George Monbiot's misunderstanding of mass transit

George Monbiot wants us all to know that the car is the great threat to urban civilisation. It’s even possible that he’s got the beginnings of a point concerning urban air pollution and the internal combustion engine. As long as we ignore the pollutants - horse dung say - that accompanied every other previous technology.

However, it’s in the prediction of what must be done about it that Monbiot really fails.

Neither electric cars nor driverless cars will solve our problems. They take up as much space as fossil-powered vehicles. Electric cars are already triggering a series of environmental disasters, due to the rush for lithium, cobalt and nickel required to make their batteries. Driverless cars are likely to exacerbate congestion and accelerate climate breakdown, because of the energy demands of the data centres required to control them.

It makes far more sense to build electrified mass transit.

By electrified mass transit he means trams, light rail and full on trains of course. Which is really just an illustration of how conservative the right on are these days. Why would we want to use a 19th century technology in the 21st? Well, if it was still the best option then that would be fine. But what if we’ve developed something else, better?

Like, say, fleets of autonomous electric cars? We now no longer have terminus to terminus travel, we have point to point. Any point to any point. Electric means the emissions, whatever they still are, take place outside that urban centre. We seem to have ticked the boxes. So why, other than just an innate conservatism, the objection?

Or to put the point another way, what is it about a fleet of autonomous electric cars that makes it not electric mass transit?