Living sustainably means satisfying the needs of the present without adversely affecting the ability of future generations to satisfy theirs. There’s probably a few unreconstructed freeloaders amongst us who couldn’t care, but my guess is most of us would happily go along with that, in which case, what does it really mean?

To answer that we need to look at different bits of the way we live without fossil fuel dependency, and consider how we could do it, and the effect it might have.

The big ones are transport, energy and food, though population, development including housing, clothing, money and the quality of life should be added as well. Also communities and work, though they will be affected by what happens in the first three, and somewhere there should be a reference to recycling.

Covering these in the remaining 200 words of this article is unrealistic, but it could be done over the next four or five. In which case I’d like to spend the rest of this making a start on transport, by asking what would we do if the water coming out of our taps made us ill? Nothing? Of course not. We would expect an explanation, advice and immediate action from Bristol Water. So why is our action on air pollution so pathetic? We know motor transport, especially diesel powered, is the major air polluter in Bristol, and we know it kills and causes serious illness, yet cars still clog our roads and we would certainly do not demand remedial action from the air authorities as we would if water started killing people.

The trouble is we are all part of the problem, and politically that makes things difficult. Kamikaze like there are still too many of us determined to drive as much as we feel we need, and how many politicians, national or local would get in if they stood on a ticket of less cars? They would more likely promise more roads to deal with more cars.

Happily it is not all a story of gloom and doom. Cultures can be changed, though not overnight. For example, our government accepts the importance of restricting the use of diesel vehicles in our cities, and the mayors of Paris, Madrid, Mexico City and Athens have plans to do that. London’s mayor is planning to pedestrianize Oxford Street.

So that’s two changes that may tip the cultural balance and make it easier to clean up our air – restrict diesel vehicles from city centres and encourage much greater pedestrianization. Doing both will take time, but it is up to all of us to get out of our cars and support the implementation of both.

Or do nothing and accept that air pollution will kill more of us, maybe someone in our family.

One of a regular series of articles, written by Sustainable Redland founder Hamish Wills.
It was published in Bishopston Voice in January 2019.

Posted in Hamish article