Forget HS3, “Transport for the North” was the real meat of yesterday’s announcement

Like this, only faster: the current Transpennine express line. Image: Ingy The Wingy, taken from Flickr, under creative commons.

Yesterday, Britain's trainspotters got very excited when transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin officially announced that the government would begin planning for “HS3”. If it goes ahead, this upgraded link across the Pennines would halve journey times between Manchester and Leeds to just 24 minutes. It would, McLoughlin humbly claimed, “transform the economic geography of the country”.

This is all very lovely – but it’s also a long way off. All the government has actually committed itself to do is “develop proposals”: at this stage, it's not even clear if HS3 would be a new line, or a set of upgrades to existing ones.

Even if it does happen, the new line won't actually be that HS (around 125mph, compared to the 225mph for the less misleadingly named High Speed 2 project). Manchester and Leeds are only around 40 miles apart. That makes a mockery of the existing 50 minute journey time, but it also renders really high speed trains a bit pointless. By the time they'd finished accelerating, it'd be time to slow down again.

In other words, the “high speed” bit of HS3 is basically just a marketing exercise.

The real purpose of the new line is to bind the northern cities together into a single economic region. That should make it easier for people to access jobs, and for companies to access skills, and thus do lovely things to the region's economy. In other words, HS3 isn't really an intercity line on the model of HS2 at all, but a commuter route.

Image taken from “Fast Track To Growth”, courtesy of the Centre for Cities.

Viewed from that perspective, the more important bit of yesterday's announcement might have been the promise to create “Transport for the North” (TfN): a new body bringing together representatives of the five big northern cities to plan a region-wide transport network.

TfN's name is obviously intended to parallel that of Transport for London, the body responsible for most of London’s public transport. Actually, though, a better model might be the (this is a mouthful) Verkehrsverbund Rhein-Ruhr (VRR), which oversees public transport in the Cologne/Dusseldorf/Dortmund conurbation of western Germany.

VRR is responsible for 50 railway lines, of which 15 are classed as “express”. It also looks after 45 street car lines; 19 light rail ones; two people movers; 6 trolleybuses; nearly 1,000 bus routes; and the Wuppertal suspended railway, which is brilliant because it looks like this:

Image: Mbdortmund at Wikimedia Commons.

In all, VRR brings together provided by 39 different companies in half a dozen cities. The network is so big and so complex that there isn't a single map which even shows the whole thing. This is just the rail network:

The Rhine-Ruhr, as a thriving industrial region incorporating several neighbouring cities, is often optimistically cited as a model for England's north. But if TfN is to play the same role as VRR, it'd need to do more than just plan a few new lines: it'd need to have some influence over the Northern Rail franchise, and Merseyrail, and Metrolink, and Sheffield Supertram, and umpteen regional bus networks, too.

At the moment, though, all McLoughlin is promising is that TfN will “allow the north to speak with one voice on the big decisions”. If HS3 is really going to transform Britain's economic geography, he may need to go further.

 
 
 
 

Seven climate change myths put about by big oil companies

Oil is good for you! Image: Getty.

Since the start of this year, major players within the fossil fuel industry – “big oil” – have made some big announcements regarding climate change. BP revealed plans to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by acquiring additional renewable energy companies. Royal Dutch Shell defended its $1-$2bn green energy annual budget. Even ExxonMobil, until recently relatively dismissive of the basic science behind climate change, included a section dedicated to reducing emissions in its yearly outlook for energy report.

But this idea of a “green” oil company producing “clean” fossil fuels is one that I would call a dangerous myth. Such myths obscure the irreconcilability between burning fossil fuels and environmental protection – yet they continue to be perpetuated to the detriment of our planet.

Myth 1: Climate change can be solved with the same thinking that created it

Measures put in place now to address climate change must be sustainable in the long run. A hasty, sticking plaster approach based on quick fixes and repurposed ideas will not suffice.

Yet this is precisely what some fossil fuel companies intend to do. To address climate change, major oil and gas companies are mostly doing what they have historically excelled at – more technology, more efficiency, and producing more fossil fuels.

But like the irresponsible gambler that cannot stop doubling down during a losing streak, the industry’s bet on more, more, more only means more ecological destruction. Irrespective of how efficient fossil fuel production becomes, that the industry’s core product can be 100 per cent environmentally sustainable is an illusion.

