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Toward Democratic Eco-socialism
as the Next World System

15. Sustainable Public Transportation
and Travel

Book cover: Airplanes, the Environment, and the Human Condition by Hans A. Baer

In Ecotopia, Ernest Callenbach [1975] describes a fictional place situated in northern California, Oregon, and Washington State that has transcended cars. Aside from the question of whether such a place could exist in the modern world, the negative environmental impacts of private motor vehicles require a drastic shift to sustainable public transportation. A new urbanism that seeks to make cities more liveable and environmentally sustainable has emerged around the world and has begun to permeate urban planning. Various cities—including Singapore, Hong Kong, Zurich, Copenhagen, Freiburg (Germany), Vancouver, Toronto, and Boston—are encouraging residents to rely more on public transportation, including trains, trams, and buses. A global movement to make inner cities carfree has emerged in recent years. Sustainable transportation would entail many other measures, such as limiting the use of cars as much as possible, making them smaller and more energy efficient, and even banning four-wheel-drive or sports utility vehicles (SUVs), except in special circumstances (such as in rugged areas) and drastically limiting air travel.

While shifting from cars to public transit—particularly intercity trains, suburban trains, trams, or light-rail systems—would serve to diminish greenhouse gas emissions, these modes of transportation are not a panacea. Much thought is being given to the best form of public transportation, such as train, tram, or bus, in urban areas, depending on the situation. Furthermore, there is the issue of connecting small towns and rural areas with cities. Measures will need to be taken to connect rural to urban communities and to provide public transportation, perhaps in the form of regularly scheduled minibuses in rural areas. Furthermore, it would be possible to reinstate passenger rail service that serviced rural communities in both North America and Australia at a time in the past when their respective populations were considerably smaller than today.

Book cover: The Emergence of Ecosocialism: Collected Essays by Joel Kovel

In capitalist societies, 'time is money', and this dictates rapid movement between places. Conversely, in a more leisurely-paced world based on eco-socialist principles, people might find slower train travel—although faster than presently exists in most parts of North America and Australia—to be a time to slow down by reading, chatting with fellow passengers, enjoying the passing countryside, reflecting, and even sleeping. A more sustainable form of vacationing or holidaying would entail trips much closer to home, by train or bus, if possible rather than to distant places either by plane or car. Cheap package holidays by airplane could become a thing of the past. A simpler way would also entail a disposal of or minimizing the use of private motor vehicles and reliance on alternative modes of transportation, including simply walking and cycling. Airships would constitute a form of slow travel given that they travel at speeds of 150 to 200 kilometres per hour. Transoceanic ships could make considerable use of wind power through the use of kites or solid sails. Teleconferencing also has the potential to eliminate or reduce much air travel for the purpose of conducting business or attending conferences.

Copyright © 2016

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