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Australia Researchers Say Car Travel Must Be Cut by 80% to Meet GHG Targets

Car travel must be cut by at least 80%, road construction halted and public transport boosted if Australia is to have any hope of meeting carbon emission targets to avoid dangerous climate change, according to two professors at Monash University.

In a paper (“Mitigating greenhouse: Limited time, limited options”) to be published in the journal Energy Policy, the researchers say that their analysis of available technical solutions had shown that the big emission cuts needed in the transport sector required “a near-total shift from the private car to public transport.”

Our calculations show that not even the best combination of fuel efficiency, hybrid and electric cars, alternative fuels and car pooling could provide the reductions needed to meet the 2050 targets for avoiding dangerous climatic change.

The car is doomed. Ultimately, we are going to have to move to a decentralized society where most people need to travel far less. People are going to have to fundamentally change the way they think about travel and make much more use of non-motorized travel such as cycling and walking.

—Associate Professor Damon Honnery

Honnery and Dr Patrick Moriarty say Australia’s Federal and State Governments should stop spending money building new arterial roads and focus on phasing-out cars, improving the energy efficiency of public transport and making people use it.

The researchers say the drastic changes they are proposing are needed if Australia’s transport sector is to meet the 2050 CO2 emission reduction targets advocated by the European Union and Government economic adviser, Professor Ross Garnaut.

The researchers say the community seemed to accept the need for drastic CO2 emission reductions but the widespread perception that technical advances alone will provide the reductions needed in the transport sector is way off the mark.



This is pure political propaganda. Public transportation can be less green than private transportation. Economics demand and supply should determine the optimal mix of the two modes of transportation not politics. However, both public and private transportation should be made more green.



Why is this political propaganda?

You say, "...Economics demand and supply should determine the optimal mix of the two modes of transportation not politics..." Have you ever heard of the tragedy of the commons? Raw capitalism is not going to solve the problems of runaway global warming.

Politics is the process we have to address major societal and ecological problems. Individuals and corporations acting in their own short-term economic interest got us into this mess in the first place.


Eliminate 80% of car travel by 2050? Not likely. The only way I see them getting that kind of CO2 reduction would be a crash program to switch everything to electricity generated by solar,wind,wave,geothermal and nuclear. That would require that everyone in the country drop every other project (and sports on the TV) and spend every waking moment working on it. Then they would have to convince the rest of the world to follow suit.

country mouse

its papers like this that make me think that the green movement is more about controlling other people's lives than doing anything beneficial. This is sort of like how the right wing US tries to control people's lives through "Law and order" fear legislation.

The users of the transportation system should pay for the costs of running an expanding said transportation system. There should be no cross subsidies to avoid misrepresentation of the cost or efficiencies of a system. One great example I saw either here or on beyond Gutenberg was about low-cost Chinese electric bicycles vrs their mass transit system. the cost on fares alone differential would pay for a roughly $350 bicycle in a year. It was more flexible and faster transportation giving you a greater range of destinations you could reach any given time.

another calculation I'm not seeing is what's the crossover point where individual transportation consumes the same amount of energy as the average energy per passenger consumed in a day by a public transportation system. for example, if you had an effectively 200 mpg vehicle (5x more efficient than a jet, 8x-10x more efficient than the average car) how would that compare to public transport in terms of time and energy

a third calculation of think about is what is the economic impact of restricted economic choices in terms of food sources, jobs, and living space. How can you eliminate the monopoly effect introduced by limited transportation choices? how can you keep community stability if people move every time they change jobs.

here's one answer and I see nothing changing the trend reported in this article.

There are a whole bunch of other calculations to make with regards to real estate prices and proximity to transportation services, suburban vrs urban real estate cost differences and how that difference pays for suburban transportation costs, truck traffic needed to deliver goods, as well as a host of others.


Nick it is funny that you mention the tragedy of the commons because this is an argument for private transportation and not for public transportation. The suggestion is propaganda because it brands private transportation as bad by definition and naively assumes that public transportation is greener. For example, most public trains and busses in Denmark have far more emissions than private cars because they are not required to clean their emissions to any important degree compared to private cars. I am not against legislation at all. On the contrary, legislation is a necessity for capitalism to be efficient as a way of organizing economic exchange. Also I am very much convinced that CO2 emissions should be eliminated (not just reduced) in order to avoid the dangers of manmade global warming. This is not an issue of private or public transportation but an issue of making both of them CO2 neutral as fast as possible and hopefully before 2050. We need legislation to achieve that.


For me "move[ing to] a decentralized society" contradicts "people need to travel far less"

It`s the more centralized societies (ie. netherlands) where cycling is used most...

Also, public transport in more centralized socities is much more efficient due to the higher population density. See EU vs US (except large cities).

In any case, internalizing the external cost of any transport system would leave the market systems to choose the optimal solution; by creating a long-term policy which charges for the environmental cost, everyone would still be free to choose a less cost effictive, more polluting way of transport...

That`s what is happening in London with CC (although the first C should be renamed from congestion to carbon)....

Stephen Boulet

Needless to say, this ain't gonna happen. Too bad Australia doesn't have any available desert land in which to put solar thermal plants.

Oh wait ...


Harvey D

Is the over-use of private vehicles the real problem to solve?

The use of ICE vehicles, especially the gas guzzler polluting types (even lawn mowers, pleasure boats, etc) have to be restricted to lower pollution and reduce liquid fuel consumption.

There are no real problems with Zero or near Zero pollution private vehicles other than cost and the requirement for more roads-highways and associated accidents. If a family can afford all the direct and indirect costs associated with 3 or 4 zero pollution cars, why not?.

