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On yer vélo

Claire Armitstead, Guardian
… Graham Robb [writes] in his introduction to The Discovery of France, which this week won the Ondaatje prize for the book published in the past year that best evokes the spirit of a place. “Ten years ago,” he writes, “I began to explore the country on which I was supposed to be an authority….

“But there was also a France in which just over 100 years ago, French was a foreign language to the majority of the population. I owe my first real inklings of this other France to a rediscovery of the miraculous machine that opened up the country to millions of people at the end of the 19th century.”

… the bicycle has been credited with increasing the average height of the French population by reducing the number of marriages between blood relations.

… he follows in the tyretracks of the great French historian Fernand Braudel, who pioneered a bottom-up, interactive form of history that looked at humans in their landscape.

The unifying concept of the book is mobility – or, in many areas of provincial France and for most of its history, the lack of it. Therein lies the irony of being a cyclist historian of the 21st century: in its early days, the bicycle was all about speeding things up, about making distances seem smaller, and communities closer. Now, in the era of transnational autoroutes, its great virtue is slowing things down, enabling the researcher to note the particularity of people and places…
(3 May 2008)
Video interview with Graham Robb at original article.

Airline emissions ‘far higher than previous estimates’

Cahal Milmo, The Independent
The aviation industry’s failure to curb its soaring carbon emissions could lead to the “worst case scenario” for climate change, as envisaged by the United Nations.

An unpublished study by the world’s leading experts has revealed that airlines are pumping 20 per cent more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than estimates suggest, with total emissions set to reach between 1.2 billion and 1.5 billion tonnes annually by 2025.

The report, by four government-funded research bodies, is one of the most authoritative estimates of the growth of pollutants produced by the industry. It was presented to a conference co-organised by the United States’ Federal Aviation Authority but not given a wider audience.
(6 May 2008)

Australia: Low-carb cars

Fran Molloy, ABC Science
Rising oil prices and greenhouse gas emissions are pushing us to look at our motor vehicle use – but what are the alternatives and will they work in Australia?

Australia is a nation of car lovers; our population of 22 million boasts around 14 million registered vehicles – and about 80 per cent of these are passenger vehicles.

We often cite ‘tyranny of distance,’ with major population centres so widely dispersed, as a key reason behind our heavy reliance on private vehicles over public transport.

Yet around 85 per cent of Australians live in urban areas, typically travelling between just ten and twenty kilometres in each journey they make. And those journeys are usually made by car, with our public transport use estimated at just eight per cent.

We have to change – and change fast, says Dr Patrick Moriarty, who is a senior research fellow at Melbourne University and an alternative energy expert.

Are cars doomed?

In a recent study, Moriarty warned that there is no future for the car if we are to meet the European Union’s recommended carbon emission reduction targets for 2050 to avoid serious climate change.

… And as we reach ‘peak oil’, the amount of oil produced worldwide is predicted to drop steadily in coming years. Crude oil is already well over US $100 a barrel and climbing, and OPEC (The Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries) recently refused requests from oil purchasers to raise their production quotas – sure signs the global oil crisis is not going away.

Moriarty argues we need to make a near-total shift from the private car to public transport. But with public transport options thin on the ground, what other ecologically-sound alternatives to oil-powered cars are on the horizon?
(8 May 2008)

Blood Car Movie Trailer
The aptly-named Blood Car is a near-future tale about peak oil and bloodthirsty vegans. Gasoline is so expensive that it takes almost 500 bucks to fill your tank, and most cars have been abandoned in vast “car graveyards.” Archie is a nice vegan guy who wants to help the world by creating the first engine that runs on wheatgrass – but instead, he accidentally invents an engine that runs on human blood.
(8 May 2008)

Collaboration Calls for New U.N. Agency to Oversee Transport Emissions

Ben Block, Worldwatch Institute
A newly formed watchdog of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is proposing that the U.N. establish a new authority to regulate emissions from high-carbon international activities such as aviation and shipping.

… The authority would be in charge of regulating aviation and shipping emissions that occur beyond a member nation’s borders. U.N. organizations are currently crafting policies to regulate international transport emissions, which were exempt from the Kyoto Protocol. But Terry Barker, chair of the Congress, said he doubts those organizations can effectively hold their respective industries accountable.

“A substantial portion of emissions from aviation and shipping are outside international jurisdictions: international water, international air space,” said Barker, an author of the IPCC’s 2007 assessment on climate change and the director of Cambridge University’s Centre for Climate Change Mitigation Research. “It’s difficult to see how they will be controlled…. I’m not convinced [current U.N. efforts] will be sufficient. It seems voluntary.”
(7 May 2008)