Fossil-fuelled transport

Many years ago Winin Pereira, the co-founder of the Centre for Holistic Studies, noted that fossil fuels, used lavishly in agriculture and transport of produce to the cities, have polluted the air, water and soil – mainly by the release of various chemicals into the atmosphere and by the increased burning of coal and oil which are raising the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.1

He recorded the oil industry’s figures indicating that the supply of cheap, easily accessible oil would peak between the years 2010 and 2020, commenting: 

In spite of such obvious evidence of the limits to oil, the West behaves as if inexhaustible quantities will always be available in order to keep its unsustainable system running and to sell it to us ‑ an obvious impossibility.  

If, for instance, the per capita energy consumption of India and China rises to that of South Korea (before the crash), and the Chinese and Indian populations increase at currently projected rates, ‘these two countries alone will need a total of 43 billion barrels per year. That’s almost double the world’s entire demand today.'[Romm and Curtis, 1996]  

This exposes the Western industrial paradigm which lures (through its culture) and forces (through the WTO) the country to follow illusions of development. That is to say, a globally projected iconography of luxury and affluence leads people to believe that this lifestyle is replicable everywhere, and in support of this promise, the Western trade and financial institutions coerce the elites of India and elsewhere into following their prescriptions. This also reveals the naïveté or ignorance of Indians who willingly do so. 2 

He would have appreciated the thinking of Dr John Newson, a valued contact of CHSUK. Though much of its evidence is UK-related, its message is global: 

Transport is not a good, it is a cost – and should be assessed as such. The modern transport system is extremely extravagant and costly for what it actually delivers, but there has been a collective denial about the real cost of transport.  

It is literally costing the earth – yet, each journey seems cheap, and so, by millions of individual decisions, the whole mass of mobility continues to grow and grow, until it has come to seem inevitable.  

As European countries struggle to control mass mobility, the new economies in Asia and Latin America are attempting to drive down the road of the 20th century. Too many are intending to travel a route too costly for the Earth to sustain; hence the journey is likely to be short. The report shows why we cannot all have our foot on the accelerator.  

Fortunately, we have always known how to live well with much less transport, and we urgently have to rebuild these low energy systems, so societies can progress in a just and sustainable manner.3

The last paragraph calls to mind references to low energy systems in the past, when trade was regional [Pereira, Sule]: 

People’s technologies are mostly based on the use of local, low cost materials, including sources of energy . . . That People’s technology is limited to the use of natural materials does not mean that they are inferior to Western technology’s synthetics. Animal drawn transport systems – sometimes consisting of convoys of thousands of animals – were well organised to carry goods throughout the length and breadth of the country. For instance, dyes and drugs were imported from distant places, even other countries. Sailing ships were used for transporting goods by sea to and from Arabia, the east African coast, and between south-east Asia and China. Many dhows [wooden ships] are still in use.4 

And in another paper: 

People’s technologies use only renewable resources, or small quantities of non-renewable ones, in a manner which makes them recyclable. They require a minimum of energy for their production and use, and all that energy comes from renewable sources, mainly wood fuel and human or other animal power. They create employment rather than reduce it by increasing the ‘efficiency’ of mechanised production. The pollution they produce, if any, does not accumulate in organisms or the environment. It is possible that pressure from the local community limits developments to those technologies which are socially and environmentally appropriate.  

People’s technologies are ultimately based on this recognition by all human societies that depend on the natural resource-base for their survival: that they must live within the limits of their specific surroundings. The cosmic basis on which the system is founded need not be true or provable, indeed, it cannot be so – but as long as it provides a firm foundation for a sustainable and just society, the ‘truth’ of its belief-system is irrelevant.  

Later this year a 2002 report on the unnecessary global ‘swapping’ of food will be updated by another valued CHSUK contact, Rianne ten Veen.  

  1. Climate change & food security, Maharashtra Prabhodan Seva Mandal, 1987
  2. Energy & Lifestyles: Indranet Journal, December 1998
  3. The Real Cost of Transport: John Newson, 2009 – available to download, pdf: http://neweranetwork.info/reports/
  4. Some characteristics of people’s science and technology: commissioned by the People-Oriented Science and Technology for the Congress on Traditional Sciences and Technologies: Winin Pereira & Subhash Sule, 1998
  5. Celebrating People’s Knowledge: Winin Pereira and Subhash Sule 2001 
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