, we can eat in such a way that our "emissions" are still less than a tenth of even the most efficient motorized transport modes. Also remember that the embedded energy in even a sophisticated bicycle is unlikely to be greater than 1% of the embedded energy of a car. This wonderful machine avoids the many problems caused by motorized transport while giving us competitive travel times. Cycling is almost always quicker than taking a bus, often quicker than a car within towns. And let's not forget that while other transport modes cause health problems, there are many health benefits to cycling.

Cycling is so obviously a good idea, but it's still being overlooked in most places on the planet. This is something that we really have to change. We are living in a climate emergency. The most efficient transport mode on earth should be getting the highest degree of public support from world governments.

How to make every bicycle efficient
Let's continue with a short piece of advice about making any bicycle efficient. While some bicycles have more potential efficiency than others, all of them, no matter how old, no matter how inexpensive, are amongst the most efficient vehicles on earth. It doesn't cost anything to set up a bicycle for maximum efficiency. That's just a matter of quite simple maintenance:
  1. With any bicycle, start by setting the saddle height so that you can extend your legs properly. We pedal with the ball of our feet but can approximate the correct distance from saddle to pedal by straightening our legs so that the heel just rests on the pedal). If the saddle is too low it costs a lot of extra effort.
  2. Pump up your tyres to something approaching the maximum recommended pressure written on their sidewall. Note that in most cases bicycle tyres need to be pumped to far higher pressures than car tyres so a car pump isn't ideal. Under-inflated tyres consume a lot more energy from the rider than correctly inflated tyres.
  3. Make sure the chain isn't worn or dry. Each link should be exactly half an inch long. 1% wear is enough that you should replace the chain to avoid wearing other components unduly (measure over many links or use a specifically designed measuring device). The chain also needs to be oiled (WD40 falls off, grease is horrible on a chain and thick oils are not ideal, but any thin oil including proprietary bicycle chain oils will work) so that the internal links are wet (the outside need not be). A dirty/rusty chain often makes an unpleasant noise as well as consuming more energy.
Also see my guide to the features of everyday bicycles.
Taking care of those things is enough to optimise the efficiency of any bicycle and any bicycle combined with its rider is more efficient than any other machine that exists.

While many bicycles, especially outside the Netherlands, are sold with no means of transporting cargo, almost all bikes can be fitted with an inexpensive luggage rack which makes transporting goods more easy.

Please note that this is not a complete guide to safe cycling - also ensure such things as that your brakes and gearing work correctly and that you have fitted any equipment that is required to cycle legally in your country (e.g. bellslights).

I'm a hopeless runner. The furthest I ever ran was just short of a quarter marathon more than 30 years ago and that was more than enough. I can still cycle 200 km in a day without a problem but running any distance at all results in knee pain.

We make our living by selling bicycle components so if you order something we will of course supply it. But to make your bicycle more efficient you need only to follow the steps above. Do that before buying anything else, including from us.

Saturday, 24 August 2019

The car-free myth. The Netherlands is a great country to live in if you're car-free, but it's a very long way from being a car-free country. Dutch car ownership and use are at an all time high.

The 1970s in Assen. The city was then full of cars. Cars are
now restricted in the city centre, but it would be incorrect to
assume that they've gone away. In fact, car numbers have
tripled since this photo was taken.
A myth has grown up about the Dutch being enthusiastic cyclists who live in green cities and rarely drive. In reality, the majority of journeys are made by motorized vehicles and people who live car-free are in a small and shrinking minority.

A life without motorized vehicles
Over the last year I've travelled about 7000 km. 6200 km was covered by bike and the rest I walked (I walk our dog 2 km a day on a normal day, sometimes much more). 6000 km is nothing to boast about. It's by no means an extreme distance to cycle in a year - it's barely more than enough to provide the minimum amount of exercise required for health.

