Energy and transport session at RGS 2013

The TGRG held a total of 12 sessions over the course of the RGS-IBG 2013 conference, the maximum allowed for any research group, and covered an impressive amount of material in that time. (To take a look at all the sessions our members convened, please see here and search for transport). Sessions were well attended, but with so much to see and do, even the most dedicated transport geographer would be hard-pressed to see all of the sessions. Also, many people will not have attended RGS-IBG 2013 at all.

With these people in mind, we have decided to try to document the sessions than took place, rather than accept that, once a presentation is delivered, it is lost forever. To kick-off this coverage, we look at the very first transport session – Energy and Transport – in this post, held bright and early at 09:00 on Wednesday 28th August. For anyone, anywhere interested in energy and transport but unable to attend the conference in person, please read on.
The session contained 6 talks (the abstracts of which can be seen on the session page of the RGS website). They ranged in scale (from global supply chains to local enterprises), modes of transport (from boats to planes) and methods of analysis (from focus groups and interviews to hard-core stats). This diversity was held together by the fundamental issue of the talks: transport’s use of energy and its implications for sustainability.

The first presentation, by Nahid Mohajeri (University College London) and
Agust Gudmundsson (Royal Holloway, University of London) was by far the most impressive technically. Their paper described a new metric for evaluating street networks: entropy. Essentially, the measure can be seen as an indication of wastage in the urban environment. High entropy areas require a lot of roads to be built to enable an average trip. Building roads is energy-intensive, so low entropy roads are generally desirable. The presenter also showed how their methods could provide information on the directionality of roads in a particular area: roads tended to follow the river’s course, for example.

Next up was Age Poom, from Tartu University in Estonia. Her talk tackled the issue of transport in Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs). Energy analysis revealed what kinds of transport were most responsible for emissions from these businesses, so the talk was highly relevant to organisations wishing to improve environmental performance. Using practice theory, and supporting the work of James Falconbridge, it was concluded that shifts in corporate norms would be necessary to rapidly reduce emissions from SMEs.

The third presentation was also highly pertinent to industry. Sarah Mander and colleagues from the Tindall Centre for Climate Change, based at the University of Manchester, have conducted detailed research of emissions from the understudied shipping sector and created concrete proposals about how these can best be reduced. This research clearly set out a number of alternative scenarios for 2050, providing guidance for decision makings tasked with ensuring that shipping takes on its share of responsibility for creating a safe climate for future generations.

Fourth was a talk by Andreas Pastowski from the Wuppertal Institute for Climate, Germany. He was also looking at the ‘big picture’, in this case regarding the transportation of the fossil fuels that power the global economy. It was about energy used to transport energy! Overall, it was concluded that the shift to renewables would have climate benefits that go beyond any direct fuel savings: renewables do not require incessant fuel supplies and electricity is an energy-efficient form of energy transfer.

Next was a talk that returned to smaller scale, using more personal methods of information collection. Paulina Luzecka, from the University of Exeter, looked into the ‘taken for granted’ activity of ‘gap years’, but from a unique energy perspective. With fascinating insight into the social construction of the ‘finding yourself’ experience, interspersed with entertaining quotes from gap year participants themselves, Paulina showed that there are forces at work actively encouraging young people to fly away for life-changing experiences. In practice, these energy intensive gap years may not be beneficial for the individuals involved, let alone for our stocks of valuable liquid fuels. The deep understanding of the gap year industry transmitted through this presentation could be useful in attempts to reduce the negative impacts of the gap year trend.

Finally was my own talk: a comparison of energy use for commuting between England and the Netherlands. The talk highlighted the suprising result, discovered towards the end of my PhD at the University of Sheffield, that Dutch commuters use, on average more energy than their English counterparts to get to work each day. This finding is especially shocking given that English transport campaigners tend to look-up to the Netherlands as an example of best practice. The reason for energy-intensive Dutch commuting? Car trips are on average 30% longer than in the UK, offsetting the benefits of a lower proportion of people travelling to work by car. The slides of this talk can be seen below:

Overall this was a fast-paced session that transmitted a huge amount of information about energy use in transport, the underlying reasons for intractable fossil-fuel dependence in the sector and potential solutions, in a short amount of time. In his concluding remarks, Stewart Barr concluded that the interface between energy and transport studies clearly has much to offer and encouraged further collaboration between the Energy Geographies Working Group and the TGRG. Thanks to all involved, and please ‘watch this space’ for a session on energy and transport planned for RGS-IBG 2014.

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