The Environment's Outlook On Urbanisation Through Time: Part II
The Implications of Personal Car Ownerships
Travelling in personal vehicles has become more common throughout the years, resulting in a growth of car ownership. Previously, at the early stages of the automotive industry, owning a car would be an indicator of high social status. However, now that cars are more accessible and affordable, in many cultures, car ownership has become a convention and a necessity.
However, car ownership growth has impacted the climate through the emitted pollutants of petrol and diesel cars (World Health Organisation. 2021; Blaga and Eckl. 2017). The increase of road vehicles now poses a threat to an already depleted climate, as road transport contributes to 20% of CO2 emissions, Greenhouse Gasses (GHG) and Particulate Matter (PM), contributing to climate change. According to the Mayor of London (2018), PM emissions in the UK capital are mainly caused by road traffic with exhaust emissions and tyre and brake wear being the main sources.
Further to environmental effects, road congestion significantly adds to these negative consequences. In megacities such as London and Los Angeles, ground traffic pollution from congested city roads can prove to have a harmful effect on human health. ‘Nitrogen dioxide, originating in traffic fumes, is the main precursor for ground-level ozone causing major respiratory problems and leading to premature death,’ the European Commission noted in a press release (2014).
Therefore, there seems to be an urgent need for more sustainable and restorative transport solutions.
While existing public transport means are helpful in getting people around, not all shared transportation is sustainable and environmentally harmless.
Changes in individual needs
However, trends can be seen where citizens of urban areas are deciding against car ownership. This is largely driven by the improvement of alternative public transport, such as the underground or buses, as they have become significantly more convenient and cheaper than owning a car, especially when considering parking restrictions and fuel costs.
This form of shared mobility is, arguably, more sustainable as it can carry a larger capacity of people at lower overall emissions, reducing congestion. However, as long as the vehicles run on petrol or diesel and cause tyre and brake wear on roads, they still harm our environment. Therefore, to heal our planet simply using public transport is not enough.
On the contrary, people in rural areas require a car in order to get to work or the shops, since public transport is unavailable. So, car ownership in these regions is still growing and starting to mirror the pollution issues of cities.
Since recognising the harmful impact of air pollution, leading industries, city planners and governments are coming together to tackle the imposing climate issues and environmental impacts. It remains a continuous and ongoing effort, as can be seen by the positive change in air quality from the early 18th century to the 21st century (Ritchie.H, 2017).
A healthy transport systems requires a number of key stakeholders collaborating to deliver the global sustainability and net-zero promises.
Source: The Health Foundation
The solution has not yet been found, however we are on our way to improving human influence for the better one step at a time. The proactivity of individuals to take responsibility for their actions has since increased, due to the increase in education and knowledge on the matter.
The development of alternative and renewable power sources, such as electricity or hydrogen fuel cells, will provide much cleaner transport. Meanwhile, the problems of tyre and brake wear could be reduced by moving some traffic into the skies, such as by implementing Advanced Air Mobility (AAM).
If integrated well to complement other sustainable future modes of transportation, AAM has the potential to improve travel efficiency, enhance connectivity and simplify transport routes, reducing traffic congestion.
Our way forward
There is no one solution for the effects of urbanisation on the environment, but rather a series of solutions that must interconnect and work together in harmony. On this journey, everyone will have an important role to make this a success.
It takes national governments setting the vision; local governments prioritising sustainability on their agenda; city planners shaping built environments of the future; technology developers building innovative products to respond to global needs; and each individual making sustainable choices.
That way we can continue to sustainably work towards that same goal, which we have had since the 18th century: a better quality of life, except this time not just for humanity, but also for our planet.
In our previous article “The Environments Outlook On Urbanisation Through Time Part I” we discussed the influence of urbanisation and industrialisation on early migration. You can read this here.
We will keep developing the discussion around transportation of the past and future further in our upcoming written pieces. Stay tuned!
- Greenhouse Gas - made up of Carbon Dioxide, Water Vapour, Methane, Ozone and Nitrous oxide.
- CO2 Emissions - a by-product of fossil fuel combustion.
- Particulate Matter : PM2.5 and PM10. - a mix of non-gaseous material of chemical composition, where the factor indicates the diameter of the particles in μm; smaller particles tend to be long-lived in the atmosphere and can be carried long distance.
- Nitrogen oxides, NOx - all combustion processes produce nitrogen oxides; NOx is made mainly of two pollutants: NO and NO2 (most harmful).
- Tyre and brake wear - friction between vehicle tyres and the road causing emissions of particulate matter into the atmosphere. Similarly, friction and wear within vehicle brakes emits particulate matter (Mayor of London, 2018).
- Blaga, Csaba, and Bence Eckl. Environmental Impact of Road Transport Traffic., vol. 181, 2017, pp. 4-11. Science Direct. Available here.
- World Health Organisation (2021). Air Pollution. Available here.
- World Health Organisation (2018). Air pollution (Out Door). Available here.
- Mayor of London (2018). London Environment Strategy. London: Greater City
Authority. Available here.
- Ritchie, Hanna (2017). “What the history of London’s air pollution can tell us about the future of today’s growing megacities.” Our world in data, 20 June 2017. Available here.
- European Comission (2014). Environment: Commission takes action against UK for persistent air pollution problems. Available here.
- Title image, map of air quality in London.