It's quite easy to arrange a life so that you don't need to drive. When I took jobs which were too far away to cycle to, I moved closer to them so that they were within cycling distance. My shortest round trip commute was about 8 km and the longest was 60 km, so work was always within reach by bike and I never "had to" drive. When we lived in the UK we either took our children to school on a bike with us or we walked with them. Here in the Netherlands they made their own way by bike just like all the other kids. We've always made routine journeys like grocery shopping or visiting the dentist by bike because it's more convenient that way. It's also easy enough to carry food for a family in bicycle baskets or panniers or, if you really need a lot of things at once, in a trailer.

30 kg of parcels on the way to customers yesterday. The first
few km are under our control. We don't own or use motorized
vehicles so our customers' bike parts travel by human power.
I work from home these days so I don't have a commute, but I do cycle for work: Our business doesn't make use of motor vehicles so I transport parcels with a cargo bike. That distance is included in my total (all my bikes have bike computers so its easy to add up the total).

I've only travelled by motor vehicle twice over the last year, both times to help a friend with his fledgling business. Otherwise all my travel has been by bike or by foot.

We did actually own a car until a year ago when I took it to the scrapyard. I've not missed it. Cars just are not that fantastic. I didn't own one for most of my life and during the period when we did own a car, it would often go months (sometimes years) without either of us finding a reason to drive it, resulting in frozen brakes and dead batteries as the most common maintenance issues. It was occasionally a very convenient thing to have access to, but it was mostly a nuisance.

While we never used a car much in the UK, living without a car is even easier in the Netherlands because the excellent cycle-path network makes cycling much safer and more convenient. Conditions for cycling where we live in Assen are better than average for the Netherlands - that's not something which happened by accident but on purpose: we chose this location after looking around most of the country. But as a result, cycling is just excellent here.

The Dutch cycle-path network goes everywhere and works well anywhere in this country for people who don't want to have to rely upon a car. However, it would be a mistake to assume that because some people get about by bicycle in the Netherlands, and because some people make a choice not to run a car, that this means that cycling is in a healthy state in the country, or that a large percentage of people are happily living car-free because of that excellent cycling infrastructure. The willingly car-free are actually a small and decreasing minority.
On days off we go riding in the countryside. There are cycle-paths everywhere, not just in the cities.
Cars - the transport mode chosen most often by the Dutch.
A Dutch motorway in the middle of the day. The traffic is
constant and growing. Emissions, particulates, noise, all are
growing. This isn't helped by higher speed limits than in the
past leading to higher fuel consumption (130 km/h = 80 mph)
In 1992, 42% of Dutch households were car-free. By 2016 this had dropped to about a quarter. Car ownership has continued to increase since then. Higher car ownership leads to higher car usage. Almost anyone who can easily afford a car has one and there aren't many people at all who choose to go without if they can afford one: Amongst people of average income, just 12% of households don't have a car and that drops further to just 6% for high income households.

It shouldn't be a surprise that lower income families are most likely not to own a car as this is clearly a function of affordability. It's not a curse in the same way as it can be elsewhere as the excellent cycle path network offers relief from transport poverty. Therefore Dutch people who can't afford a car are not stuck with a terrible choice of trying to prioritize keeping a car or having to pay for expensive public transport as happens to people elsewhere. However the impressive road network which everyone pays for is primarily of use only to those who do own a car.

Cycling is still a significant mode in this country with around a quarter of all journeys still made by bike, but the lengths of journeys that Dutch people make has steadily grown and those journeys are increasingly being made by motorized means. The most popular vehicle by far is the private car. It's not helped by the tax free allowance of 20 cents per km driven paid on top of the salary by most employers (something which gave me quite a nice bonus when I cycled 60 km a day to get to work and back) which helps to encourage long commutes. Dutch commutes are the longest on average in Europe.

Cycling in the UK and Netherlands 1950-2000
Cycling dropped precipitously in popularity in the 1950s and 1960s with the rapid growth of motorized transport, especially private cars. The decline was arrested back in the 1970s, but cycling has not grown much since then. The motorized modes of transport which we sometimes like to think that we conquered have in fact continued to rise in popularity.

