Letter to the Minister – Interstate transportation & climate change

Dear Minister

There is a brief window of opportunity to utilise the resources we have access to now in order to build a future in which we can sustain ourselves.

We should build the low-emission infrastructure that will allow us to go on living in a way that we want to once the cheap access to materials we have now starts to dwindle. Fuel is only going to get much more expensive and far less socially acceptable to use beyond the next few years.

If we are to achieve real cuts in emissions than the first thing we should do is stop adding to the things that create emissions. We must stop building more highways that will only create more traffic and add more CO2 into the atmosphere. Electricity generation from fossil fuels is only one aspect of the emissions problem. The other large emitters are transportation, methane release from farm animals and a reduction in carbon sinks from deforestation (cumulative over the past 200 years in this country).

It is not an acceptable argument that Australia is a small overall contributor on a world scale, as Howard government used as another excuse for inaction. On a per-capita basis we are the worlds worst emitters and blaming other countries is no way to show leadership on the issue.

To be serious about reducing our emissions footprint means that we must ensure that people and goods can still be transported using very low or zero emissions methods. The only methods available to us that meets these targets currently are electric trains, electric road vehicles or don’t laugh- the horse and cart.  We can confidently assume that electric power will come from renewable or low-carbon release technology in the next 50 years- either through renewable, carbon-capture coal or nuclear.

So the logical step is to build the infrastructure that enables you to do the things that people need to do to get by in any foreseeable future, without oil or bio-fuel. People will need to be able to get around cities, between major cities and the country. In the cities there is no better way of moving large numbers of people than public transport using trains, trams and buses.

Belief that we can keep driving our own cars to anywhere we feel like it whenever we feel like it is just simply not feasible in a world of many billions. Moving to electric cars for arguments sake is possible, however the electricity and batteries required and all of the materials needed to be manufactured to create all of these vehicles is simply too huge to be feasible- we would not have the base load power available for electric cars for each individual as we have oil or gas powered cars of today.

As soon as you start building roads you have congestion, safety and pollution issues that only spiral and grow- even with electric cars the safety and congestion issues persist. No highway has ever been build then abandoned- they only ever get more full and therefore requiring more roads and creating more pollution. Building more highways for motor vehicles condemns us to the carbon footprint of vehicles on those roads for the foreseeable future- don’t invest in them if you want a climate that future generations can live in. Building highways for road cars and trucks cannot be seen as a positive for society anymore, it can only be seen as locking people into one unsustainable mode of transport.

The airline industry and been working hard to try and convince journalists and passengers that flying is only a small percentage of global emissions and can therefore be ignored. This is a great mis truth and in fact flying moves only a minuscule amount of people at the highest possible carbon cost ever invented. Indeed when a plane goes through the sky the warming effect is amplified when compared to other emission sources- a cumulative effect can even alter weather patterns in cities.

Flying has no future for domestic travel in a world where we are serious about avoiding global warming and we must put in place an alternative system that can move larger amounts of people at high speed without producing emissions. No airpot expansion plans can be considered if we really want to create a future beyond the next 50 years where people can live in a habitable world.

Viable solutions based on proven technology are needed. The last estimate that was produced for the cost of building a fast train route from Canberra to Sydney in the late 90s was in the vicinity of 5 billion (AUD). As previously noted, the power grid will at some point in the future be low-emissions technology and we can therefore build electric trains to utilise this capacity for mass transportation- not just in the major cities but to major regional centers and between major cities.

It will cost tens of billions of dollars to build a national network linking all major capitals from, for arguments sake Adelaide to Melbourne, Melbourne to Albury, Albury to Canberra, Canberra to Sydney, Sydney to Newcastle, Newcastle to Gold Coast, Gold Coast to Brisbane.

Building this network would be massively expensive but it will have the following benefits:

  • Reduce the carbon footprint of interstate travel of most of the 20+ billion population to virtually zero
  • Remove the need for irresponsible, uncomfortable and high-stress interstate air travel
  • Give people a viable option over air travel and avoid the excuses of travel times being too great for anything bar flying
  • Create tens of thousands of jobs all across the country
  • Utilise the expertise of large project construction, project management, resources,
  • Revitalise rural communities through which it is built
  • Put money in the hands of drought-effected farmers through land buy-back along the routes the trains pass through
  • Connect major rural areas to the cities and appreciate their natural and cultural significance (rather than flying over them)
  • Open up the existing rail networks to freight and inter-town only passenger travel- therefore taking more trucks and cars off the road and reducing road maintenance costs, accidents and driver fatigue
  • Early movement will allow us to secure rolling stock and expertise to build it first while the rest of the world competes to catch-up
  • Create a national campaign that unites the country, physically and psychologically
  • Produce a public works that instills pride in the country as a sustainable piece of history that future generations can be proud of

On a state level electrified trains and trams need to be expanded across all major cities to take cars off the road and move people between home and workplaces and to tourist locations and major hubs. Buses and hire car facilities can take commuters further in the field where needed- but no one should have to be dependent on personal motor vehicles for day-to-day use past the year 2050.

Workers that are not dependent on specialised office equipment should be encouraged to work from home more often to save the wasted time and energy in long commutes back and forwards to offices. Web cams and high-speed broadband, VOIP and mobiles all reduce the need for many people to be in another air-conditioned office building- such reduced travel should be rewarded through incentive to businesses.

I appeal to you to revise all plans to build new roads and airports that will lock us into putting more emissions into the atmosphere and immediately invest in the rail infrastructure to take the cars off the road. Competition from around the world for technology that can facilitate a more sustainable living is already fierce and will be even more so the longer we wait.

Don’t wait any longer, invest the billions necessary to build the infrastructure and leave a legacy of magnificent foresight and bask in the gratitude of future generations.

Adam Gilbert

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