Mass transportation may not be that much cheaper or cleaner than light weight private zero pollution units, except in large cities where the use of many more private vehicles may not be practical. Electric city buses, trains and subways may be more advantageous but not necessarily cheaper. The total real cost of a city bus and/or subway ride is much more than most realize.

Both private and public transportation vehicles can (and should) co-exist. Users will decide which mode is best for their use at any given time.


I have to agree with Henrik -- but with a catch. Institute a Pigovian tax on carbon, then let supply and demand take care of the rest. Charge the full cost of public transportation -- including carbon emissions -- to its users, as with the full cost of road infrastructure and private transportation -- including carbon emissions. Then let people decide which to take in order to save the most money -- and carbon emissions.

This also takes full account of all indirect effects, e.g. sources of electric power, manufacturing technology to make the vehicles, emissions during road construction, etc.

Need to reduce greenhouse emissions further? Just raise the taxes -- and lower income or other taxes to reward those who don't contribute to the problem.

In fact, California should forget about suing the EPA, and just raise its gas taxes, which needs to permissions at all!

[q->t to email]


Once again everyone ignores the elephant in the room . It's amazing that this study and the posts that follow it have totally ignored the fact that oil will not be available to run a business as usual scenario in 2050 anyway. Has anyone noticed that oil is at a record price over $100 a barrel today and that this has not sparked a massive spike in exploration. The oil majors have mostly admitted that the easy oil is running out and that new discoveries will be smaller,more expensive and more difficult to extract. We haven't hit the point where demand destruction becomes a factor but it's not far away, five years at most.
By all means lets have a massive scale-up of public transport but we need to consider climate change and peak oil together instead of leaving out a critical factor in the equation.


Critta this news on the potential of biofuels shows that we could produce up to 6 times the current global oil production from biofuels in 2050. No need to worry too much about the demise of fossil fuel. It is only good that the price of crude oil goes up. It will speed up the transition to biofuels. However, I think it would be wise to scale up biofuels now with a $2 a gallon subsidy for biofuels rather than wait for peak oil in 5 years or so where everybody globally will scramble to produce biofuels at the same time because crude oil may hit $200 a barrel and be $5.5 a gallon. Steady growth is much cheaper than abrupt growth.

With regard to public transportation I think we should accelerate the build out of high speed trains that could replace short distance air travel. It could save a lot of CO2 especially if these high speed rails are magnetic using renewable electricity.



They're not exploring or massively developing oil shale because most price spikes don't last forever. Witness 1990s cheap oil which followed panic in the 1970s. When it becomes clear that this is a long-term trend and not a short-term imbalance, the oil sands/shale and coal-to-liquids resources will come online in colossal quantities and bring the price back to $70-80 -- where it will be stable until 2100 at least. Sorry, not buying the peak oil argument.

We still need carbon taxes to prevent environmental catastrophe.

[q->t to email]



I excluded oil shale because of the very poor energy returned on energy invested (EROEI). It's just not worthwhile doing at any price, including climate stability. Tar sands production is limited by the natural gas needed to produce the oil. The Canadians are talking about building a nuclear reactor for when the gas runs out but that's a long term fix.The other limiting factor is how long they can be bribed into having their natural heritage looted so Americans can drive their SUV's to the mall.

I don't share your optimism about all these alternatives coming on line to fill in the gap caused by declining production. Peak Oil is more about production capacity than reserves and it's no use having all these reserves if you can't increase production quickly enough or on a big enough scale to meet demand. These alternatives simply can't be scaled up quickly enough. Production is too energy intensive, too expensive, too polluting and just plain difficult, especially when you're used to just pumping the stuff out of the ground. There is a reason other than price points that we haven't been successful with alternative sources; they simply don't stack up at any price.

I agree about carbon taxes though


"we could produce up to 6 times the current global oil production from biofuels in 2050."

All analyses of biofuel show vastly unrealistic areas of land are required to meet even a fraction of current production.

Decentralised means lots of centres of activity - so people are close to where they work and do not need to commute long distance. The Netherlands is tiny and has extremely high population density.

The value of this paper from Australia is in showing what is necessary - either we cut GHG emissions from motor vehicles massively one way or the other or we are all toast - by global warming and no oil anyway leading to a collapse in what passes for civilisation.

richard schumacher

Note that carbon taxes should be levied on *fossil* carbon only. Fuels which derive their carbon from the air (either biofuels or completely artificial fuels) do not contribute to global warming.

The study identifies the problem but calls for a sub-optimal solution. Cars which do not use fossil-derived fuels do not contribute to global warming and can continue to be used; they may still contribute to other forms of pollution and to traffic congestion and suburban sprawl, but given non-fossil energy sources these are separate problems.


There are many valid points being addressed here.

It is important to consider that part of the dynamic behind the current price of a barrel of oil is the weak dollar; in fact some oil producers are starting to ask to be paid in euros instead of dollars. Still here in the U.S. oil is subsidized--Alan Greenspan believes the best thing that could happen to the U.S. is a $3 a gallon gas tax--too heavily subsidized, read the Iraq War, weighty stuff.

From another point of view, oil is flatly too precious to be burning out our tail pipes. We will need every drop of remaining oil to make the new more energy intensive vehicles, electronics, toys, appliances, lighter and easy to clean, for future generations. Think hundreds of years, if not thousands.

Solar energy is getting more expensive because production is tapped out--demand is exceeding supply--for now. Unfortunately, the fear mongering media forced a moratorium on the development of nuclear energy in the U.S. It would seem that humanity should be concentrating on making the generation of electricity as clean as possible and abandoning petroleum based transportation altogether.

Account Deleted

he United States has embarked upon its first comprehensive effort to curb greenhouse gas emissions from cars, while also reducing the country's reliance on foreign oil.

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