When I first wrote about car ownership and car-free living in the Netherlands 11 years ago I got two things wrong: First, I was overly impressed with the relatively high percentage of car-free households (42%), which unfortunately has now nearly halved. Second, I thought at the time that I could see a levelling off of car ownership in the data which was then available. That turned out not to be the case. The blip in the data can still be seen in the middle of the graph below, but you can see for yourself what happened afterwards:
From 197 cars per 1000 people in 1970 we've grown to 662 in 2019. i.e. we now have more than three times the number of cars per person even compared with the "bad old days" of the car dominated 1970s as portrayed in photos like that at the top of this article. We mustn't believe our own myths about having conquered the car. The simple fact is that Dutch car use has grown continuously for 70 years much as it has in every other nation. The government expects that growth to continue and roads are being expanded to cater for it.

The rise in driving is obvious to anyone who has been taking notice of how busy roads in this country have become in recent years. We've lived here for 12 years now. During that time we've seen enormous expenditure on road expansion all the way across the country and the number of vehicles being driven has increased to fill all those new roads.
Several shocks to car ownership can be seen on this graph if you look very closely. e.g. cars declined by 2/3rds during the second world war and you can also see a slight reduction in the rate of growth which coincides with the 1970s fuel crisis. However, none of these shocks to car ownership look actually did anything significant to prevent an ever-increasing rise in driving. The Dutch government continues to plan for more growth.
There are now around 8.5 million cars on the roads in the Netherlands. That's a million more cars than when we moved here 12 years ago. A million more cars contributing to climate change, creating particulate pollution and noise and putting people in danger. A million cars spread across the entire road network of the Netherlands means an extra car every 7 km. Of course they won't be evenly spread, and much of the time they'll be parked by homes. The extra cars are visible in Dutch cities. For instance, this city (Assen) has about half of one percent of the country's population, so we probably have around the same proportion of the additional cars, which is about 4000. There are roughly 250 km of streets in our city so we can now expect to find an extra parked car every 16 metres on residential streets in comparison to the situation 12 years ago.

This graphic show the imbalance between the small danger cyclists create and their relatively large exposure to danger.
While much has genuinely been done to make cycling safer here, the main cause of injury and death to cyclists (apart from older people having single sided collision on e-bikes) remains motor vehicles so we really do still need more work on this. Adding extra cars to every street increases the potential danger on every street.

On average Dutch people travel about 6500 km per year by car (that's an average per person, not per driver). You'll note that it's about the same distance as I cycle each year. Car ownership in recent years has grown especially strongly amongst older people. 50-65 year olds, 65-75 year olds and especially drivers aged 75+ use their cars far more now than ever before with 39% growth in the distance covered by in 75+ drivers between 2005 and 2015.

Not just cars. All motorized transport is a problem.
Our local airport installed solar to
greenwash its image. They don't put
fossil carbon back under the ground.
The total distance travelled per year by the average Dutch person is about 11000 km. You'll note that this is nearly double the distance distance travelled in cars. Much of the difference is composed of longer distances travelled by air. Flying is one of the fastest growing modes of travel in the Netherlands.

The rise in flying is something I've written about before. Between the 1960s and now, commercial flying has increased by a factor of 30. During that time, the efficiency of aircraft has improved by a factor of three, leaving us with 10x the emissions now that we had in the 1960s.

The use of trains is also growing sharply in the Netherlands. This not only means more trains, but also more, bigger railway stations. All of this has a huge environmental cost. While it's common to find people celebrating the enormous cycle parks at Dutch railway stations, they're not really an example of cycling success. What they represent is that Dutch people increasingly do not use their bicycles to make whole journeys but instead use them to allow them to make longer journeys by motorized transport. Cycling is not a green mode of transport when it is used merely as an adjunct to a motor vehicle.

