“Technology will not be enough”: in the face of climate change, the urgency of rethinking our movements

Every day, we spend an average of one hour on the move. A minimum duration in relation to the major impact that our preferred mode of transport, the car, has on our lives. Our cities are structured around them, with all that this implies: atmospheric and noise pollution, unsuitability for children and vulnerable people, dependence on oil, difficulties in practicing active mobility such as walking and cycling… Yet, we knows, we will have to succeed in doing without it as much as possible to face the current climate and environmental challenge. Aurélien Bigo is well aware of the issue, he who wrote his thesis on transport to the test of climate change. And in the lifestyle changes that we are going to have to carry out, he sees an exciting prospect: less physical inactivity, stress, social inequalities, better air and life quality.

In your thesis, you note that the duration of daily journeys – one hour – and their number – three or four – have not changed since 1800. Their speed has, on the other hand, been multiplied by 10-12. How do you explain it?

Aurelien Bigo: It is estimated that users are willing to spend an hour commuting per day, which has not changed since 1800. The average number of journeys – three or four per day – has not changed since two centuries because our main reasons for traveling have remained the same: going to work or studying, shopping, visiting friends or family, etc.

But two centuries ago, we had to move only on foot or, possibly, on horseback. Territories and activities were structured accordingly. This was disrupted by the arrival of faster modes of transport: horse-drawn transport, the railway for long and medium distances, then the tramway in the cities, the bicycle from the 1870s, the car at the very end of the 19th century and the airplane at the beginning of the 20th century.

Speed ​​records have not been broken for several decades (we can still mention the TGV), but these rapid modes of transport became more accessible in the second half of the 20th century. All forms of mobility taken together, our trips today are made at an average of 50 km/h. So we travel about 50 kilometers a day.

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