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How to degrowth the transport sector – and regain liveable cities and regions.

Over the last 16 months, Degrowth Vienna, an austrian collective, has been working on a book in collaboration with over forty authors from both academic and activist contexts. It deals with the core question of how a socio-ecological transformation can be achieved and will be published in about two months. The book is an essential contribution to current debates on degrowth and socio-ecological transformation, in which the question of strategy has often been neglected. My guest John is PhD Candidate at the Central European University and Junior Fellow at the Centre for Economic and Regional Studies.  

Together with Thomas Smith and Leon Leuser, John wrote Chapter 15 about Mobility & Transport. It tackles questions of degrowth transformation in the mobility sector and investigates different directions, from technology based scenarios, to others that question mobility in itself. It also assesses the extent to which car sharing may represent a satisfying degrowth strategy, focussing on a Paris based example.

I talk with John about the four approaches of degrowth in mobility and transport.

  • Taming transportation
  • Dismantling the transportation system
  • Resisting the transportation system
  • Escaping transportation

A destructive and wasteful transportation model has developed across the Global North and further afield over the last 150 years, emerging hand-in-hand with a society reliant on fossil fuels. The proliferation of privately owned, combustion engine-propelled passenger vehicles, for instance, drives a highly individualised, resource-, time-, and space-intensive system, as well as one that perpetuates an unjust and growth-oriented capitalist society. Distances travelled, whether by land, sea or by air, have been on the rise, and the means to facilitate this have rapidly expanded (see e.g., USA. FHA 2018). Today, nearly a quarter of global CO2 emissions originates from the transportation sector (Solaymani 2019). In the face of climate change, it has therefore never been more urgent to take action to reconfigure the mobility system. The COVID-19 pandemic offers yet another fork in the road. It can provide a structural opening for change, since it has forced many to travel less at a point in time when the technology capable of substituting travel is available to many. It also further exacerbates inequalities.

In this chapter we provide a humble point of departure for further action that drives social-ecological change by harnessing degrowth strategies. Current transportation systems need to be radically transformed, prioritising social justice and ecological soundness, and thus decoupled from various forms of exploitation. We explore strategies that can be adopted to support such a transformation. Like other authors in this book, we draw on Erik Olin Wright’s four strategic logics (2019), which offer valuable insights on how societies can move towards „Real Utopias“ (2010). We highlight that strategies are variegated, as are the movements and organisations that employ them.

The widespread use of cars is highly dangerous to humans and wildlife: 3,700 people die in traffic accidents every day (WHO 2020). Air pollution has been on the rise and the negative implications of this are becoming clearer, with particulate pollution linked to 18% of deaths globally in 2018 (Vohra et al. 2021). While data on wildlife deaths is scarce, it was estimated that across just 13 countries around 400 million animals are killed on roads annually (Schwartz et al. 2020), with further destruction reverberating through ecosystems as the expansion of road systems and associated pollution drives habitat loss.“

brief description:
‘Mobility and transport: An overview of strategies for social-ecological transformation in the field of transportation’ written by John Szabo, Thomas SJ Smith and Leon Leuser is a book chapter that discusses strategies to reconfigure the unsustainable transportation system currently prevalent. Through a number of examples, it shows how the dominant system can be dismantled and alternative systems developed based on existing practices. It is a part of the book Degrowth & Strategy: how to bring about social-ecological transformation edited by Nathan Barlow, Livia Regen, Noémie Cadiou, Ekaterina Chertkovskaya, Max Hollweg, Christina Plank, Merle Schulken and Verena Wolf, published by Mayfly Books in 2022.

Here you find the book.

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