The efficiency myth
If each car is twice as efficient then we have similar emissions to the 1980s, when cars were also not sustainable. If each car can be made three times as efficient then we can reach a situation where a much larger car fleet has the same impact as cars had on the Netherlands in the 1970s. But all that can do is return us to a similar pattern of energy consumption and emissions as we had from cars in in the 1970s, and that wasn't sustainable either. The only way that we will reduce the impact of cars is to have far fewer of them.

We see a similar picture with air travel. Graphs showing ever rising numbers of flights rightly cause many people concern. Unfortunately, a significant number, including campaigners on green issues, seem to think that making the same journeys by a different mode can fix the problem. It can't. The most optimistic estimates for emissions of high speed rail are that the emissions due to trains are about 90% lower than that per passenger km of an aircraft. There are reasons to doubt such claims, because for example they ignore the high environmental cost of railway infrastructure, but let's stick with that claimed 90% improvement for now. The question we need to ask is "was flying sustainable 40 years ago" ? The answer is of course that it was not. Now take a look at this graph:


It is estimated, byAirbus who hope to sell lots of aircraft, that flying will double over the next few years. Just imagine it were possible over the next 15 years to shift all those air passengers onto rail with a 90% improvement in efficiency. If that were possible, then we would expect the emissions of trains carrying those passengers to be proportional not to 15 trillion RPK by air per year, but to 1.5 trillion. That's about the level of air transport in 1979. i.e. if everyone switched to rail then by 2034 we'll be able to travel with the same emissions as we did 40 years ago. Of course, this wasn't sustainable 40 years ago and it won't be sustainable in the future either.

We need to travel less. Sailing ships and bicycles have no emissions. Everything else does.


Los Angeles in the 1950s. Does this look like a picture
of sustainability ? There are many more cars today.
Improving efficiency is not enough to solve the problems.
Not just a Dutch problem
Of course this isn't just a Dutch problem. The same things are happening world-wide. A few weeks ago I wrote about how the number of cars in the UK has doubled in the last 30 years, a similar growth rate to the Netherlands. Another interesting case for me is the USA. It's interesting because the USA was the first nation to adopt mass motoring. Perhaps they've reached a limit to growth in emissions ?

The photo on the right shows traffic in Los Angeles in the 1950s. The accompanying text points out that building more roads couldn't solve the problem of ever increasing traffic. This was already understood to be a problem 60 years ago.

It could be thought, optimistically, that US car ownership should have plateaued since that time however that has not happened. Instead, the numbers of cars on US roads have continued to rise.

How quickly has US car ownership risen ? Well, there are twice as many cars now as in the mid 1970s and at least four times as many as when the photo of Los Angeles in the 1950s was taken. That is why traffic congestion on roads remains a problem today. The US did not succeed in building its way out of congestion. Nor will it succeed in building its way out of emissions. This graph illustrates why:
For some years during the second world war no new cars at all were available to buy, but data points ten years apart shows little effect due to a total lack of new cars during that period. Similarly, the fuel crisis of the 1970s is almost impossible to discern. The rightmost part of the graph is flattened slightly because the final figure I could find was from 2017, while I really needed ownership figures from 2020.
Graph from a recent blog post about car growth in the UK. It's dramatic enough but note that this actually looks less steep than it should in comparison with the others because the X-axis scale is different: even the insert which looks steeper goes back only to 1950.
As with the Netherlands, car efficiency is being pushed as a way of solving the emissions problems of cars. However, no creditable study of the environmental impact of electric cars suggests that total lifetime emissions are significantly better than those of conventionally engine cars. The most optimistic studies suggest that total emissions could be as low as a quarter of that of cars with conventional engines but even if it were the case that electric cars had a quarter of the total impact of conventional cars, this could only return US emissions from cars to a similar level as that which they had in the 1950s, a similar level as was seen at the time of the photograph above, levels in other countries such as the Netherlands to those seen as recently as the 1970s and levels in developing countries to perhaps those of around decade ago. The emissions in the 1950s, 1970s and 2000s were not sustainable. Achieving those same emissions in the future with four times as many cars on the road also won't be sustainable. All we do is set back the clock a little. We don't really change anything.