A potential glimmer of hope is carbon capture and storage (CCS), a process that sucks carbon out of the air and sends it back underground. But despite being praised by big oil as a silver bullet solution for climate change, CCS is yet another sticking plaster approach. Even CCS advocates suggest that it cannot currently be employed on a global, mass scale.

Myth 2: Climate change won’t spell the end of the fossil fuel industry

According to a recent report, climate change is one factor among several that has resulted in the end of big oil’s golden years – a time when oil was plenty, money quick, and the men at the top celebrated as cowboy capitalists.

Now, to ensure we do not surpass the dangerous 2°C threshold, we must realise that there is simply no place for “producers” of fossil fuels. After all, as scientists, financial experts, and activists have warned, if we want to avoid dangerous climate change, the proven reserves of the world’s biggest fossil fuel companies cannot be consumed.

Myth 3: Renewables investment means oil companies are seriously tackling climate change

Compared to overall capital expenditures, oil companies renewables’ investment is a miniscule drop in the barrel. Even then, as companies such as BP have demonstrated before, they will divest from renewables as soon as market conditions change.

Big oil companies’ green investments only produce tiny reductions in their overall greenhouse gas emissions. BP calls these effects “real sustainable reductions” – but they accounted for only 0.3 per cent of their total emissions reductions in 2016, 0.1 per cent in 2015, 0.1 per cent in 2014, and so on.


Myth 4: Hard climate regulation is not an option

One of the oil industry’s biggest fears regarding climate change is regulation. It is of such importance that BP recently hinted at big oil’s exodus from the EU if climate regulation took effect. Let’s be clear, we are talking about “command-and-control” regulation here, such as pollution limits, and not business-friendly tools such as carbon pricing or market-based quota systems.

There are many commercial reasons why the fossil fuel industry would prefer the latter over the former. Notably, regulation may result in a direct impact on the bottom line of fossil fuel companies given incurred costs. But climate regulation is – in combination with market-based mechanisms – required to address climate change. This is a widely accepted proposition advocated by mainstream economists, NGOs and most governments.

Myth 5: Without cheap fossil fuels, the developing world will stop

Total’s ex-CEO, the late Christoph de Margerie, once remarked: “Without access to energy, there is no development.” Although this is probably true, that this energy must come from fossil fuels is not. Consider, for example, how for 300 days last year Costa Rica relied entirely on renewable energy for its electricity needs. Even China, the world’s biggest polluter, is simultaneously the biggest investor in domestic renewables projects.

As the World Bank has highlighted, in contrast to big oil’s claims about producing more fossil fuels to end poverty, the sad truth is that by burning even the current fossil fuel stockpile, climate change will place millions of people back into poverty. The UN concurs, signalling that climate change will result in reduced crop yields, more waterborne diseases, higher food prices and greater civil unrest in developing parts of the world.

Myth 6: Big oil must be involved in climate policy-making

Fossil fuel companies insist that their involvement in climate policy-making is necessary, so much so that they have become part of the wallpaper at international environmental conferences. This neglects that fossil fuels are, in fact, a pretty large part of the problem. Big oil attends international environmental conferences for two reasons: lobbying and self-promotion.

Some UN organisations already recognise the risk of corporations hijacking the policy-making process. The World Health Organisation, for instance, forbids the tobacco industry from attending its conferences. The UN’s climate change arm, the UNFCCC, should take note.

Myth 7: Nature can and must be “tamed” to address climate change

If you mess with mother nature, she bites back. As scientists reiterate, natural systems are complex, unpredictable, and even hostile when disrupted.

Climate change is a prime example. Small changes in the chemical makeup of the atmosphere may have drastic implications for Earth’s inhabitants.

The ConversationFossil fuel companies reject that natural systems are fragile – as evidenced by their expansive operations in ecologically vulnerable areas such as the Arctic. The “wild” aspect of nature is considered something to be controlled and dominated. This myth merely serves as a way to boost egos. As independent scientist James Lovelock wrote, “The idea that humans are yet intelligent enough to serve as stewards of the Earth is among the most hubristic ever.”

George Ferns, Lecturer in Management, Employment and Organisation, Cardiff University.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.