Earth Day 2023: making sustainable transport choices

Earth Day continues to become ever more significant in the face of the growing climate crisis. On 22nd April 2023, this annual event will be marked in more than 190 countries with over one billion individuals demanding change to combat the environmental impacts of carbon emission, pollution, toxic waste and more – the consequences of which are felt worldwide.

The first Earth Day event was in 1970, founded by US Senator Gaylord Nelson in an effort to draw attention to such issues. Since then, it has spread across the globe and serves as a rallying cry for the need to work together to tackle the climate emergency. Despite general malaise and continued resistance from those who would deny this reality, Earth Day gathers momentum each year, uniting people towards a single goal: preserving our planet.

A time for action

Such events are vital because change is needed, and it’s needed fast. Just last month, the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) sounded the alarm bells that we need to do more to tackle the problems faced if we’re to have any hope of curbing, or at least limiting, the effects of global warming. Human activity is the root cause of the problems that we see – and it impacts everything from food production, health and wellbeing to our urban environments and natural habitats.

Tough choices lay ahead, particularly in the area of transport which accounts for a large proportion of carbon emissions. It requires leadership at a global level to make these decisions. Yet as individuals, we shouldn’t feel helpless in our ability to drive change. We can build on the progress that’s already been made and introduce even small shifts in our behaviour towards more sustainable transport use. With this in mind, here are a few ideas on how you can reduce carbon emissions from your mobility choices:

1. Lift share with others

Car or lift sharing helps to save money, build relationships, and reduce environmental impact. Sharing the costs of trips to work, the shops, or a nearby town is not only good for the pocket, but it also encourages closer connections and relationships with those around us. Plus, by reducing the number of single-occupancy cars on the road, we create an opportunity for a healthier, more sustainable community that benefits everyone in the long run.

“DfT analysis identified that increasing car occupancy from current levels of 1.55 people to 1.7 could save nearly 3 MtCO2e per year by 2030. This is roughly equivalent to the amount currently emitted from all UK buses in a year.”

Department for Transport, UK

2. Use shared mobility services

The number of shared mobility services is on the rise in cities across the globe, providing an alternative to vehicle ownership. By opting for these services, individuals can enjoy the convenience without having to shoulder the associated financial burden of owning a car. It could also potentially help to lower emissions from the decreased manufacture of new vehicles too. After all, private cars tend to lie idle for extended periods of time, meaning these assets are significantly underutilised.

“The average car or van in England is driven just 4 per cent of the time, a figure that has barely changed in quarter of a century.”

RAC Foundation

3. Switch to public transport

Making the move to public transport just a few days a week can reduce traffic congestion on our roads. The increased demand for these services could also mean that they’re more likely to receive ongoing funding to operate. And with no traffic jams to worry about, people may discover that it proves a better alternative to driving and decide to stick with public transport permanently.

“Shifting from cars to public transportation can reduce up to 2.2 tons of carbon emissions annually per individual.”

United Nations

4. Cycle or walk to local amenities

According to the World Health Organisation, 30 per cent of car journeys in Europe are less than 3 km, with 50% less than 5 km. Active travel can be a viable alternative for these types of trips. By walking or cycling, instead of taking the car, people have an opportunity to enjoy physical activities. This benefits not only individual health and wellbeing but the environment too. Fewer emissions entering our atmosphere makes for better air quality and more livable urban areas.

“…a shift from car to active travel is possible for trips up to 16 km in length, and those trips are responsible for 40% of carbon emissions from vehicles.”

World Health Organisation

5. Is the journey necessary?

Every unnecessary car journey adds to the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Making a conscious effort to walk, cycle or take public transport instead of driving can help, as we’ve discussed. Combining trips is another option. Batch errands such as picking up groceries, posting a birthday card, and collecting medication, on the way to visit a friend or relative. This means only one trip is made rather than multiple journeys. Organising trips using journey planners can help to make more efficient use of time and resources, with the ability to select the most sustainable route and modes available. 

Collective role

No single action or solution can combat the effects of climate change, but each small step we take has a cumulative positive effect. It’s therefore essential that we make collective and individual efforts to reduce our carbon footprint while calling upon governments and authorities to act. Whether this means taking public transport, cycling, walking or car sharing with friends, there are many ways we can play our role. If we all choose to be more mindful of the transport choices we make and how they might contribute to rising carbon emissions, we can play our part in creating a more sustainable future for generations to come.

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