We need to travel less. Bicycles and sailing boats are the only really sustainable modes of transport and these are the modes which should be encouraged above others.

What can be done about this ?
the excellent cycle paths in this country help us to run an
ethical business, but they're not attractive enough to convince
the majority of people that they can live without a car.
The Netherlands has built the most comprehensive grid of mostly very high quality cycling infrastructure anywhere in the world, but we are still failing to make cycling attractive enough to encourage people not to use motorized transport because actually we are still encouraging people to make ever more and longer journeys.

We need to change how our society is structured. Quite apart from the climate changing effects, the road deaths and the particulate production due to mass transport, people are wasting far too much of their time making long journeys in motorized vehicles. This is not a good use of our limited life-spans. The resultant stress is not good for our mental health. Instead of encouraging people to make long commutes by paying them 20 cents per kilometre that they travel, by giving subsidies for buying new cars and providing free public transport for commuters and students, thereby encouraging a high degree of use of motorized vehicles, we should be encouraging people to live near their work or work near their home. If we're going to offer subsidies, we should subsidise people to live in an ethical and low impact manner. For instance, we could subsidize people to move home to near their work, rather than help them to make long journeys every day. Maybe we could start to subsidize the most efficient vehicles on the planet instead of those which are amongst the least efficient.

Many people already choose to live in a less impactful way. They already choose to move instead of commute, to travel by human power even when carrying quite heavy loads. However while this behaviour benefits everyone it is not something which the government really supports. We certainly don't see a cent of subsidy for behaving in an ethical manner.

A poster from an a protest
against our local airport.
We also need to start to tax air travel in particular, but also all long distance transport by any means. It's an outrage that air travel is encouraged by both government subsidies for the airports and flights as well as a total lack of taxation on the fuel. Despite all efficiency improvements, the environmental impact of aviation has risen by a factor of ten during my lifetime. We need to fix this (and recognise that switching to an alternative mode which is "90% more efficient" represents nothing more advanced than setting the pollution clock back to the wasteful 1960s.

Other countries: You need to do all of that and also build the cycling infrastructure. Otherwise your citizens will, even more than the Dutch, feel that they have no choice but to drive cars daily and to travel long distances. Our continued relatively peaceful existence on this planet requires that we act.

We are asking the wrong question
Lots of people are asking the question "how can we continue to make ever more long journeys in future?" Few are asking the question "how can we live lives which require us to spend less time travelling?"


Update 27 August: Here come the urbanists
This blog post has attracted quite a bit of attention on twitter and has been re-tweeted by people who appear not to have actually read the text but who seem to think that the graph showing rising car usage indicates something along the lines of that Dutch suburbs have failed and that in future everyone should live in densely populated cities and travel by bus or train. That is not what the text above says. I don't say that because it would not be helpful and it would condemn the world's population to a grim existence of living on top of one-another in packed cities.

