Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Monday, June 03, 2019

The Long Emergency: Transportation

Many people who consider themselves to be environmentalists have a romantic vision of people living in rural communities in some form of harmony with nature. That sort of worked, or could have worked, before the demographic transition and the population explosion we looked at in the first installment of this series. But it doesn't work with 7 billion people or even 1 billion.

Remember that half of the earth's habitable surface is already dedicated to agriculture. Rural places aren't generally natural at all. And as affluent granola crunchers build their houses along the wilderness interface, they degrade what's left of the wilderness and consume resources commuting. In low income countries, rural villagers do not live in harmony with nature, they despoil it.

While we ultimately need to reduce the human population, we must understand that the most sustainable way for people to live now is for most of them to be concentrated in cities. That gets them out of what's left of the wild and has many benefits for individuals and humanity as a whole. Benefits include:

  • Better access to health care and to public health amenities is possible.
  • Shorter distance to transport goods and people saves energy and time.
  • Increase in labor productivity because you have a critical mass of people.
  • People who live in urban areas earn more.
  • Better sanitary services are possible: potable water, sanitation, transport and recycling of waste.
  • Tight grouping of people allows social and cultural integration at a level not available to people in rural areas.
  • Economic opportunities for people who would otherwise be destined to subsist without hope of economic improvement.
  • Faster technological improvement, creation and dissemination of knowledge is facilitated.
  • Reduced pressure on forest and wilderness areas from human population. 
But, if government doesn't make the necessary investments to make urban living socially and environmentally sustainable, all these good things won't happen. 

A new WRI working paper finds that though cities are hotspots for jobs and other opportunities, many urbanites are finding it increasingly difficult to access these benefits. Analysis of Mexico City and Johannesburg found that 56% and 42% of people, respectively, cannot easily get to jobs because of their location, limited transport options, or both. Many residents in these cities experience long and expensive commutes in often uncomfortable and unsafe vehicles through heavy traffic. Others have so few travel options or nearby opportunities they are essentially stranded.
The same patterns that restrict access in Mexico City and Johannesburg are present around the world. Access to jobs, healthcare, education and other opportunities are increasingly out of reach for millions of people like Emmanuel.

Okay. Take a look at this: