Green transport

STREETLIFE - Nigel Paul C. Villarete - The Freeman

Maybe the fact that plants are usually green provided the initial impetus for everything that is supposed to be green nowadays, or at least desired as a preferred option. And plants are the icons because they represent things original, or natural, living and least capable of harming other organisms in the ecological systems. Botanists will tell us otherwise, that in the quiet serenity of your garden, warfare are being waged every day, usually between plant species, of course. They fight animals, too, but usually in self defense.

But we also took the word green from plants due to its nature of sucking in carbon dioxide and emitting oxygen in the process of photosynthesis. In a world increasingly worried about CO2 emissions, plants are seen as the hope of the future. That's why we're planting trees all over, not significantly enough, but the intent is there. And we're welcoming vegetation everywhere, even in rooftops, window sills, inside our rooms, almost everywhere. It's not a bad thing.

So how about transport? Of course, we read/see it often every day, in the newspapers and TV shows, and Facebook posts. It's very fashionable now to post anything green, and that includes transport. But what is really green transport? For sure it's not painting our cars green or putting vases with plants inside buses and jeepneys. We have to go back to the issue of greenhouse gases emissions that causes global warming if we are to understand what green transport is supposed to be. And as we have pointed out many times before, the GHG is almost synonymous with CO2 emissions. But being green in transport also means the traditional environmental concern on pollution characterized by black smoke.

The most common "green" initiative is, as what I wrote a couple of weeks ago, e-something - e-trikes, e-jeepneys, e-buses, e-etc, and this is characterized by being electric-propelled … meaning, you won't have smoke-emitting gasoline or diesel engines. Visually, they're very appealing - there are no smoke belchers on the streets as vehicles run on batteries which are regularly charged. From that perspective, it's comparing smoke emitters to those that are totally smoke-free. But manufacturers of these contraptions seldom tell us that the batteries need to be charged, regularly at that, and that the charging stations use electricity which are generated mostly by coal-fired, bunker-fuelled or diesel thermal power plants.

The question is, if we compute the emissions, both in smoke (particulate matter or PM) and CO2, for the old jeepney and the new e-jeepney, which one has the higher figure per passenger-kilometer? Oh, those manufacturers didn't tell you that, did they? It's not as if their products pollute more, because I honestly believe they're cleaner, even if they won't show the numbers. But we need to see the distinction and not be told that e-vehicles are pollution-free, because they're not. In fact, if a country's power supply runs entirely on coal, the emissions of these e-vehicles might even be higher.

E-vehicles are "generally" cleaner or greener. But we have to contend with the reality that while our cities come out cleaner, the smoke and CO2 that moves you there are actually belched in the poorer communities where the power plants are. Here we see the ideological dilemma again, between the city mouse and the country mouse. We tend to believe the country is better for it is free of the "rat-race" of the cities. Now we want to make our cities cleaner by throwing our smoke to the countryside. Hmmmm, how democratic can we get?

To be fair, we have to maybe focus on what really is more "green" as far as transport is concerned. The meter is the amount of emissions one passenger makes in one kilometer of travel. Regardless of the mode. Or the propulsion used. Here we see that, hands down, walking and biking wins the race. Except that, it might take you half a day to walk to your work place in MEPZ if you live in San Fernando. Then you, and the country, lose in economic productivity. But walking and biking should always be promoted wherever they're better.

The biggest contributor to greening transportation is, by far, simply mass public transportation. On a per pax-km. basis, public transportation contributes more to the decrease in emissions, many times over, compared to cars, or even e-vehicles. It might be a good idea to combine the two - electric public transportation except that there are operational difficulties. But having the two in co-existence in a system, coupled with biking and walking, especially the last kilometer, would be the ideal set-up if we really desire a truly green transport.











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