  1. Population density: The Netherlands has the world's highest proportion of journeys by bike, but it does not have especially densely populated cities. Cycling is relatively attractive in the Netherlands because people can make a positive choice to cycle on infrastructure which is convenient and safe.
  2. Suburbs: Suburbs can be designed to encourage and support a high degree of cycling and walking. This results in far more attractive living conditions than a densely populated city. Think of a suburb as being quite similar to a village, so long as we make sure that there are facilities within the suburb and that they are not built as dormitories.
  3. Public transport: It is true that Dutch people do not use public transport much. However, this is not a negative point about the Netherlands. Instead of being large users of public transport, the Dutch have the highest use of non-motorized transport in Europe. In fact, the proportion of journeys walked or cycled in the Netherlands is higher than the proportion of journeys taken by public transport in any European nation, even much poorer nations where there is less choice other than the take public transport. Walking and cycling are the two truly green transport modes. It is certainly not beneficial to seek to encourage people to swap bicycles for public transport.
  4. Public transport and wealth: The use of public transport declines with wealth. People who who a choice, because live in a more wealthy country or become more wealthy, are less likely to accept that their journey from A to B should take place on someone else's timetable and include a detour through C and D. That is why people opt to drive, and in the Netherlands why they opt to cycle as well. The Netherlands is one of the richest countries in Europe yet has one of the highest rates of non-motorized transport. That is a success. It's possible because cycling offers direct and convenient journeys. We merely need to provide go-everywhere infrastructure to make it also safe and attractive.
This article aims to bust a myth about the Dutch being particularly keen cyclists who do not drive because the fact is that Dutch people are quite wealthy, they own a lot of cars and they drive a lot. However it does not aim to call the relative Dutch success in cycling anything other than a success.

This country has the highest modal share for cycling in the world. Our cycling infrastructure is second to none and this has created opportunities to cycle which do not exist elsewhere. The infrastructure has normalized cycling amongst a population which is rich enough to drive for a higher proportion of their journeys than they do.

The problem that we are facing now, along with every other nation as none have tackled it, is that we have not addressed the ever growing usage of motor vehicles. Every car, bus, train, airplane is polluting the planet and slowly killing us. We need to reduce the usage of motor vehicles and should not aim simply to swap from one motorized vehicle to another because as pointed out above ("the efficiency myth") that cannot not solve the issue.

The Netherlands offers a tantalizing glimpse of something that other countries could and should adopt. Building high quality cycling infrastructure works to give people a positive option, addressing the problem of motoring to some extent. However it's not enough. We must also counter motor vehicles.

The "disappointing" response
For some reason some people see the growth of driving in the Netherlands as particularly surprising, as if they expect the Dutch to be different to people in other countries.

Dutch people are people. On average they're fairly wealthy so can afford cars. They are just as influenced by advertising and the appeal of shiny new things as anyone anywhere else. What's more, there are tax breaks and subsidies for buyers of new cars, Dutch roads are excellent, traffic jams are rare and here in the Netherlands you can actually make a profit from a long commute by car because you'll be paid an extra 20 cents tax free for every kilometre of your commute.

What is unusual in the Netherlands is the extent to which people still choose to cycle, despite all this encouragement to drive. They do so because the cycling infrastructure makes cycling an appealing, convenient and safe option. But until we stop encouraging driving, we can only expect the number of cars and the distance that they're driven each year to continue to increase.

Update 17 September 2019 - A new official driving record has been set by Dutch drivers
A study just published by the Dutch Central Bureau of Statistics has found that Dutch drivers drove their cars a record distance in 2018 - a total of 121.4 billion kilometres, or 1.2% more than in 2017. The average usage per car actually dropped by 1%, but the 2.2% growth in the number of cars over a year more than made up for that (note in the text above the shift from people being passengers in cars to driving alone). The growth in total kilometres driven for business use at 4% was higher than the growth in individual use at 0.4%, but it's important to recognise that both of these figures show growth.
Light blue shows personal car usage which has grown steadily year on year while the dark blue shows business use which took a dive with the 2008 crisis before rising more sharply. Note also that while businesses are catching up and did so particularly last year, it's a steady increase in personal usage which is actually the big growth area.
Due to the diesel scandal, the use of diesel powered cars has dropped by 2.5%, but the growth in petrol powered cars was greater at 2.7%. While the Netherlands has by some standards quite high numbers of electrically powered cars, only 0.5% of total km driven are driven in an electric car vs. 99.5% in fossil fuel cars. Even if they were a solution to something (which they are not), their numbers would in any case be too small to make a difference.

In other recent news, European cars are getting bigger with SUVs now making up 36% of total sales, expected to rise to 40% by 2021. This trend can also be seen in the Netherlands. This, unsurprisingly, has resulted in CO2 emissions from motor vehicles rising year on year. While car companies are supposed to limit their average emissions per vehicle sold to 95 g of CO2 per km, the average SUV emits 120 g over the same distance. From January car manufacturers will have to pay a €95 fine per g CO2/km per car. To work around the fine, car manufacturers are subsidizing some buyers to buy lower emission cars so that they can continue to sell the high emission cars to other purchasers, keeping their average emissions per vehicle at the highest point that they can without paying a fine. It's an accounting trick. i.e. not helping in any way to clean up our environment.

Even if electric cars were a solution, which they're not, they remain a tiny fraction of the cars sold (even here, and more so worldwide). What's happening at the moment is that we're seeing more and more fossil fueled cars being added to the roads. They each have an expected lifespan of around 20 years so we're locking in a high level of fossil fuel consumption for personal transport for another 20 years. And this year's cars are not the end of the story: we also have no reason to expect much to change next year, or the year after. Car companies plan to continue to produce more cars for as long as they can, oil companies plan to produce more oil to fuel them. No-one is actually tackling this problem. Somehow we're supposed to want to see our carbon emissions decrease before 2030, but all of those new cars cumulatively will work to ensure that this doesn't happen by staying on the roads for many more years than that.

The only solution is for car usage to drop. So what is the Dutch government doing about it ? Much the same as any other: the budget which was just announced includes billions for more motorways, billions to install 1.8 million extra charging points for electric cars, billions to encourage people to make long journeys by train, and also a little bit for cycling which a minister described as "the secret weapon against congestion". So secret that it receives little in funding compared with more polluting modes of transport.

Burning oil
I don't have rights to a photo of the Saudi Arabian attack
so this is actually a gas flare near my home.
In addition, readers will no doubt also be aware of the drone attacks at the weekend on the oil processing plant in Saudi Arabia. This has been quite big news and it has led to oil price rises. The thick black smoke resulting from the flames is obviously a significant pollutant. But note this: If were not burnt as a result of this attack all that oil was going to be burnt anyway in a car, truck, bus, train or aeroplane somewhere near you. All that carbon was going to be emitted into our environment. The burning with black smoke is less efficient and has resulted in a lot of soot, but the soot hasn't been converted into CO2 as would have been the case had that oil been burnt as was intended. The attack may actually have resulted in lower CO2 emissions than would have been the case otherwise. We need to stop burning oil, whether in vehicles, power stations or in attacks like this one. It's all the same.

Are younger people driving less ?
One part of the picture is that the influence of younger people on the growth in driving in the Netherlands is less than the influence of older people who on average account for more of the growth. Naturally, there have been some attempts to make a generational issue out of this, to make out that the young are behaving differently because they think differently. Unfortunately, there's no real evidence for that. In fact, these differences are very small and there is another better explanation: It's not about age, it's about wealth. Wealthier people drive more than less wealthy people. This holds true for entire nations (though NL bucks that trend a bit) just as much as it does within a nation.

Dutch lottery advertisement. Yes, you can win a bike.
But I suspect most people would rather win the car.
There is no indication that younger people are driving less by choice. Rather, younger people these days are under more financial pressure than was the case for people of the same age a few decades ago. For instance, accommodation is more expensive now and is consuming a larger proportion of income. Rents are higher than they used to be and it's really much more difficult to "get on the housing ladder" now than it was when the people who are older now were getting started. As a result, other things have to be prioritized. But give people money and they tend to buy a car. That's why lottery adverts always feature cars, including here in the Netherlands.


Car companies are no more likely to solve the problems which inevitably come from using cars than cigarette companies can be relied upon to solve the problems caused by their product. Different new cars are not the answer to any of the problems caused by cars. We need far fewer cars.

Fact check: Dutch car ownership continues to rise, just as elsewhere around the world